Markelle Fultz: NBA Bust at just 20 years old?

Markelle Fultz was the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. From that moment, he has suited up in just 33 NBA games. While some still have faith in the young player, many have already prematurely labeled him a bust. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons its too early for Fultz to fall into that category.

Markelle Fultz: NBA Bust at just 20 years old?

Age and Experience

According to the NBA’s 2018-19 Roster Survey, the average age in the NBA is 26.41 years old and the average NBA experience is 4.80 years.

Markelle Fultz is six years younger than the NBA average and has 2.8 fewer years of experience. Accordingly, the Washington Huskies product’s age and experience render it unfair to cast him as a “bust” right now.

Even just since 2014, several examples prove why caution against premature judgment is necessary for evaluating athletes. Fultz’s own former Philadelphia 76ers teammate Joel Embiid was the third overall pick in 2014. However, Joel Embiid only played his 33rd career game during the 2017-18 NBA season. At this time, Embiid was 23 years old. Currently, Joel Embiid is regarded as one of the best players in the NBA.

In 2016, the Toronto Raptors drafted a largely unheralded prospect out of New Mexico State named Pascal Siakam. Much like Fultz, Siakam would have also been labeled a “bust” based on his first two NBA seasons. With 136 games played, but averages of only 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds, early evaluations of Siakam would be poor. Now, at age 24 in his third season, Siakam is averaging 16.4 points and 7.1 rebounds on a 59.1% effective field goal percentage as a frontrunner for the Most Improved Player award.

Clearly, premature judgment is not uncommonly incorrect in the case of many young NBA talents. Appropriately, it is unwise to hold Fultz to such a high standard based simply on his draft position. Instead, his age and experience level dictate that he simply needs more time to develop in this league. Therefore, at least for now, the label of a bust is an unjust one for Markelle Fultz.

 Added Pressure of “The Process”

Markelle Fultz is not an NBA bust just because expectations of him were so high when he was drafted. Yes, Markelle Fultz was a first overall pick. In hindsight, yes, players picked ahead of Fultz have developed faster than him. Still, the pressure of (once) being a part of “The Process” is partly why Fultz cannot currently be labeled an NBA bust.

For a few seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have been an ascending franchise. Prior to these recent years, this was a basement-dwelling franchise stuck in the midst of “The Process”. With the emergence of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, this process is now near completion. However, Fultz was unfairly expected to integrate seamlessly into Philadelphia’s organizational masterplan from the moment he was drafted in 2017.

The NBA has done a better job over the years of giving attention to the mental health of its athletes. Appropriately, mental health must be an important consideration for players like Fultz. Let us not forget that Fultz is just 20 years old. Markelle is barely an adult and is not even old enough to consume alcohol in the U.S. Yet, Fultz was immediately placed under immense pressure with Philadelphia simply because of the organization that drafted him.

While nothing is certain, there was a great deal of belief that Markelle Fultz’s issues extended beyond the physical shoulder injury and into the realm of his psyche. If this idea has any truth, it is unfair to call Fultz a bust because it is unreasonable to hold any 20 year old to such high-performance standards.

Mentally, the pressure of a market and team situation like Philadelphia might have been a lot to handle for Fultz. In regular life, teenagers are not expected to perform like people with a decade of experience, which should ultimately also be true of the NBA. Therefore, Fultz’s inability to handle the involuntary pressure he was under does not mean he is a bust right now.

Moving to a New Market — Philadelphia to Orlando

On February 7th, 2019, Fultz’s time with Philadelphia came to an end when he was traded to the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline. Accordingly, Fultz will now get a fresh start whenever he first suits up for Orlando in the future. However, that is exactly the key, we must wait until when Markelle Fultz first suits up for his new team.

Since departing from a strenuous situation in Philadelphia, Fultz has yet to play one minute of NBA action. Gone are the expectations of being a first overall pick and a part of “The Process” in Philadelphia. Now, Fultz will get to start anew in Orlando. However, that fresh start has yet to begin.

If Markelle Fultz flames out in Orlando after a couple of seasons of mediocrity, he might rightfully acquire the “bust” label. For now, labeling Fultz a bust is a mistake.

There is a noteworthy recent history of beneficial “scenery changes” for other NBAers. Victor Oladipo was once struggling behind Russell Westbrook with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Now, Oladipo is a Most Improved Player recipient and a two-time all-star with the Indiana Pacers. Domantas Sabonis was once a stagnant presence floating around with the Thunder, too. Now, the former 11th overall pick is averaging 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds on a 61.7% effective field goal percentage.

Fultz now has the chance to realize his potential with the help of a change of scenery. It is now a waiting game until Markelle steps foot on the court in Orlando. He will either rise or fail with the Magic but, Fultz cannot be labeled a “bust” just yet.


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