Based on his statistics through the first half of his freshman season, Markelle Fultz is appointment viewing. Therefore, I took the opportunity on Wednesday evening to watch Fultz and his Huskies play Oregon, a superior team in almost every other respect. I probably should be more skeptical about Fultz than I have been because his excellent production – 22.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 6.5 assists – has come on a team that is not very good. The Huskies are 7-7 and have a pair of stinky losses to Yale and Washington State on their resume. In the mid-90s, Vin Baker put up 20 points and 10 rebounds in consecutive seasons for the Bucks who won 30 games per year. Therefore, high-producing players on losing teams have become Vin Bakers. Baker had one productive season for Seattle (19 points, eight boards) who won 60 games, but his early career success was finished after just five seasons.
Fultz and his teammates were hosting the Ducks in Seattle. I have watched parts of Oregon’s games earlier this season. They are one of the best teams in the country and have good players at every position. Their star, Dillon Brooks, missed the beginning of the season with a foot injury, but the team clicked along. They gave UCLA its first loss last week on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Brooks. I had the pleasure of listening to Bill Walton on the call for the “conference of champions,” as he so often put it. Walton (whose book I reviewed late last year) is the strangest sports commentator. He often rambles, but shares a great enthusiasm for basketball and life. I don’t think I’d want to listen to him every game, but exposure for one game was pleasurable.
Washington was able to keep the game close for the first half. Fultz was mainly quiet and spent part of the first 20 minutes on the bench. He is a big point guard with excellent handles and athleticism. The 6-4 Husky has slithery moves to the basket and looks like he has a solid jumper. In basketball, great players often make their teammates better. While Fultz is individually excellent and he has good passing vision, it doesn’t look like he can take a middling crew of Washington players to even the NCAA tournament bubble. It wasn’t as if he didn’t put forth effort, particularly on defense. Yet, he did not exhibit the type of fire like the best basketball players.
The common comparison is between Fultz and Ben Simmons, another eye-popping freshman who played for a team that won as much as it lost. With the former LSU forward, it was clear what he couldn’t do: hit a jumper. Simmons did not always look engaged on defense. Jumpers and defense do not look like issues with Fultz. The Huskies play with a looseness that probably points to coach Lorenzo Romar. Fultz scored half of his 22 points in the second half after the game was out of reach. I don’t necessarily think the fact that the Huskies are a lower tier Pac 12 team should affect Fultz’s draft stock. It doesn’t seem like he’ll be an alpha dog on an NBA team. In other words, there is little reason for a team to tank for him. Fultz could surely contribute to a winning squad.
Oregon broke the game open on the 3-point shooting of sophomore Tyler Dorsey. The 6-4 guard hit a career-high eight 3-pointers on his way to 28 points. Brooks was limited by foul trouble to 18 minutes. Center Jordan Bell looked like he had sustained a serious knee injury in the first half and had to be helped off the court, but he returned before halftime and produced a double-double. Oregon memorably ousted Duke from last year’s NCAA tournament and made it to the Elite Eight. They came into the season as the prohibitive favorite in the Pac 12. UCLA has emerged as an excellent team and the Feb. 9 with the Ducks should be circled.