Markelle Fultz’s minutes are the most meaningful as season winds down

Markelle Fultz continues to make the most of his minutes as the Orlando Magic's season begins to wind down. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz continues to make the most of his minutes as the Orlando Magic's season begins to wind down. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Markelle Fultz was struggling offensively in his first-half stint Friday night against the Toronto Raptors.

Fultz was 1 for 5 and while he was doing plenty to get the ball moving, he was also playing with deep bench players that forced him to do a lot of the work to set them up. He was still +7 in the first half, showing how much Fultz can impact a game without scoring.

As Fultz stepped onto the court for his second-half stint, the Magic were long out of the game. Orlando trailed by 14 when Fultz entered the game in the third quarter. Orlando seemed like it was destined to drift to the end of this game — a playoff-motivated team taking down an injured, lottery-motivated team.

Fultz though is a spark. His presence in the game gives it a different energy. The Magic attack differently and Fultz is poised enough to keep everyone off balance, adding a bit of unpredictability to a game.

Markelle Fultz continues to make the most of his limited minutes as he provides a spark to the Orlando Magic late in the season.

As the fourth quarter began, a game that seemingly had no energy suddenly picked up.

The Magic still lost 102-89 to the playoff-bound Raptors. Orlando never really cut the lead to deep, only putting a brief scare into them in the fourth quarter. But that burst clearly came from Fultz.

There may not be a whole lot that matters for the Magic. But Fultz’s minutes still do as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. He gets 20 minutes per game to get his work in and return to form for next season.

Those 20 minutes continue to be extremely impactful for the Magic.

"“He got us going,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday’s game. “There was a pace to the game, a speed to the game, in which he played with. The ability with the throw-aheads, getting down in the lane and finding the spray-outs early. But, again his ability to be physical down there, take care of it [the ball] and then move off of it.”"

It was like a switch turned on for Fultz to spark the Magic early in the fourth quarter as the Magic opened on a 14-3 run.

Fultz finished his game with 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds on 5-for-13 shooting. He scored four points and dished out three assists in the fourth quarter as the Magic cut the deficit down to 11, giving some brief hope of getting back into the game.

There was Markelle Fultz swiping the ball from Pascal Siakam and kicking off a fast break that found Moe Wagner for a fast-break dunk that energized the Magic crowd.

This was the kind of spark Fultz has given all year. And he seemed to have his hand in every play during the Magic’s run that made the Raptors sweat a little bit.

The fifth-year guard, just 14 games back after a gruesome ACL tear and rehab is making a conscious effort to be more active on the court to help his team.

"“Just trying to be as active as I can be,” Fultz said after Friday’s loss. “Be physical, use my length, use my body. Try to make it as disruptive as I can to help my team– just trying to be there for my teammates. If I can crack down and help, do anything to help my teammates, that’s what I’m going to do. Defense is something that I’m adjusting to– trying to get better every night.”"

In many ways, fans have wanted more of Fultz. It feels like the Magic could and should be getting more Fultz. He has been bursting at the seams in many ways.

For the season, Fultz is averaging 10.4 points per game and 4.7 assists per game with a 46.6-percent effective field goal percentage in just 18.6 minutes per game.

Against the Raptors, Fultz was a force both offensively and defensively. He was penetrating and attacking offensively– as usual.

But defensively, Fultz was a pest getting into passing lanes. He initiated a 6-0 run early in the fourth quarter, beginning with that steal and then pass to Wagner for a running dunk.

"“Markelle was great,” Mosley said after Friday’s game. “I really liked his energy– what he provided. Defensively, he was good. We went to our switching game and he was able to sit down, keep guys in front– ball-pressure, disruptions. There was a stretch there where we got three or four stops in a row, which allowed for us to get out on the break.”"

It was Fultz’s second game in a row with two or more steals. Against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night, he had three steals and two blocks.

Fultz’s defense may still be the biggest work in progress. He still has work to do to improve on that end. And this may be the last thing for Fultz to complete as he returns from the injury.

With four games remaining in the season, there is still room for Fultz to grow as he looks to become a more of a vocal leader on both offense and defense for a young Magic team.

"“Staying aggressive doesn’t necessarily mean scoring the ball, but just constant pressure on the defense when I have the ball in my hands, trying to make plays, keep us organized,” Fultz said. “And then on the defensive end, same thing, bringing that energy, trying to get better ball pressure, guarding screens, communicating to my teammates– continue to build for what we’re trying to build for the future.”"

Through 14 games, Fultz has proven to be the best point guard on the team. His per-36 minute averages the previous four games going into Friday’s contest were 26.1 points, 9.5 assists, and 4.5 steals with a 46.2 field-goal percentage.

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Against the Raptors, Fultz did not have his best offensive game with 12 points on 5-of 13 shooting, but he dissed out seven assists, grabbed five rebounds and had two big fourth-quarter steals– his impact was clear.