Markelle Fultz recovering as Orlando Magic focus on future

Markelle Fultz has been in the background as the Orlando Magic plan for their future as he continues to recover from his injury. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz has been in the background as the Orlando Magic plan for their future as he continues to recover from his injury. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

Markelle Fultz has not been front and center for a long time.

He has always been there for the Orlando Magic. During home games, he is on the bench, often talking to the assistant coaches during timeouts or hanging out on the bench as the game goes on. Markelle Fultz has pulled Cole Anthony aside on several occasions too during games and breaks.

Fultz is not on the court, but his presence is still being felt.

Especially as the Magic turned their focus to the future following the trade deadline, Fultz is ever-present. He is a mystery again as a player who has played so little and burned brightly when he did, only to get it snuffed out by things outside of his control.

Markelle Fultz’s recovery from a torn ACL continues behind the scenes at the Amway Center as the Orlando Magic have turned their attention to a future with him in it.

Fultz is recovering quietly behind the scenes at the Amway Center from the torn ACL he suffered in January. The nature of the pandemic season has kept him somewhat distant from his teammates on the road and from the prying eyes of the public.

He told Josh Robbins of The Athletic that he has started shooting set shots but is not yet doing jump shots or anything with significant movement. Neither he nor the Magic will put a timetable on his return. He only said that he is confident that he will be back and that the Magic will help him get back after watching Chuma Okeke have such a successful return from a torn ACL and watching Jonathan Isaac’s progress too.

If an ACL tear takes 9-12 months to recover and return to the court, there is at least the outside possibility Fultz could be ready for training camp in September. But the Magic are not going to rush anything.

Even then, expect Fultz’s 2022 season to be full of fits and stops. While Fultz is probably a further advanced player (and obviously plays a lot differently) than Okeke, Okeke’s season is a good model for what the team might expect.

Okeke needed a little while to gain confidence on the floor and regain a lot of his abilities. This was slowed by an early bone bruise that kept him out for a month. Once he found that, he proved to be a very effective scorer and budding defender. Then he hit a lull as the grind of the season caught up to him — perhaps him hitting the rookie wall — before he found his second wind.

Fultz’s style of play is obviously different than Okeke. And their experience levels are very different too. But that is at least a hint of how quickly it might take Fultz to get back up to speed.

With everything that has happened this season with the Magic, it feels like Fultz’s injury happened a lifetime ago. It feels unreal how well Fultz was playing and what he was giving to the team.

Eight games is hardly a large enough sample size to make any judgments. For what it is worth though, Fultz was averaging 12.9 points per game and 5.4 assists per game before his injury. The team had a 108.8 offensive rating with Fultz on the floor in the first seven games of the season and just a 102.5 offensive rating with him off the floor.

Fultz had a great command of the team’s offense and was able to force the defense to collapse to kick out to shooters as the Magic played their best offense of any point of the season in that eight-game spurt.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Fultz was key in the come-from-behind victory over the Washington Wizards with a career-high 26 points. He was a key part of that 6-2 start from oh so long ago.

The Magic were focused early in the year on increasing their pace. And Fultz was a master at that.

The team may not have had an uptick in fast-break points or in possessions per 48 minutes, but Fultz’s ability to manipulate his speed and weave in and out of traffic. He would find ways to get guys open, able to keep his dribble alive and away from traps to manipulate the defense.

This is a skill Anthony is just now learning as a rookie. Fultz seemed to have it down quickly.

Of course, the quiet part was that Fultz and the Magic’s hot start were already starting to peter out before Fultz’s injury. The team’s 6-2 record was built on some pretty weak wins at the end of the day.

Fultz was shooting 39.4-percent with a 41.3-percent effective field goal percentage before the injury. While he still made a positive impact, he did not hit the 50-percent mark in his last five games, leading to that low field goal percentage.

Fultz is still a questionable jump shooter. And opponents still left him completely open on the perimeter. His willingness to shoot from beyond the arc is an important step. But nobody is quaking in their boots when he is lining up to shoot.

His main role is to get others involved and create space for others with his driving ability.

That is only going to be made more difficult with the changed roster around him. The Magic are not the same team Fultz left. He will not have a safe outlet in Nikola Vucevic popping to the 3-point line on pick and rolls.

In fact, the shooting the Magic did have to spread the floor for Fultz is virtually gone. Teams are going to be able to collapse on Fultz a lot more. Perhaps Fultz would be able to create more open shots for teammates. But things will be very different when Fultz returns to the court.

That is still a very long way away though. Thinking about where Fultz fits back on the court is still something that is theoretical. Fultz is not even running on the court or shooting jumpers quite yet.

As he said in the post from The Athletic, Fultz has another chip on his shoulder. He has always been good about facing up to adversity and fighting his way back.

There is no doubt that Fultz will be back on the court at some point next season. And considering his biggest weakness is the only thing he can work on right now is at least some sign of encouragement.

Next. Progress will be tough to judge to finish season. dark

As this season winds down, the Magic are focusing on their future and how they can continue to get better. Fultz’s recovery is part of that process.