Orlando Magic should be looking more at Markelle Fultz with starters

Markelle Fultz has had a strong start to his season and fans are eager to see the Orlando Magic give him more. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz has had a strong start to his season and fans are eager to see the Orlando Magic give him more. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

When Markelle Fultz first took the floor a few weeks ago, there was a measure of excitement and relief.

What he did on the floor almost did not matter because just being on the floor was all that mattered for this season. Having him back on the floor after a long journey coming back from a torn ACL was the victory in itself.

The fact he played well was seemingly a bonus.

Fultz came out of the gates quickly, dazzling with his playmaking and control and hitting shots with ease. it seemed like the minute restriction was holding Fultz back in many ways. Orlando fans are eager to see Fultz completely unleashed — although that may not happen this season as the Magic just try to dip his toes in the water.

Fultz has slowed down in his last three games — scoring just 20 total points in his last three games and shooting 8 for 26 with 10 assists against 10 turnovers. A slow down and some fatigue after that initial burst had to be expected.

There might be something else at work too because Fultz is still really skilled and still makes incredible plays. Incredible plays like his off-the-bounce pass to Wendell Carter against the Oklahoma City Thunder:

It is these combinations and pairings that are really creating excitement. But one that to this point the Magic have seen very little of.

The one truly bad thing about the Magic’s limitations on Fultz is that he has largely played with bench units. His re-integration with the team has been about his integration to playing and not necessarily to where he will fit in the bigger picture.

Markelle Fultz has had a strong return from injury. But the Orlando Magic are still limiting him, including seemingly limiting his time with starters as the season winds down.

Everyone can see from watching Fultz how much of a positive impact he has been. He does a good job pushing the pace and controlling the tempo at which he and the team plays.

The numbers back this up too.

With the limited sample, the Magic have a 103.6 offensive rating with Fultz on the floor (the team averages 105.3 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star Break) and play at a pace of 105.4 possessions per 48 minutes (101.5 pace since the All-Star Break).

There is, of course, a lot of noise in these numbers. For example, entering Sunday’s game, the Magic’s offensive rating with Fultz on the floor was 108.9 points per 100 possessions. One bad game still has a major impact on his number.

It is not merely the small sample size but the players Fultz is largely playing with.

The most-used lineup Fultz has played with is with Gary Harris, Terrence Ross, Wendell Carter and Chuma Okeke and that group has played only 15 minutes together across three games. That group does have a -6.0 net rating at 91.2 points per 100 possessions on offense.

He has played 10 minutes alongside Robin Lopez, Terrence Ross, Ignas Brazdeikis and Admiral Schofield. That is hardly a lineup that tells anyone anything. And then he has played 10 minutes across two games with Terrence Ross, Gary Harris, Chuma Okeke and Mo Bamba.

The goal it seems is to spread Fultz’s minutes out across a bunch of different teammates. Fultz has his set allotment of minutes. But he is not spending it with the same players. So it becomes harder to figure out what will carry over and what will not for him.

Quite simply, Fultz just has not played a lot of minutes with starters.

He has played the most minutes with Chuma Okeke and Terrence Ross. But it takes a while to get down the list of most common teammates before you get to the players set to be a part of the long-term of this team.

Markelle Fultz has played only 59 minutes (he has played a total of 162 minutes) with Wendell Carter. Carter is his sixth-most common teammate this season. He has played 43 minutes with Franz Wagner, 25 minutes with Cole Anthony and three minutes with Jalen Suggs.

The effectiveness of these lineups is still hard to see, of course. There are a lot of other factors in play — including how short his time is with these starting groups and the other teammates on the floor with him. But it is worth noting some of the best lineups that include Fultz contain starting players.

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When Bamba and Fultz share the floor, the Magic have a +9.6 net rating with a 100.0 defensive rating. Wagner and Fultz help the Magic to a +8.2 net rating with a 115.6 offensive rating. With Harris and Fultz on the floor, they have a +5.8 net rating with a 97.4 defensive rating. With Fultz and Carter on the floor, Orlando posts a rating with a 9-9.2 defensive rating.

Again, these samples are so small that net rating can swing one way or the other. But Fultz certainly does better when he has better weapons around him. He is a perfect pairing with Carter because of Carter’s screening ability and a great pairing with Wagner because of his ability to cut around the basket.

Like everything else with Fultz, everyone just wants to see more.

This season is, as Terrence Ross put it on his podcast, about dipping Fultz’s toe in the water. The Magic are not increasing or changing his minutes based on the situation. He is playing his 18 minutes and that is that. Orlando is going to keep a closer eye on his health than anything else.

But the Magic should be looking to see how Fultz interacts with players who are a clearer part of his future. That is how the team is going to get the most out of this time they have with him.

Fultz has been impressive. Even though he has struggled the last three games, Fultz is still averaging 8.9 points per game and 4.8 assists per game in just 18.0 minutes per game. His effective field goal percentage has dipped below 50-percent, but that is from three bad games in an incredibly small sample.

There is still plenty the Magic need to accomplish and to see the rest of this season. And just because the Magic may have some other goals that go beyond this season and do not necessarily include this season, does not mean there are not still things to do.

No game should be wasted. And winning and losing may not be how the rest of the season — or any of the season — gets judged. But the team should still be using this time to test some things out and get a final glimpse at their team before they hit the offseason.

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Undoubtedly, seeing how Fultz will interact with starting players should be one of the goals. The Magic may not be willing to spend his minutes in the starting lineup this year. But he still needs his reps with the starters as he gets back up to speed.