Markelle Fultz’s way-too-early Most Improved Player case

Markelle Fultz has been solid for the Orlando Magic as he returns from a torn ACL. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz has been solid for the Orlando Magic as he returns from a torn ACL. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /
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Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic
Markelle Fultz’s long-awaited return proved worth it for the Orlando Magic to end their season. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

Markelle Fultz’s career trajectory is among the most unique of any player the NBA has ever seen, and his story is far from finished.

Fultz’s journey — from being the No. 1 selection in the 2017 NBA Draft to his triumphant Feb. 28 return from ACL surgery to all the chaos in between — has led to this crucial summer.

Despite the madness, it is apparent to all who are keeping tabs that the 23-year-old guard is primed for a leap back into the stardom that many predicted of him at Washington.

Markelle Fultz returned from injury and immediately made a positive impact for the Orlando Magic. His first full year back could be the breakout the young guard has long needed.

Fultz’s return last year was a huge boost to a team that need a strong finish to the season. Fultz averaged only 10.8 points per game and 5.5 assists per game in 20.0 minutes per game for the final 13 games of the season.

The Magic kept Fultz’s workload pretty light as he returned. Everyone expects things to ramp up. While Fultz certainly will not maintain the 19.5 points and 9.9 assists per-36-minute pace he put up last year — let alone the breakneck 103.0 pace the team played at while he was on the floor — he certainly will make an impact.

His first full season after returning from his injury brings with it a lot of promise. And it is easy to see the 2023 Most Improved Player Award as part of his destiny.

There are plenty of reasons why:

Health: Body and Narrative

Amazingly, this is Markelle Fultz’s first fully healthy summer of his entire NBA career.

Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, reconstructive ACL surgery and mental hurdles are fading into memories. He can finally focus on simply getting better at basketball.

Fultz is only 23 with a minuscule 131 games and 3,251 minutes of experience. He needs live reps — as any other young point guard would — and this offseason he can finally indulge himself in all the reps he would like without worrying about injury or COVID restrictions or a shortened offseason.

There are obviously still shooting concerns — he shied away from taking three-pointers and focused during his return on getting to his “kill spots” in the mid-range.

Fultz’s history demands coaches who he can be honest and comfortable with. This unique relationship and his health will unlock the “basketball” side of things and result in a confident and aggressive baller.

Fultz was the No. 1 overall pick of the NBA draft. He has a strong pedigree and a redemptive story that will drastically boost his award narrative weight. As much as fans hope that awards voters are perfectly objective, humans are storied by nature, and they will flock to Fultz’s story.

Fultz appears set to take over as the starting point guard. The league will have some attention on the team with the first overall pick running alongside him.

His narrative is as healthy and robust as his body. This gives him a clear path and outline for a Most Improved Player Award.