Markelle Fultz

John Hefti/USA Today Sports

Tomase: What does Markelle Fultz have in common with Magic, Kyrie, Wall, and A.I.? Hopefully a lot

John Tomase
June 16, 2017 - 12:16 pm

The history of drafting guards No. 1 overall is as close to can't-miss as can't-miss can be.

The history of selecting guards in the top five, however, is much more muddled.

So which will it be for the Celtics if they follow consensus and choose Washington's Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 pick in next week's draft?

First, the good news. Since the NBA became the NBA as we know it in 1979 with the arrival of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, five guards have been selected with the first pick. Two are in the Hall of Fame, two could be headed there, and the last won an MVP before injuries wrecked his career.

They are Magic Johnson (1979), Allen Iverson (1996), Derrick Rose (2008), John Wall (2010), and Kyrie Irving (2011).

Magic and Iverson are already enshrined in Springfield. Wall and Irving are two of the best young players in today's NBA. Rose will go down as a tragic might-have-been, thanks to an ACL tear he suffered against the Knicks during the 2012 playoffs.

With roster construction shifting from big men to dynamic wing scorers and 3-point shooting, it makes sense that more guards than ever before are going No. 1 overall. 

Throughout the 80s and 90s, the surest path to contention rested on the shoulders of giants. But for every David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, or Tim Duncan, there was also a Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, or Greg Oden. Teams frequently missed big betting on size because conventional wisdom held that a dominant center ensured sustained greatness in ways that other positions simply did not. That thinking dated back to the glory days of Russell and Wilt, but it became outdated long before most of the NBA noticed.

Times have changed. The tipping point may have been the 2007 draft, when the Trail Blazers selected Oden out of Ohio State, despite injury concerns, because he was the Best Big Man Available. A fellow by the name of Kevin Durant went second to Seattle, and the rest is history.

Oden's career ended before it really started. Durant just won his first title and is well on his way to the Hall of Fame.

Each draft since has featured a mix of guards and forwards at No. 1. The only true center selected in that time is Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns, and even he's a hybrid with the 3-point range that's practically a requirement in today's game.

So what about the overall performance of guards selected in the top five since the Oden/Durant draft? That's where things get a lot dicier.

Since 2007, 16 guards have been selected in the top five. Let's sort them into three general categories: superstars, solid players, and busts.

There are six superstars: Irving, Wall, Rose, Bradley Beal, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook.

There are six solid players: Mike Conley, D'Angelo Russell, Victor Oladipo, Dion Waiters, Tyreke Evans, and Ricky Rubio.

There are four busts: Kris Dunn, Wesley Johnson, Dante Exum, and O.J. Mayo.

If you want to quibble with a couple of designations -- swap Mayo and Rubio, slot Conley somewhere between solid and superstar -- that's fine. But the gist is the same. A little more than a third of guards selected in the top five become stars, a little over a third become solid players, and the rest are busts.

So where will Fultz slot? We won't know for sure until he's drafted, but the information we do have points to his game translating.

With a seven-foot wingspan and excellent ball-handling ability, he's no Dunn, who frequently played sloppily and out of control at Providence, which in hindsight should've been a red flag. Fultz may not yet be an NBA shooter, but he converted 41.3 percent of his 3-pointers at Washington. He can score in transition -- which would transform the Celtics -- and he can finish with both hands at the rim. With more room to operate in the NBA, many expect he'll make an impact immediately at age 19.

He's widely considered the best point guard prospect to enter the league since Irving in 2011. It doesn't take a wild imagination to envision him eventually joining the Wall-Irving-Rose (pre-injury) class, at which point, we could safely call the pick a home run.

So while there are no guarantees in the draft, it certainly looks like history is on the Celtics' side.

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