In news that was always going to come, and yet was still felt like a surprise when it broke on Twitter through Khobi Price of the Orlando Sentinel, Markelle Fultz is likely to suit up for the Orlando Magic in their next game versus the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.
The team has officially removed him — along with Cole Anthony, out since Oct. 27 with a torn oblique muscle — from their injury report signaling he will be available for their next game. Wendell Carter, Jonathan Isaac, Jalen Suggs and Chuma Okeke will remain OUT for that game.
It is a timely boost for a franchise that has been hit extremely hard by injuries this season.
But with Fultz close to returning, what exactly will he be coming back to?
This roster is a lot different than the one he was forced to step away from because of a toe injury, and without bursting the bubble of optimism here it will take some time for him to adjust to playing with this version of the roster.
This is still huge news for the Orlando Magic at a time when it was needed most. Markelle Fultz will bring stability and composure to a lineup in desperate need of both.
In order to answer this question properly, we first need to talk about two other players in the starting five. Paolo Banchero and Bol Bol.
Fultz has never played with either of them and right away you get the feeling he is going to form some awesome chemistry with both because of how the games of those two players complement Fultz’s game.
Fultz will have never played with an offensive weapon like Banchero, who can score from anywhere and will love the pass-first style of his new point guard. Given that Fultz is also an above-average defender, he will also slot in next to the adult body Banchero already possesses, and Bol’s scary length.
Moving onto the center, he has been the Magic’s most important player this season. He is also getting love on a national level now, which has been richly deserved.
Bol Bol has shot a scorching 41.9 percent from deep so far this season, and the pick-and-roll/pop possibilities with himself and Markelle Fultz are giddying for coach Jamahl Mosley to think about. This is a legitimate new wrinkle to their offensive sets.
The same is also true of how much the always-cutting Franz Wagner will benefit from having Markelle Fultz around as well. Wagner has had to spend a significant amount of time as a self creator that his cutting is down — 1.3 cutting possessions per game at 1.52 points per possession this year compared to 1.1 cutting possessions per game at 1.51 points per possession last year.
We could go on down through the roster in this way but it is clear Fultz’s return is good news for the other important players in this rotation.
It might sound obvious but being a healthy body is the other big factor in his return.
The backcourt has been hit hard by injuries, although Anthony looks likely to come back alongside Fultz. This is amazing for the Magic, as they will get a whole new backcourt to play a lot of the minutes, taking some away from bit-part players like R.J. Hampton, Caleb Houstan and Admiral Schofield.
Suggs is currently out injured and will miss Wednesday’s game with left ankle soreness. Once he returns, the organization will be able to get a real feel for their backcourt depth.
The thinking right now is that Fultz and Suggs should start, with Anthony their super sub off the bench. Even if it ends up going in a different direction, Fultz is going to get the chance to show he is the long-term solution as their floor general.
What a time to be coming back into the rotation.
The Magic put in their worst performance of the season recently against the Philadelphia 76ers, and their energy for the most part has been lacking. They continue to lose games, so there is no better time for Fultz to come in and show fans all that he can do.
Right now the Magic are a bottom-ten team in offensive and defensive rating, as well as 3-point shooting percentage. In no way does Fultz’s re-introduction alleviate many of the problems Mosley is working with. But on the defensive end, he is going to help right away, he is too smart not to.
Offensively he was once the second-best Orlando Magic player in a playoff series versus the Milwaukee Bucks, and his ability to snake into the paint and finish or find teammates boarders on elite. Shooting wise the problems he experienced earlier in his career have been buried, and although he is only a career 26.2-percent 3-point shooter, it will be his ability to find others where Fultz excels.
He averaged 9.9 assists per 36 minutes in the 18 games he played last season in between coming back from an ACL tear and departing again with a toe issue. The Magic rank dead last in assists per game (21.0), so you can be sure that if nothing else, there is going to be more movement leading to made baskets for an offense that has been better this year, but still needs work.
Most importantly though, Magic fans were wilting under the losses, as they have in years gone by. They needed a reason to feel hopeful again, and the news that Markelle Fultz is back is certainly that. Wednesday’s game against the Hawks is must-watch, as many core players begin to find their way back to health. It starts with Fultz, and what a place to start that is.