CAMDEN, N.J. — The Philadelphia 76ers have put The Process in the hands of Washington guard Markelle Fultz.
Fultz, the 6-foot-4 guard, was selected No. 1 overall in the NBA draft Thursday night and joined former LSU guard Ben Simmons as consecutive top picks for the Sixers.
Widely reviled and also admired, the Sixers’ plan to go from worst-to-first by openly stripping the roster bare of talent to lose and gobble draft picks has resulted in Joel Embiid, Simmons and now Fultz.
Embiid and Dario Saric will finish in the top three when rookie of the year results get announced on June 26, and Simmons is expected to be ready for next season after recovering from foot surgery.
Embiid welcomed Fultz to Philly with a tweet — what else ? — where he proclaimed the new nickname was FEDS : Fultz, Embiid, Dario, Simmons.
“He used to tweet and retweet my stuff,” Fultz said. “Once he figured out I had a chance to go there, he started showing more love and everything like that.”
Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 25 games during his lone college season at Washington , excelling on a team that finished 9-22 and lost its final 13 games. Fultz led the Pac-12 in scoring, finished No. 6 among all Division I players, and was the top freshman scorer in the country.
“Everyone knows what that level of talent is going to mean to us becoming more competitive team,” team president Bryan Colangelo. “We are a team on the rise in so many different ways. We are an organization on the rise in so many different ways.”
Could it be that Fultz’s arrival mean The Process is finished?
“We’re going to try to make the right decisions to finish this project,” Colangelo said.
The Sixers kept the project rolling later in the first round, striking a deal with Orlando to acquire the 25th pick, centre Anzejs Pasecniks from Latvia. The Sixers will give up a future draft pick that could be a protected first-rounder in 2020, a person with knowledge of trade told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been officially announced.
Pasecniks, a 7-1 centre, could be stashed overseas and continue to develop before the Sixers bring him over.
Fultz, often compared to Houston’s James Harden, missed Washington’s final four games, capped by a Pac-12 Tournament loss to Southern California.
Over the past 10 seasons, only two other freshmen had a better scoring average in college: Kevin Durant for Texas in 2006-07 and Michael Beasley for Kansas State in 2007-08.
Philadelphia had the No. 1 draft spot three previous times, taking Doug Collins in 1973, Allen Iverson in 1996 and Simmons. The Sixers also hold four second-round picks (36, 39, 46, 50) on Thursday. The Sixers acquired the No. 1 pick in a deal with Boston for the third pick, plus an additional first-rounder in either 2018 or 2019.
“We’re going to keep driving to get it perfect,” Colangelo said. “It’s well on its way there.”
The Sixers went 28-54 this past season, after winning 19, 18 and 10 games in the previous three seasons, starting a rebuilding campaign more commonly known as The Process. Embiid had adopted the nickname as his own and was commonly introduced as “The Process” at home games this season.
“This city has to feel fantastic,” coach Brett Brown said.
The tease of the potential ahead has caused Sixers fans to react with their wallets: the Sixers said Wednesday they have sold a franchise-record 14,000 season ticket packages for next season. The Sixers said they expect to sell out all 41 home games next season and fans can be added to a wait-list program. Consider, four years ago, the Sixers’ season-ticket base at this time of the year was at 3,400. They sold a touch under 10,000 last season and have accepted more than 1,000 partial plan deposits just this week.
“By adding a player of Markelle’s calibre to our promising roster, we believe we’re incredibly well positioned for the future,” team owner Josh Harris said. “This is a tremendous night for the Sixers and our great fans.”
Fultz, wearing orange sneakers made of basketballs at the Barclays Center, is a natural talent on the court that moves with fluidity and ease, and his abilities and tendencies have been dissected heavily heading into Thursday’s draft. Off the court, he is exceedingly loyal to those that believe in him.
“I don’t think it’s one thing I can’t do. I think I do everything at least decent,” Fultz said.
He is also a fan of posting trick shots to social media. A lover of Chick-fil-A and his own homemade fried rice. His drive and humility comes from once being cut from the varsity of his high school team.
“You realize he’s got the chip but he doesn’t go out of his way to show it,” Colangelo said. “I think there’s an inner drive there and it’s something that makes him special. He’s motivated to prove people wrong but not in a bad way.”