Orlando Magic learning to play at Markelle Fultz’s speed

Markelle Fultz is helping pick up the Orlando Magic's pace as the team catches up to his style. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz is helping pick up the Orlando Magic's pace as the team catches up to his style. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

When Markelle Fultz was getting set to return to the court, Wendell Carter was given a warning by Orlando Magic assistant coach Dylan Murphy: Always keep your hands up.

Carter learned this lesson the hard way in Wednesday’s loss against the Indiana Pacers. He was not ready for how quickly Fultz would move into pass mode.

Fultz created a steal and a two-on-two opportunity. He drove into the lane and drew both defenders to him, gave a quick look over his shoulder and saw Carter trailing. Just as quickly as he could see it, Fultz whipped the ball behind him to try to catch Carter streaking to the basket.

Carter was not ready for it and it fumbled off his hands and out of bounds (one of four turnovers from Fultz that night).

Carter said that was a lesson he needed to learn about playing with the Magic’s returning point guard. He told Fultz that he got him and will not miss any more.

But this is the kind of flash Fultz brings to the floor. The pass he tried to attempt there was similar to one he made in a clutch situation when he drove inside to attract a couple of defenders and then deftly flipped the ball behind him to Nikola Vucevic for a big bucket.

Fultz is always looking for little plays like this.

Markelle Fultz has had a strong showing in his first week of play. But he is still integrating with the team and the Orlando Magic are still catching up to their returning guard.

It is hard to say Fultz has transformed the Magic’s offense in the three games and one week he has played since returning from a torn ACL that kept him out for the previous 13 months. The numbers certainly do not support that after two poor offensive games this weekend (one in which Fultz did not play).

Still, it is hard not to see how Fultz can help transform this team and give it a bit of an offensive boost. Everyone on the team is learning, for many for the first time, how to play with Fultz. And as the team continues to improve offensively and embrace this fast-paced style the Magic are adopting, Fultz’s addition is acting as something of an accelerant to it all.

"“I think we’re just learning,” Carter said after the Magic’s practice Monday. “Having Markelle back also helps. Not just him being on the court. But him being there to talk and being on the road with us. I think we’re just learning more about the game, learning more about one another, where we like to catch the ball and where we don’t like to catch it. I feel like the more games we get, the more comfortable we get one another.”"

Fultz’s averages are still fairly modest.

He has scored 27 total points with 11 assists in his three games played so far. He is shooting 12 of 21 from the floor overall, missing both of his 3-point attempts (one an end-of-quarter heave). All this in just 50 total minutes.

The noticeable change with Fultz on the floor is the increase in the team’s pace.

Orlando is already playing at a faster pace and have climbed into the top-10 in the league overall in terms of possessions per 48 minutes. The Magic have played with the most possessions of any team in the league during the last 15 games.

The team seemingly goes into overdrive with Fultz on the floor. Orlando has played those 50 minutes at a pace of 107.7 possessions per 48 minutes with Fultz on the floor.

Everyone who talked about the early impressions of Fultz’s time on the floor talked about the way he pushes the pace. To some degree, everyone is still trying to catch up as Fultz gets his feet under him.

"“I think the pace has been great playing with Markelle,” R.J. Hampton said after practice Monday. “Especially the way he attacks. He can find open shooters, he can draw the defense when he gets into the lane. I think that’s a special gift that he has. It has made my job easier and has made everyone around him’s job easier.”"

At this point, those changes are pretty much anecdotal. Some of that is because Fultz’s limited playing time so far has put in him in some pretty bad lineups.

The Magic have a 97.3 offensive rating with Fultz on the floor and a 113.2 defensive rating. With such small sample sizes, it is easy to get weighed down by a bad outing. The team had a 95.3 offensive rating and 111.6 defensive rating with Fultz on the floor in Saturday’s game and Fultz was on the floor as the Pacers came back early in the fourth quarter.

Markelle Fultz’s most common lineup to date is 10 minutes he has played with Terrence Ross, Gary Harris, Chuma Okeke and Mo Bamba (playing to a +18.2 net rating). Replacing Mo Bamba with Wendell Carter drops that to -10.0 points per 100 possessions. Both teams score less than a point per possession.

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Fultz is still getting used to playing with his teammates. His minutes are more about getting his feet wet. The Magic should still be focused on just letting him play. The results are not necessarily as important.

It is still too early to draw conclusions. Even though the Magic should still be focused on putting Fultz in lineups that look toward the team’s ultimate future and where they can emphasize his skills.

Part of that is playing with other guards. Markelle Fultz has shared time with both Cole Anthony and R.J. Hampton to this point. The idea is that those players will be able to push the pace and switch on defense. The Magic certainly treasure that versatility.

Orlando is still exploring all the ways the team can use that. And then seeing if other players can pick up his pace as they watch and play with him.

"“No one can speed Markelle up,” Hampton said after practice Monday. “That’s something I look to get better at every day. To have the speed and to also slow down at times. That is something I have learned from him in just the short amount of time we have played together.”"

Hampton has certainly been a focus in this pace game the Magic are trying to play. He has oftentimes been playing too fast. And the Magic are trying to drill with him and others how to control their pace and speed and how to attack in transition.

Hampton has gotten better on this front. And having another guard who can draw the defense in and kick will help Hampton slow down. Especially since Hampton has turned into a decent spot-up 3-point shooter.

This is part of the possibilities that open up with a player like Fultz. And that is something the team is still discovering.

Individually Fultz has played well. He has not yet given a boost to the lineups he has played in. Some of that is the group she has played with. Some of that is this is still a really small sample to deal with.

Everyone though is continuing to learn Fultz’s style. Everyone is seemingly playing catch up to him even as Fultz catches up on the floor after missing so much time.

Next. Attention turns to Jonathan Isaac's recovery. dark

Fultz is playing at a different speed in both good and bad ways. And the Magic are still working to integrate him fully into the team as he begins his return.