November 17, 2023
Film room: What makes MiLaysia Fulwiley a generational prospect?
Fulwiley’s electric point guard play has translated immediately as a true freshman
One of the most valuable skills in WNBA draft scouting is the ability of a player to force the defense into rotation and create easy scoring opportunities for themselves or others, also known as advantage creation. All of the greatest offensive stars create advantages in one way or another, whether initiated through elite burst, ball-handling, change of speeds, flexibility, length or a combination of those skills and traits. No other prospect better encapsulates this heuristic than South Carolina freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley.
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The Columbia, S.C. native was on the radar of premier college programs beginning in middle school, receiving an offer from South Carolina in seventh grade. Fulwiley, the No. 13 recruit in the 2023 recruiting class, according to ESPN Hoop Gurlz, chose the Gamecocks over Mississippi, Louisville and Florida.
Though Fulwiley entered this season as the third guard in the rotation behind sophomore Raven Johnson and potential 2024 first-round pick Te-Hina Paopao, she was expected to play a pivotal role on the championship-contending Gamecocks.
In her collegiate debut on Nov. 6, she exploded for 17 points, six assists and six steals in 26 minutes in a blowout win over Notre Dame.
Even South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley didn’t hesitate to tab Fulwiley as a ‘generational talent’ after the win over Notre Dame. Her early success as a true freshman is neither a fluke nor a hot streak, the 5’7 guard has a mix of elite athletic tools, feel, proprioception and improvisational skills that are unlike anything this sport has seen — possibly ever.
Let’s dive into the film room to illustrate how Fulwiley combines rare athletic traits and quick processing speed as an advantage creator and defensive chess piece, as well as how she compares to prospects of the past.
An improvisation artist
In scouting, no two prospects play for programs with identical offensive systems, philosophies and supporting casts, requiring us to conceptualize players in their differing contexts. Some players excel in an offense built around structure and set plays, while other players shine without structure and leverage their creativity to find success. The greatest players can do both. For example, if a post player doesn’t set a strong enough screen for the ball-handler, allowing the defense to blitz the action and thus collapse the ball screen altogether, the greats can improvise and create advantages on the fly.
In the NFL, improvisation skills are what separates Patrick Mahomes, C.J. Stroud and Lamar Jackson from other pocket-passing quarterbacks. Similarly, that also allows Fulwiley to have an extra edge over other guard prospects.
Fulwiley’s out-of-structure creativity allows her to open up a bevy of scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates. It’s hard to find a better open-court creator in all of college basketball, given her explosiveness, ball-on-a-string-type handle, quick angle adjustments, passing vision, touch and vertical athleticism as a finisher.
Like this possession above, Fulwiley pulls out moves from her toolbox regularly that you rarely see and there’s no way to truly quantify how special her artistic approach and execution is.
Staley tinkered with her offensive system this season to suit Fulwiley, Johnson and Paopao’s brand of up-tempo basketball. For reference, South Carolina’s pace of play in its wins over Notre Dame and Maryland was higher than any game in the last two seasons, according to HerHoopStats.
A creator of chaos
Not all hyper-athletic guards are as impactful of defenders as Fulwiley; that comes down to her activity level, quick hands, lateral quickness and an outlier ability to block shots near the rim.
Through three games, Fulwiley has recorded nine steals and three blocks across 56 total minutes. For reference, that’s approximately a steal or block every four and a half minutes of action.
Fulwiley forces turnovers and creates transition-scoring opportunities with her absurd hand-eye coordination at the point of attack. Also, similar to Washington Mystics guard Brittney Sykes, Fulwiley’s vertical athleticism allows her to play bigger than her size. In the third clip, Fulwiley contests Maryland’s Shyanne Sellers, a 6’0 guard, and forces a missed pull-up jumper.
Here, Maryland runs a baseline out-of-bounds action and Fulwiley meets the offensive player at the apex of her floater to block the shot.
Fulwiley’s vertical pop, hang time, hand-eye coordination and motor yield a ridiculously high defensive upside. She also has the perfect defensive infrastructure behind her at South Carolina, allowing her to take gambles and funnel ball-handlers into Kamilla Cardoso, Ashyln Watkins and an athletic frontcourt at the rim.
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How does she compare to past prospects?
Fulwiley is a generational prospect for a reason, so it’s tough to find 1-to-1 comparisons, but there are recent prospects that share similarities in one way or another.
Here’s a list of some of the best guard athletes in recent WNBA draft history, most of whom scored a large percentage of their points around the basket, similar to Fulwiley. The players on these lists are currently or previously rotation-caliber to All-Star-caliber players, though Fulwiley’s upside is potentially higher than them all — depending on the degree of a shooter she becomes.
So far, she is shooting 46.7% from three on five attempts per game. Is this volume and efficiency sustainable? Probably not, but her spot-up jumper is extremely fluid, despite a funky wide base.
On the NBA side, Fulwiley plays with a similar level of energy, athletic juice and downhill creation as Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant.
Overall, it’s impossible not to get excited about her long-term prospects. Fulwiley brings an elite level of natural talent and quick processing ability to succeed on both ends of the floor. If you haven’t tuned in to see Fulwiley and South Carolina play, hopefully you do now.
South Carolina is back in action on Monday, Nov. 20 for a matchup against South Dakota State at 7 p.m. ET.