They’re dead even, according to one NBA scout.
UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Washington’s Markelle Fultz have entirely different strengths, but that only makes deciphering which is the better NBA prospect a more difficult task.
The two freshman point guards will share a court for the second time this season when Washington (9-19, 2-14 Pac-12) visits No. 3 UCLA (26-3, 13-3) Wednesday night.
UCLA clearly demonstrated that Ball is surrounded by more talent than his Washington counterpart when the Bruins left Seattle Feb. 4 with a 107-66 victory. Fultz’s 25 accounted for 38 percent of his team’s points. Ball’s 22 were just 21 percent of UCLA’s total.
“Lonzo is not the scorer that Fultz is, but I’m convinced that if I said ‘Go be a scorer,’ Zo could do that,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “Lonzo has just made an impression on our program in every phase of the game, how you pass, how you dribble, the shots we take, how we defend...There’s a great culture around Lonzo and a lot of that has to do with who he is as a person.”
According a bevy of experts, Fultz and Ball will be the top two picks in the 2017 NBA draft, in that order. They are projected to go first and second by ESPN’s Chad Ford, DraftExpress.net and NBADraft.net, among others.
Fultz is such a dynamic scorer, he would be a shooting guard at the next level if he were taller than 6-foot-4, according to an NBA scout. In addition, his impact across the board is so historically great that Fultz is the only college basketball player in the last 25 years to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. The fifth-leading scorer in the country is on pace for the highest Pac-12 scoring average in 20 years.
Ball can counter that with his status as the only player in the country averaging at least 10 points, seven assists and four rebounds — his actual averages are 14.8 points, a nation-leading 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds.
At 6-6, Ball has the size to play either guard position, but is the only true point guard among the best crop of prospects at the position in recent memory. He not only has exceptional vision, but a unique compliment that augments his most identifiable strength.
“He’s got vision and balls,” an NBA scout said. “When he gets an outlet and turns and sees (the) floor, he has all nine people in view. Now his balls come into play because he’s not afraid to throw that pass. Ball isn’t the athlete that Fultz is, but his length and his vision offset a little of what he lacks athletically. And he’s not stiff. He’s not Bryce Alford.”
Fultz needs to improve cerebrally to run a team at the next level, according to the scout, while the largest concern surrounding Ball is his unconventional shooting form.
Despite being right-handed, Ball shoots from the left side of his head. He requires more space between him and the defender because his release point is lower with his shooting arm angled across his face.
“He’ll be fine the first time through, but there’s a bunch of guys on NBA coaching staffs who will figure out how to take that shot away, guys with more time than Pac-12 coaches,” the NBA scout said. “It’s going to be on him to prove us wrong, to prove that he can make it. But He can’t physically release it as high as someone who shoots it on the right side of his head. Some of it is offset by his height, but when a 6-6, 6-7 guy is guarding him it’s going to be a problem, I think.”
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