An aggressive Markelle Fultz changes the Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic are a different team when Markelle Fultz gets up the court quickly. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic are a different team when Markelle Fultz gets up the court quickly. (Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are a better offensive team with Markelle Fultz on the floor. And to reach their potential, they need Fultz to play with this aggression.

89. 147. 101. 38. Final

The Orlando Magic were dragging.

Their lead had disappeared and the team was struggling to find any rhythm or energy defensively. A game that already seemed to have playoff implications faced a pretty dead arena as the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets played a slogfest of missed shot and missed opportunities.

The Nets found their footing and erased the Magic’s 16-point lead. Up by 12 with about four minutes to play in the third quarter, Orlando went nearly 10 minutes without a field goal. The Nets inched into the lead.

The Magic were scrambling defensively, but the offensive frustrations were creeping in. Orlando needed an answer. The team needed a spark.

There is not a lot of that on this team. There are not many players who can truly create their own shot. No one to stir the drink. That is still the biggest missing element for the Magic.

When things are stuck, they need someone to increase the energy and drive the team to a finish. They need someone to take advantage of their defensive hard work.

They need someone to drive the team forward, dragging them if they have to.

This was much the same situation the Magic found themselves last year. They needed someone who could mix up the energy of the team and get the team at its pace. Isaiah Briscoe changed the tempo the team played at first then Michael Carter-Williams put it into overdrive. They both did that off the bench though.

What Markelle Fultz did for the Magic in the first and especially in the fourth quarter of Monday’s 101-89 win over the Nets at the Amway Center could be something truly profound. It could be something that changes the Magic’s season.

Orlando needs the change-of-pace player. Especially now with Jonathan Isaac for an extended time, it feels like Markelle Fultz is the biggest wild card for the team. Maybe that is what he always was — a mystery before the season and now a promising young player nearing the season’s midpoint.

As the Magic get into the thick of this playoff race, how aggressive and confident Fultz plays might determine just where they finish. The potential when Fultz takes the reigns of the game is clear.

His play is truly infectious creating waves of energy that get everyone else on the roster going. This is what a good point guard does. He sets the tone and the tempo of the game.

Fultz is still young and learning how to do this every night. But when he does, the team is undoubtedly better.

Monday, with the game tied at 78 apiece, Fultz took over the game.

He got the ball deep into the paint and wedged his way through for a tough layup to start his binge. Then he exploded toward the rim in transition for a layup for another basket. He finished the Magic’s grasp on the game with a corner three, playing off the pace D.J. Augustin built on another transition opportunity.

That last bit is of course still the missing piece for Fultz. His confidence as a 3-point shooter may ultimately determine what kind of player he can be.

But the bigger picture for Fultz is still to be written. The Orlando Magic knew they made a long-term investment in him when they acquired him 11 months ago from the Philadelphia 76ers.

For the short-term, Fultz has to make his impact with what he can do. Mainly, that is his ability to get into the lane and make a living near the rim. That is in finding space to work passes around collapsing defenses.

Most importantly that is setting the tone as the team’s point guard by playing at an aggressive pace. That gets everyone going.

For the year, the Magic are +0.5 points per 100 possessions with Fultz on the floor. More telling though, the Magic are -3.6 points per 100 possessions with Fultz off the floor. The Magic are only worse with Nikola Vucevic off the floor.

The Magic have a 99.3 offensive rating with Fultz off the floor. That is the worst mark on the team and the only mark worse than one point per possession. That is to say, the Magic are at their worst offensively with Fultz off the court.

That should suggest at least some of Fultz’s impact and how he changes the game. It should suggest how he makes the Magic better — really on both ends.

And that should make clear the responsibility and importance this young player has on the team. His approach then and how quickly he finds consistency could determine a lot for the team.

This season was always going to be a roller coaster ride for Fultz. First, he had to prove to himself as much as everyone else that he was healthy and capable of making it through a long stretch of games.

The initial burst that comes from Fultz being back on the court has seemingly worn off. Fultz had gone just 13 of 45 (28.9 percent) in his last five games before Monday. This could have been part of the normal fatigue of a player going through the NBA ringer for the first time.

Fultz will go through the normal ups and downs as a rookie. He was due to have a game where he showed his potential and flashed his supreme talent. He was due for a game like this.

What is important is the rhythm, pace and assertiveness he plays with. What matters to the Magic is how he attacks the paint and attacks the lane.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

When he walks the ball up and gets slowly into the offense, the Magic struggle and become stagnant. When he is rushing up the court and taking up space, the Magic played at a different rhythm. It flows and moves and finds the holes and open spots.

This is where the Magic can make plays.

Orlando needs Fultz as a constant driving threat. They need him pushing the pace and getting the Magi into their offense. When Fultz is aggressive, their offense flows as he is able to set everyone else up around him for their jumpers and their shots.

Fultz creates a vibe and a rhythm for the team.

The Magic already had a small margin for error offensively even before Jonathan Isaac’s injury. Fultz’s play is all the more important.

Orlando has lost plenty of games this year simply because their offense got stuck and could not create quality shots. Let alone make those quality shots.

For Orlando to reach its playoff goals, the team will need Fultz’s pace and rhythm.

The Magic do not need Fultz to average 25 points per game every night. But they need him to have a good feel for when he needs to pick up the pace or go on the attack. Really Orlando always needs him to play with this mindset.

Next. Grades: Orlando Magic 101, Brooklyn Nets 89. dark

The results speak for themselves. And this feels like merely a preview of what Fultz can do and what he can be.