When the 76ers acquired the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft from the Boston Celtics in June 2017, Sixers fans dreamed of what Markelle Fultz could become once he teamed up with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
A dive into the advanced numbers shows that while the Fultz selection is clearly one of the worst ever at the top spot in the draft, it isn’t the worst choice a team has made there. At least not yet.
By taking win shares, a metric that uses a player’s traditional box score statistics — measured against leaguewide totals — to compute the number of wins he was responsible for, we can figure out a player’s value and compare it to what his team could have expected. Here’s how:
After breaking it down, Fultz — to this point in his career — is the third-worst No. 1 pick since the merger. Michael Olowokandi and Anthony Bennett are the worst and second worst, respectively, and Greg Oden is fourth.
Of course, Fultz isn’t even two full seasons into his career, so there is time for that number to change. But if Fultz never gets his career on track and other players in his draft class — such as Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and Bam Adebayo — continue to pile up numbers, he’ll fall further behind.
In his 33 regular-season games, Fultz has collected just 0.6 win shares. That’s tied for 32nd in the 2017 draft class. And even when adjusted on a per-minute basis, the second-year guard out of Washington ranks just 26th.
Based on the complete picture of his work, Fultz has played like the equivalent of a high second-round pick, and looking at it on per-minute basis, he’s been as valuable as a typical late first-rounder. Given that, Sixers general manager Elton Brand did well on the return he got for Fultz: a top-20 protected first-round pick, a second-round pick (which, as the standings sit now, would be the 37th overall selection in June), and Jonathon Simmons.
The fall from No. 1 overall to the discard bin in less than two years is precipitous. Fultz was the gem of the last draft of the “Process”-era Sixers, but the franchise’s first-round selections during those years, covering the drafts from 2013 to 2017, have mostly disappointed.
Simmons’ and Embiid’s numbers are hurt because of the time they missed. Simmons lost all of the 2016-17 season to an injury. Embiid missed all of his first two seasons and then missed 70 games over the next two years.