Orlando Magic’s Markelle Fultz excelling in hypothetical rookie season

Markelle Fultz has had a stellar first 30 games that has him comparing favorably to the top rookie guards in the league. (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz has had a stellar first 30 games that has him comparing favorably to the top rookie guards in the league. (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Markelle Fultz is playing his first full season of his three-year career. As an essential rookie, he compares favorably to the top players in the 2019 class.

In the eyes of many, this season is the first time we are seeing the real Markelle Fultz in an NBA uniform.

The first time we are seeing the Markelle Fultz that excelled at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. That went on to average 23.2 points per game as a true freshman for Washington Huskies and dazzled NBA scouts with his unconscious scoring ability and his tremendous feel for the game. The Fultz the Philadelphia 76ers traded up two spots to draft with the No.1 overall in 2017 NBA Draft.

That is not the Fultz the NBA world has seen. After two previous seasons of battling thoracic outlet syndrome and only playing a combined 33 games, this is Fultz’s hypothetical rookie year.

In 29 games for the Orlando Magic this season, Fultz has started 24 games averaging 11.7 points, 4.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game in only 26.0 minutes per game.

Entering the season nobody knew what to expect from Fultz.

What they have seen is a guard who can get into the lane and finish effectively with a mid-range jumper — 41.4 percent from 16-24 feet. He is someone who can explode to the basket and finish with authority while also being able to dish the ball. And his 3-point shot is growing in confidence, although still a bit shaky at 25.5 percent.

Fultz is a highlight waiting to happen. He makes difficult crafty layups look routine every game. In perhaps Fultz’s most explosive play of the season, he dribbled into the lane and jumped from almost the free-throw line to throw down over two Portland Trail Blazers’ defenders.


Fultz has been better than the Magic could imagine in a lot of ways. He has rightfully taken the starting role and shown flashes fo what he could be in the future. Even defensively where he is good at digging in for steals and generally keeping his man in front of him.

If Fultz were a rookie, the narrative on him would be much different. He would be considered a growing young player showing signs of some real potential. Maybe he is not like a top-overall pick, but it is still like a solid rookie.

Where does Fultz compare with the other top rookies in this class? That is a thought experiment worth pondering even if Fultz looks like a player who will continue to grow in the future as he finally faces a healthy offseason.

Fultz still compares favorably with rookies playing in the 2019 class. But he is not among the top guys.

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant is leading all rookies in scoring and assists with 18.2 points and 6.5 assists per game. Undrafted Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn is averaging 16.2 points per game. Those two players would be the front runners for Rookie of the Year right now.

Markelle Fultz right now compares most closely to Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland and Chicago Bulls guard Coby White.

Garland is averaging 11.4 points and 3.0 assists per game. He is shooting 39.3 percent from the field (and 37.2 percent from beyond the arc). White is averaging 11.1 points and 2.3 assists per game, largely off the bench.

White has had some big games where he got hot from beyond the arc to help change the game for the Bulls. But he is also shooting worse than 40-percent from the field at 35.9 percent.

Right now, Fultz has been more about consistency than about the big scoring outbursts, although he eclipsed 20 points for the first time in his career earlier this season in Washington against the Washington Wizards. And Fultz has an efficiency advantage over those players in this previous draft class.

Fultz is probably not on the All-Rookie first team because Nunn and Morant have been so good. But Fultz sure would look like a second-team All-Rookie player. But Fultz is certainly in the conversation as one of the best first-year players in the league . . . if he were a rookie this year.

Regardless of any of this, Fultz’s impact has been evident for the Magic, who are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference. He has emerged as a cornerstone piece for the Magic and could ultimately solve their quest for a point guard of the future. Right now, it feels like the Magic have a point guard they can invest in moving forward.

The explosive pays are there. Fultz just needs to be more consistent and assertive going forward to put up better numbers. He has the potential to elevate his game to even greater heights this season and the next years to come.

Next. Magic return to intimidate and dominate on defense. dark

His re-emergence has been the feel-good story of the 2020 NBA this season.