Markelle Fultz will feel the playoff pressure for Orlando Magic

Markelle Fultz will have a tough task going up against Eric Bledsoe. But with the Milwaukee Bucks giving up mid-range shots, it might he is chance to succeed. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz will have a tough task going up against Eric Bledsoe. But with the Milwaukee Bucks giving up mid-range shots, it might he is chance to succeed. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Markelle Fultz’s driving and shooting ability will be critical for the Orlando Magic to break the league’s best defense from the Milwaukee Bucks.

This is not Markelle Fultz’s first turn in the NBA Playoffs.

During his rookie year with the Philadelphia 76ers, playing 23 minutes in three games. It was a relic of his struggles to stay on the floor for a team with playoff aspirations as he was trying to get on the court.

The Sixers still found a way to get their rookie into playoff games. At the very least, he could watch and observe as Philadelphia went through its playoff preparations.

This was still the dream for him though. Among the many dreams he had to defer while waiting through his shoulder issues and trying to be in a spot where he can play.

"“I learned a lot from being there,” Fultz said of his initial playoff experience after practice Sunday. “It’s totally different. Everything is very intense. You have to play through more stuff. You have a team that is locked in on you. Just the physicality and atmosphere of playoff basketball is incredible.”"

This is his chance and this is his opportunity.

Fultz will get his first real crack at the playoffs in his third year. And his play will have a major impact on whether the Orlando Magic can find success against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The focus defensively is rightly on Giannis Antetokounmpo. The whole series will revolve around whether the Magic are going to be able to get any kind of resistance against him.

But the Magic are going to have to find a way to score too. And against the Bucks’ league-leading defense, that is a difficult task.

Markelle Fultz will start in Game 1, coach Steve Clifford said. This was part of the team’s plan as they ramped Fultz back into action after he entered the campus.

Clifford said he is going to try to get the team closer to its playing groups that helped the Magic’s offense take off after the All-Star Break. Evan Fournier (non-COVID illness) and Terrence Ross (quarantine) returned to practice Saturday and participated in full.

Aaron Gordon returned to do drill work during Sunday’s practice and seems to be on track to return for Game 1 on Tuesday. He also practiced again Monday. But Clifford said Gordon is not yet 100-percent and will remain a game-time decision. He is listed on the Magic’s injury report as questionable.

Gordon’s importance and the importance of Fournier and Ross’ shooting is at the top of the order for the team. But Fultz will be the one pulling all the strings. And he has his own difficult matchup to deal with.

Open from mid-range

The Milwaukee Bucks’ drop coverage is going to leave a lot of mid-range jumpers open. Those are the shots they want teams to take.

Teams take 14.4 mid-range jumpers per game against the Bucks this season, according to’s tracking statistics. That is the fourth-most in the league.

Teams make 39.3 percent of those shots, the eighth-best defensive mark in the league. Milwaukee gives up the fewest field goal attempts at the rim in the league (24.2 per game).

But this is where Markelle Fultz lives.

Markelle Fultz this season shot 41.6-percent on mid-range jumpers this season, trailing only Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier, according to’s stats database. After the All-Star Break and before the hiatus, Fultz was shooting 66.7 percent on these shots on 2.7 attempts per game, the third-most on the team.

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That was the fifth-best percentage among any players who took at least 2.0 mid-range field goal attempts per game in that time.

Finding a rhythm with that jumper was difficult for him during the league’s restart — he made only 35.5 percent of those mid-range.

"“I think I’m more prepared,” Fultz said after practice Sunday. “Although I didn’t play, while I was sitting on the bench I saw a lot of things and learned a lot of things. I think now being able to get some playoff time in a playoffs, just coming with that energy and bringing that physicality to help my team get energy is big. That’s preparing myself for each game as I can and taking it one game at a time. You can’t think too far ahead or less.”"

The push and pull in this series will certainly come with how the Magic are able to get Fultz going into this area and create some movement defensively.

Milwaukee has one of the strongest defensive point guards in the league in Eric Bledsoe. Teams avoid going at Bledsoe in isolation more than any player in the league according to data from Basketball Index.

Steve Clifford said Eric Bledsoe is one of the toughest point guard to break defensively because of his strength and intelligence defending pick and rolls. He is also effective blocking shots from the guard position, making offensive players have to stay aware of him at all times.

It is hard to draw much from the Magic’s previous meetings with the Bucks because they occurred before Fultz found his wave of confidence after the All-Star Break. They are certainly entering something of an unknown.

This matchup and whether Fultz can break free and score fro the mid-range or create the movement to free up open shooters is going to be a big part of how the Magic attack the Bucks in this series.

The Pace Problem

The Milwaukee Bucks’ big weakness defensively is the team gives up a ton of threes. It is setting up those 3-pointers that will be the trick.

And with the Orlando Magic trying to get back to the style they played before the season went on hiatus, that inevitably meant getting Fultz back into the lineup.

While statistics do not quite reflect Fultz’s impact, the eye test suggests he gets the team playing at a faster pace and moving quicker.

Orlando played at a pace of 99.0 possessions per 48 minutes this season. After the All-Star Break until the hiatus, that bumped up to 101.7 possessions per 48 minutes. Once the season resumed, the Magic’s pace dipped back down to 101.3 — pace was overall faster after the season resumed too.

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  • After the All-Star Break and before the hiatus, the Magic played a pace of 103.3 possessions per 48 minutes with Fultz on the court compared to 102.5 off the court. After the season resumed, the Magic played at a pace of 103.2 possessions per 48 minutes with Fultz on the court compared to 102.1 while he was off the floor.

    Pace has much more to do than possessions per 48 minutes.

    Statistics from Basketball Index actually suggest Fultz has a slight negative impact on the team’s pace. But those are full-season numbers and the Magic clearly played slightly different later in the season with Fultz more in control at the helm.

    And D.J. Augustin has one of the lowest impacts on pace in the league according to statistics from Basketball Index — Fultz has a -0.40 rating whereas Augustin is at -1.60, in only the first percentile in the league.

    The Magic simply get into their offense better and quicker with Fultz. Using more statistics from Basketball Index, Fultz has an 11.0-percent assist rate out of drives, placing him near the top-quarter in the league in that metric. Both players are fantastic passers.

    But it is clear with the Magic’s poor shooting the effect that pace plays and how vital it is to the team’s ultimate success.

    And that is why it is so important to have Fultz in the game and playing at a high level. And that is why his creation and ability to get to the basket — he is one of the most drive-heavy guards in the league with 24.4 drives per 75 possessions according to Basketball Index.

    His finishing at the rim is strong but could still use improvement and that could be a drawback of trying to rely on Fultz’s driving too much. But his ability to move in and out of the lane and find open players on the perimeter will be critical — not to mention teams still virtually ignore him behind the 3-point line off the ball.

    Getting the most from Fultz is going to be critical in this series. Bledsoe is undoubtedly a tough defender. But the Bucks defense is designed to give Fultz opportunities to create and score if he can find the gaps in the defense.

    All eyes will be on Fultz. That is a pressure every player in the league dreams of.

    "“I always wanted to be in the big-time moment of just being in the playoffs,” Fultz said after practice Sunday. “But even more than that to get to the championship. That is ultimately my goal. This is the first step to it. This is going to be my first time really playing in the playoffs. I want to take advantage of this opportunity. We have the chance to do something special. We have to lock in as a team. It’s not just going to be one of us, it’s going to be everybody.”"

    Next. Meet the Milwaukee Bucks. dark

    Everyone will be watching.