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 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’s early Most Improved Player case

Exquisite Playmaking

Watching Markelle Fultz feels like a dream sequence from an over-serious existential movie. It is a beautiful and mysterious haze — often leaving observers asking, “Wait, how did he even get into the paint?”

Markelle Fultz and a big guard like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are cut from the same cloth of long guards who meander into the paint any time they want. Fultz’s immense capability of entering the defense’s “holy-of-holies” at will enables him to bend angles, manipulate passing lanes and wreak havoc.

He possesses interior passing that turns drop-bigs into stone — frozen in time forever even without a consistent jumper. He also shares the riches of his knifing drives by collapsing defenses with crushing gravity and then lacing passes to spot-up shooters (who usually miss).

In the final 14 games of the season, Fultz finished second in the NBA (among qualifying players) in assists per 36 minutes with 10.1 assists per 36 minutes. The others in the top-seven of this list are Trae Young (11.4), Tyrese Halliburton (10.1), Luka Doncic (9.8), LaMelo Ball (9.7), Darius Garland (9.0) and Dejounte Murray (8.8).

Pretty decent company.

Fultz also finished second on the list of average dribbles per touch in the NBA last season with 5.72. Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and James Harden are his immediate company. These are superstar distributors with superstar usage rates.

This bodes well for Fultz’s potential for significant upward mobility in his raw statistical output­.

Fultz’s advanced playmaking metrics do not contradict the eye test.

Despite his shooting struggles, which we will discuss shortly, he still ranked in the 83rd percentile for scoring gravity. This backs up the claims of his extraterrestrial paint invasion abilities.

He ranked in the 99th percentile in assisted points per 75 possessions, potential assists and passing creation volume according to Basketball-Index. He also ranked in the 100th percentile of valuable assists created per 75 possessions. This means he was creating more dunks and open threes than just about anyone in the league.

The eye test and the stats say Fultz has a legitimate claim to the assist title next season which by itself would elevate his Most Improved Player case.

There is obviously more to it than that as he scales up to regular minutes and starter’s minutes at that.