Markelle Fultz’s return makes Orlando Magic whole again

Markelle Fultz was a big key in the Orlando Magic's offensive surge before the season's hiatus. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz was a big key in the Orlando Magic's offensive surge before the season's hiatus. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are back to a full roster with Markelle Fultz’s return upon clearing quarantine as the team continues to prepare for its return.

The Orlando Magic spent their first week inside the Disney campus getting their work in and getting back into the flow of things.

After four months away from basketball, they were starting to play again. The joy of simply playing basketball returned. The focus was reportedly good and the group was excited to play again.

Markelle Fultz had to wait on the sideline — again. He was not able to enter the bubble with his teammates because of a personal matter he had to deal with.

And so he waited and watched his teammates, texting them to get insight on what they were doing and how practices were going. He wanted to rejoin his teammates. The longing to be back on the court was growing.

His teammates did too. On the team’s group chat, Gary Clark said the whole team was chanting, “Free ‘Kelle” when Markelle Fultz finally confirmed he could leave his room.

"“That was probably the biggest thing, seeing those guys getting up and down the court and compete,” Fultz said in a teleconference after practice Friday. “I wanted to be there. I was talking to a lot of guys asking them how it’s going. I love this team. We have a good relationship. it was kind of tough to see them grind it out. They are doing a great job, so I’ve got to catch up to them.”"

About the only good thing Fultz said of his delay into the bubble was getting a scouting report for what teammates wished they had inside the bubble. Fultz was able to bring some comforts from home that others were missing.

But he was really eager to get back on the court and do the work. The team was eager to have him back.

At last, they were finally a full group.

After clearing the NBA’s quarantine Friday, Fultz finally rejoined his teammates on the practice floor. The Magic were whole again with their entire active roster (Al-Farouq Aminu is the only player on the team not with the team at the moment) available.

Friday’s practice was a relatively light one. Coach Steve Clifford said the team took the day to do more organizational teaching and drills, skill work and weightlifting. It gives the team a bit of a physical break after going hard for most of the other days in camp. The team did not do any contact drills, Clifford said.

The team still has some things it wants to install and change before the games begin. The team has its eye on Wednesday’s scrimmage as the first chance to get a measure of where they are at.

Clifford said there was no contact Friday. But players are still a bit restricted in what they can do even when they have contact. Steve Clifford revealed Mohamed Bamba has been held out of parts of practice — he revealed Thursday that only 10 players were available for contact drills in Wednesday’s practice.

He said not everyone is doing everything.

The entire team is still trying to get back to a normal training camp. And that process remains a gradual one as the team tries to knock off the rust.

Whether Fultz will be up to speed enough to play in Wednesday’s game is somewhat up in the air. Just how quickly Fultz can get back up to speed is a matter for some debate.

Fultz said he thinks it will take him about a week to be ready to play full bore. But that is as much a guess as anything in this strange restart to the season.

The only thing anyone really knows is how vital Fultz will be to the team when things do start back up again. His growth this season has tracked the team’s growth throughout the year.

"“I think a lot of it is he knew he was confident enough to play considerable minutes every night,” Clifford said after practice Friday. “If you watch from the beginning of the year to when play was stopped, he had grown tremendously. He was playing at a totally different level. I think as much as anything a lot of it was he felt better. He was healthy. He felt confident in his body to go out and play the way he used to.”"

Fultz was starting to show a lot of positive signs that he was getting more comfortable in the league in what was essentially his rookie year.

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This season, Fultz is averaging 12.1 points per game and 5.1 assists per game on a 49.6-percent effective field goal percentage. It was a solid performance for a player who is essentially a rookie and trying to find his way on a pretty well-established team.

But his impact was felt most in how he controlled the pace of the game. And that was mostly seen in the team’s offensive surge after the All-Star Break.

There he still averaged only 12.9 points per game. But he bumped his assists up to 6.6 per game and shot a 52.7-percent effective field goal percentage.

The team had the most efficient offense in the league after the break. And a big part of that was Fultz’s ability to push the ball and get the team into their sets quicker.

"“I think I was just playing with a lot of confidence and using my pace of play,” Fultz said in a teleconference after practice Friday. “Just getting to my sweet spots that I work on every day, the mid-range, taking open shots and getting these guys involved. I learned the game more and more as the season went on. I learned my strengths and what I need to work on. I just took advantage of those opportunities.”"

Like everyone else, the Magic are trying to get back to that level. And so Fultz will play a vital role in getting them there. He might play the vital role in getting them there.

But the work has to come first. The team has to get itself back in shape. And Fultz has to get himself back in shape. That process is ongoing for the team.

The team knows it will need Fultz too. And they were just as happy to have him back.

"“We felt complete,” Clark said in a teleconference after Friday’s practice. “It’s huge to have him back now on the court because he is one of our floor generals. He just brings a different dynamic to our group on and off the court. It is good to have him here.”"

The Magic will return to practice Saturday. They will surely start trying to get up and down and continue to play some simulated games. Fultz will get his first taste of real basketball then.

Just like with everyone else, the Magic are eyeing everyone’s health fairly carefully. Steve Clifford said he meets with high-performance director David Tenney regularly — even more than during the regular season — to get a feel for how much he can push his players.

It is hard to do any of that without having a complete roster first. Fultz’s return gets the team a step closer to that.

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There is still a long way to go for this team. But Fultz’s return makes the Magic a team again.