Markelle Fultz checks off another box for Orlando Magic

Markelle Fultz recorded a team-high 14 assists to lead the Orlando Magic's attack and check off another box in a win over the Charlotte Hornets. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz recorded a team-high 14 assists to lead the Orlando Magic's attack and check off another box in a win over the Charlotte Hornets. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

Markelle Fultz checked off another box in leading the Orlando Magic to a win Monday. 82 games into his career, he is just getting started.

112. 38. 100. 170. Final

There is a checklist in Markelle Fultz’s mind as he goes through his first full season with the Orlando Magic.

He wanted to play in his first going through recovery from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He wanted to earn his way into the starting lineup. He wanted to get a triple-double.

On and on down the list, Markelle Fultz was passing milestones for his health and on the court. He was restarting his career. All the while, Fultz was going through the ups and downs that a rookie typically goes through.

So Monday did not pass without some recognition. Fultz reached the 82-game milestone of his career. He has now played a full season’s worth of games in the NBA.

And he celebrated with a game that showed how far he has come in his game and that he still can be the number one pick in the draft he was three years ago.

Fultz tallied seven assists in the first quarter on his way to a career-high 14 assists. He had complete control of the game. When the ball was in his hands, he got where he wanted to go and weaving in and out of the lane.

The ball moved beautifully, following his lead. Those early assists put the Magic in front and they never really let go. As long as they kept things moving. The Magic tallied a season-high 35 assists.

Fultz had ticked off another one of his boxes. Playing is commonplace for him. Strong games are commonplace for him. All that is in front of him is his future.

"“It means a lot,” Fultz said after practice Sunday on reaching the 82-game milestone. “One, I’m extremely blessed to be on the court right now. The appreciation that I have to play the game that I love and to be able to compete at the level that I am right now is at an all-time high because I’ve been at a point where I wasn’t able to play when I wanted to. It’s another mark off my list to play right now.”"

That has been a big part of his story this year. Fultz has just been happy to be on the floor. He has just been happy to contribute and get back to the game he loves.

That joy is evident with every moment he checks off.

His preseason debut against the San Antonio Spurs, a quiet road game that was not on any TV anywhere, began the whispers of a player who could fly to the basket and finish with force.

His first game with the Magic was capitalized by a coast-to-coast dunk and a few wrap-around passes that caught fans by surprise. Teammates continually said he did these things regularly. His coach, Steve Clifford, constantly praised his work ethic and his approach.

Then there were the big plays. He had a steal and and-one dunk to finish off the Washington Wizards. He recorded a triple-double to help the Orlando Magic defeat the Los Angeles Lakers, coming after he made a big error in the loss to the Phoenix Suns.

The quiet moments after that game when Markelle Fultz acknowledged his mistake, throwing away a pass that led directly to Devin Booker‘s go-ahead basket, were a learning process for him. Fultz has learned a lot in his 49 games with the Magic and has come a long way in his first full season in the NBA.

"“This is really in many ways, not mentally, because he is very much a student of the game, but physically what you go through the first time,” Clifford said after practice Sunday. “He’s playing big minutes. that’s a tough matchup position. He is being defended by good players every night. We’re asking a lot of him at both ends of the floor. I think as much as anything, I think that, getting accustomed to playing a full season and having to play that many minutes.”"

Clifford never worried about his ups and downs that would be natural for a young player. He put Fultz in the starting lineup within five games of the start of the season.  And he praised Fultz for being willing to do extra work and learn everyone’s position within the offense and defense.

The choice was obvious. Clifford said the team is simply more organized when Fultz is on the floor. Fultz has been willing to get extra reps to help teammates out. Everyone praises that vision that characterized that 112-100 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday.

Everything has seemingly built up to that. There are just certain matchups right now that Orlando knows Fultz can exploit. And they can tell pretty early when he has that flow going to make that attack.

In Wednesday’s game, Fultz recorded 10 drives in Monday’s game according to Second Spectrum, scoring four points on 2-for-3 shooting. Surprisingly he had only one assist off those drives. Really what those drives did was increase the pace and spacing for the team. Orlando recorded a 122.7 offensive rating with him on the floor.

This has been the case for much of the year. Fultz averages a team-high 12.1 drives per game, according to Second Spectrum. He only records 1.2 assists per game off these drives. His driving is not necessary to lead directly to assists but to get others moving and create movement within the defense.

Undoubtedly, the Magic are still figuring out the best way to play with him. They understand he works best in transition and can help the team push the pace. In Monday’s game, Orlando recorded just 11 fast-break points. But the team was certainly moving into its offense quicker.

Fultz is still learning. The Magic are still learning how to use him. But Fultz continues to check things off his ledger.

"“There isn’t one thing that I feel I have mastered,” Fultz said after practice on Sunday. “Just the pace of the game, how to control that. Defensively trying to be a better defender. trying to learn the other team’s offense by watching film and try to learn our defense by watching film and talking to the coaches and asking for advice.“The other part of that is going through the experience of being out on the floor and making mistakes and learning from those. It’s a combination of experiencing things while I’m playing while these games go on and the other thing is going to be taking the right film prep and asking the right questions so I’m prepared for those games.”"

Fultz continues to impress everyone. Clifford said he was amazed at how quickly Fultz picked up the team’s terminology and defense just by watching it. Even though Fultz was not cleared to play until September he slipped right in and fit in on the roster.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Fultz has made a clear impact even as he has learned. Everything has been a learning experience for him. And Fultz is gaining confidence over and over again.

Fultz is still a rookie in many ways, even though he has now played his first full season of games. The Magic are learning how and when to trust him more.

He is still finding the balance for his game and getting others involved.

"“I’m always going to make the play for my teammates because I want them to know the ball is coming whether they are making or missing shots because I always want them to be aggressive,” Fultz said after practice Sunday.“The other part of me too is sometimes I’ve got to get us a quick layup or push it in transition to get us something easy to get us some points and get us some momentum that we need. I’m always encouraging my teammates that the next one is good because I believe in all of them and I believe they can make the next shot.”"

That was all on display Monday. Fultz passed the 82-game mark playing exactly how the Magic want and need him to play. He balanced his attack with passing, managing the game and attacking. He made key plays for the Magic throughout the game.

It feels like this is the start for him. There is a lot for him to improve upon still. The Magic still have a lot they want to see him grow.

Next. Grades: Orlando Magic 112, Charlotte Hornets 100. dark

The Magic must feel good about where Fultz is at. He has played well beyond their wildest expectations, it seems.