The general consensus heading into the college basketball season was that the race for the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft was wide open. The incoming freshman class had been hailed as one of the strongest in years, but it stood out more for its depth than the star power at the top.
It only took two months for a clear favorite has emerged in Washington freshman point guard Markelle Fultz. The Huskies have struggled out of the gates at just 7-6, but Fultz has been brilliant, combining ultra-high usage and efficiency in a way few other players in the country have been able to.
It’s easy to get caught up in Fultz’s diverse offensive game, from creative passes to crafty finishes to 45 percent three-point shooting. But while he’s been racking up gaudy offensive numbers, he’s also been separating himself from the pack defensively. This was on display during a first-half sequence in Washington’s loss to Washington State on New Year's Day.
Markelle Fultz chasedown block vs. Washington State pic.twitter.com/nokyAacUVA— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) January 4, 2017
Point guards aren’t supposed to get chasedown blocks, but Fultz has been hunting down opponents on the fastbreak all season. It’s a major testament to his athleticism, his instincts, and his effort level.
Fultz has been doing this since day one. He has 18 blocks in his first 13 games, and only failed to record a block once (against Nevada). His 3.8 percent block rate is second on Washington and places nationally on KenPom at No. 308 in the country.
We made a cut of Fultz’s best blocks this season, with a little help from YouTubers Frankie Vision and ReBorn HD:
Notice how Fultz so often lets the opponent get ahead him in transition so he can line him up for the block. These are the type of high-impact defensive plays you would expect from, like, LeBron James, not a 6’5 freshman point guard. That Fultz is basically doing this in every game is what’s really remarkable.
It looks like the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft is going to miss the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row, but it isn’t Markelle Fultz’s fault. He’s been giving Washington everything he has on both ends of the floor all season.
(Previously: Josh Jackson’s passing and Lonzo Ball’s shooting)