Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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With Markelle Fultz ‘Unlikely’ to Play in Postseason, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson Could Overtake Him for the No. 1 Pick
Washington freshman Markelle Fultzis “unlikely” to play in the Pac-12 Tournament, meaning his college career could well be over.
Still, when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver steps to the podium at the NBA Draft on June 22, the 6-foot-4 Fultz is widely projected to be the No. 1 pick.
Fultz, who is averaging 23.2 points, 5,9 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game, would then become the second straight No. 1 overall pick to have not played in the NCAA Tournament, following LSU’s Ben Simmons a year ago.
Yet with March Madness upon us, several other candidates will have a national platform to surpass Fultz for the No. 1 pick, most notably UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball and Kansas freshman wing Josh Jackson.
“I think the more Lonzo wins, if they win the Pac-12 tournament, if they make a deep NCAA tournament run, with his ability you can’t discount that,” Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com said on The 4 Quarters Podcast (below).
“If Fultz is going to be done here and nobody’s going to get a chance to see him, Lonzo has a chance to make up a lot of ground or even put some gap between him and Fultz because there are teams that like Lonzo more than Fultz. It’s not like this home run LeBron James/Anthony Davis draft where it’s one and [then] it’s a huge drop off.
“I think there’s an argument even to be made for Josh Jackson. I wouldn’t completely discount what Josh is doing. Kansas is having a great year, he’s been awesome in the Big 12, so I think that there’s still a lot left to be played out.”
DraftExpress.com currently projects Fultz going No. 1 to the Boston Celtics, Ball No. 2 to the L.A. Lakers (where his father would love for him to land) and Jackson No. 3 to the Phoenix Suns.
“I think a lot’s going to come down to who gets that [No. 1] pick, what they’re looking for,” Givony said.
The 6-6 Ball is averaging 15.0 points, 7.6 assists and 6.3 rebounds for a UCLA team that is projected to be a 2 or a 3 seed come Selection Sunday.
Ball has drawn comparisons to Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson, now running the show with the Lakers.
“Lonzo Ball is the best talent at the point-guard position,” ESPN college analyst Jay Bilas told the New York Post. “He’s Jason Kidd. So if you can get a player like that, anybody would love to have him. But that’s going to require being in the top couple of picks.”
With its high-octane offense that also features projected first-round pick T.J. Leaf along with Bryce Alford, UCLA could well make a deep run in March.
That, in turn, would mean more eyeballs on Ball throughout the next month.
“I think it will come down to all of them consistently making shots throughout the tournament,” one NBA scout told ZAGSBLOG.
It remains unclear how much LaVar Ball’s recent comments might impact his son’s draft status. Several NBA experts and executives, including Givony, told ZAGSBLOG they don’t think they will matter much. Yet others disagree.
“The best true point guard in the group is Lonzo Ball. He’s the one with court vision. For a guy his size, he can really handle the ball but he’s better at getting other guys shots,” one NBA scout told the Post. “The problem you’re going to have with him is his father, his family. Part of the reason he is the player that he is, is the way he has been developed. But it’s going to be a [expletive] handful.”
Kansas, meantime, is the No. 1 team in the nation, has won its 13th straight Big 12 title and could be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Jayhawks feature potential National Player of the Year Frank Mason, a senior, and also the 6-8 Jackson, who is averaging 16.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists and may have the highest NBA ceiling of any player currently in college.
“If you said to me, ‘Who out of all these guys will be the best pro?’ Josh Jackson of Kansas could be the best pro of the whole group,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino told the Post. “Legit 6-8, Magic Johnson-type passer, great scorer. … He shoots it well enough. Not a great shooter, but he’ll get a lot better. Great athlete, great passer, great vision.”
So as March heats up, Fultz is on the sidelines and Ball, Jackson and others (Duke’s Jayson Tatum comes to mind) have the chance to shine.
What will it take to replace Fultz at No. 1?
“Play great,” said one NBA scout,” and win.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.