The projected No. 1 pick in the NBA draft might be best served to just sit out the season. But the smart move isn’t always the same thing as the right move.
The first question was whether Washington point guard Markelle Fultz would play vs. Arizona State, and Lorenzo Romar wasn’t sure.
“He’s making progress,” the Huskies basketball coach said. “We’re probably more optimistic than we were last week.”
The second question was whether it was a certainty Fultz would play again this season, and Romar was a touch more definitive.
Arizona St. @ UW men, 8 p.m., FS1
“I’m pretty confident,” Lorenzo said. “But I’m not a doctor.”
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The third and most important question, however, went unasked during Romar’s news conference Wednesday — so we’ll pose it in this space instead: Should Fultz play again this season? Because even if the star freshman returns to full strength, that can be a tricky answer.
In case you missed it, Fultz sat out two games with a sore knee last week, leaving the Huskies to play Colorado and Utah sans their best player. It didn’t go well.
So as UW enters its final homestand of the season — starting with Thursday’s game vs. Arizona State and concluding with Saturday’s game vs. fifth-ranked Arizona — people are wondering if the potential No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft is going to be in the lineup. But some people are also wondering if that would be in Fultz’s best interest.
Washington, after all, doesn’t really have anything to play for at this point. With a 9-16 record overall, the Huskies aren’t going to benefit from a late-season spurt and sneak into a postseason tournament.
And if you think there’s any chance they can make a miraculous Pac-12 tournament run, forget it. Washington has lost 11 games by double digits this season, five by more than 20, and perpetually disregards an aspect of the game commonly referred to as “defense.”
Fultz coming back wouldn’t do much more than tighten some of the Vegas point spreads and maybe earn an extra win or two. But considering he isn’t a lock for the No. 1 pick (UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is also in the discussion), an injury could cost him the top spot.
So the smart move would seem to be Fultz calling it a career at Washington and preparing for what could be a historic tenure in the NBA. Here’s the thing, though: The smart move isn’t always the same thing as the right move.
I’ll acknowledge that no player of Fultz’s caliber has ever been in a position like this. Potential No. 1 picks have generally been on teams with NCAA tournament potential, including Ben Simmons, whose LSU Tigers were on the bubble before fading late last season.
If Fultz is indeed contemplating a decision, there isn’t much of a precedent. But if he is going to set one, it should be this: Play out the rest of the season.
This isn’t like Christian McCaffrey sitting out a relatively meaningless bowl game to prevent injury before the NFL draft. The Sun Bowl was a bonus for Stanford, not part of the guaranteed grind that he and all his teammates signed up for before the season.
Even though Fultz likely would have skipped college had he been allowed to, he still made a commitment to UW’s program and should honor that if he’s healthy. Besides, if teams really are still deciding between him and Ball, they very well might pick against the guy who shut it down for the final quarter of the season.
Maybe this is a silly discussion to be having at all. Romar said Wednesday that Fultz simply isn’t being allowed to play right now — adding that, whether it’s H-O-R-S-E or a pick-up game on an 8-foot rim, Markelle always wants to compete.
I think that’s probably true.
If Fultz’s knee is feeling good, I’d like to think he would be back on the court. He’d have good reasons for sitting out, but he’d have better ones for playing.