Big backcourt decisions facing the Magic next season

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Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic
Markelle Fultz helped push the Orlando Magic to a big win over the Miami Heat. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Point guard

Much of the Orlando Magic’s future at the point guard spot will come down to how smooth Markelle Fultz’s return from injury is and how much impact, if any, it has had on his game. Not to mention when exactly Fultz will return to the court.

If the 22-year-old can come back healthy next season and play at a similar level to before his injury, it is fair to assume he will be the first choice at the point.

Fultz endured an up-and-down start to the season before his devastating ACL injury but was showing glimpses of becoming a very good player, especially in the back-to-back wins over the Washington Wizards.

Fultz still has lots of development to do himself, and his injury has pushed back that timeline. But his command of the game and ability to stay locked in while making the right decision puts him ahead of his competition on the roster.

These are things that do not always show up in the box score.

Fultz’s shooting struggles have been well documented and it’s somewhere he has to improve, but the way he controlled the flow of the game and got the Magic playing as a team before his spell out means he should be in line for the starting spot when he returns.

But that could change. Fultz will not be rushed back and will likely have a slow start to the season once he returns as he starts to regain his confidence, giving Cole Anthony and R.J. Hampton their chance to prove to management they deserve to be the starting guard.

Anthony has already started plenty of games for the Magic after being thrust into the position because of injuries, before picking one up himself which forced him to miss significant time.

His improvement after his injury compared to before is massively encouraging, he is finishing far better at the rim and looks to have a greater understanding of where he can have the most success on the court.

His ability to help his teammates is clear too, notching nine assists in the loss to the Houston Rockets last month, and he is already averaging around the same points as Fultz did. His shot has shown signs of becoming more consistent and if his scoring continues to grow and he demonstrates dependability on defense along with strong decision making, Fultz’s position is under threat.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

At some point down the line, Orlando will have to make a decision about who will lead the team forward — Anthony or Fultz.

The Magic have shown a willingness to play multiple ball handlers on the floor at the same time and Anthony can definitely work off the ball with his shooting ability. But there is a major squeeze with all the ball-handling guards the Magic currently have.

R.J. Hampton could well be a part of that conversation too.

Despite falling to 24th in the 2020 NBA Draft, the young guard has already shown that he deserved to go higher. His combination of speed, size and athleticism make him a significant two-way threat and hugely exciting prospect.

He has played a lot off the ball since arriving in Orlando, giving him time to adjust and grow as a playmaker. The test will be whether he can step into a bigger role, and he has certainly suggested that he can with his performances so far.

But the combination of these three young talents puts others on the roster at threat, and in this case that falls on Michael Carter-Williams.

Michael Carter-Williams has been shown a lot of faith by Steve Clifford, who appreciates his ability to do the right things on defense, but an offensively limited player who has already hit his ceiling is not going to take precedent over exciting young guards who have not.

Still, the Magic value the competitiveness and veteran leadership Carter-Williams brings to the team and into the locker room. His ability to play at shooting guard will enable him to keep playing. And his value is more intangible than any scoring output he might provide.

He is under contract next season, but whether or not he stays with the team is another matter.

The Magic handed Fultz a three-year extension prior to his injury, signaling the team’s confidence in him and Jonathan Isaac to take the team into the next era despite their records with injuries.

But just because he was earmarked as the player to take the team forward, does not mean he is guaranteed to start. Things have changed a lot since that contract was handed out, and Anthony’s and Hampton’s development have to be monitored closely. Big decisions lie waiting for this team.