Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic catching up to one another

Markelle Fultz is still adjusting as he returns to the Orlando Magic after missing the first quarter of the season. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz is still adjusting as he returns to the Orlando Magic after missing the first quarter of the season. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

Markelle Fultz wants to go.

That is the most evident thing watching him play. When he gets the ball in the backcourt, he wants to speed into the frontcourt and catch the defense backpedaling. He is constantly catching defenses off balance to find his way to the basket or to zip passes through holes in the defense right to players.

There is no slowing down with Fultz in the way the Magic were before he returned. There is no doubt when Fultz has the ball and no trying to figure out what to do next from a player who is not naturally a point guard.

The play that stands out is one from Saturday’s game against the Toronto Raptors when Fultz stole a save attempt out of bounds and immediately rocketed to the basket for a layup.

This was always the potential for Fultz. Someone who could pick up the team’s play and pace with every dribble and every step. Fultz is a point guard because he knows how to control the team’s pace. There is a confidence he brings when he is on the ball.

Fultz can control the speed of the game to his liking, at times attacking to get all the way to the basket and finish or kick out to the perimeter or stopping at times for a mid-range jumper from one of his preferred “kill spots.”

Markelle Fultz is slowly finding his rhythm and adjusting to a new Orlando Magic team and teammates as he returns from injury. Everyone is catching up to this new environment.

Everything is still an adjustment though. Fultz is still working his way back into the swing of things after four games since returning from the toe fracture that kept him out to start the season. More importantly, everyone is adjusting to Fultz and his presence in the lineups.

It is a constant give and take as the team tries to get its point guard up to speed and get up to their point guard’s speed.

"“I still feel like the biggest thing is continuing to get used to these guys and my teammates and how they play and them also getting used to me and getting more and more comfortable on the floor together,” Fultz said after practice Tuesday. “As far as my rhythm and the flow of the game, I feel I am doing a pretty good job competing on both ends of the floor. That’s my main focus going into each game. Go in there and give an effort on both ends of the floor and have fun while I’m doing that.”"

There has been a lot of that starting and stopping. The team has struggled overall in the midst of a nine-game losing streak.

Fultz has not had the immediate positive impact everyone hoped the team would get from having a true point guard on the floor. Instead, it has been an adjustment for everyone as they ease Fultz into things.

The results from Fultz’s return so far have suggested this slow adjustment for the team.

The team overall has a 104.9 offensive rating with Fultz on the floor in the last four games, only slightly better than the team’s overall offensive rating. The team’s pace is only slightly up too to 100.2 possessions per 48 minutes with Fultz on the floor.

There was clearly an adjustment period that needed to be made.

The good news? He had his breakthrough game with 20 points in the Orlando Magic’s 109-102 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday. In that game, the Magic played at an offensive rating of 115.7 points per 100 possessions with Fultz on the floor (the team was at 100.0 for the game overall) and played at a pace of 104.5 possessions per 48 minutes.

In that game, Fultz seemed to be in control far more than he had at any of his previous games. He could initiate the break or get to the rim. Or he could slow things down and seek out matchups — often finding Paolo Banchero with deep post position to set up a foul or a shot.

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Fultz finished the game with just two assists because of the Magic’s overall poor shooting in the game. Tracking statistics from Second Spectrum had him with eight potential assists in the game. He is averaging a team-high 8.0 potential assists per game.

That shows the potential creation and playmaking he is bringing to the team. A lot of it is still unrealized as the team adjusts to his presence on the floor.

"“These guys are trying to understand that they don’t have to do some of the things they needed to do before,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Tuesday. “That is an adjustment period. I think it has been three or four games where they are trying to figure out when he swings it to me I am more open than I’ve been because he collapses the entire defense. There is an adjustment period, but these guys are finding their rhythm.”"

The effects everyone believed would occur with Fultz on the floor are starting to happen. Especially as Fultz gets more comfortable running the show for the team.

There are still plenty of adjustments to make. Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner all average more than 7.0 potential assists per game this season. But all four of those players (Suggs has not played) have seen that number dip since Fultz returned. Banchero leads the way at 6.8 potential assists per game.

Everyone has had to relearn how to play off the ball again. That has led to some uneven performances from both Banchero and Wagner since Fultz came back as they move to more off-ball roles.

Both have still found ways to get their numbers, but it is doing less of what they built through the first quarter of the season.

Fultz too has had to adjust because the Magic are willing to run more through Wagner and Banchero. It was encouraging to see the Magic open Monday’s game with Wagner running a pick-and-roll and kicking out to Fultz for a three.

Fultz may not be a reliable three-point shooter. But this is the kind of understanding he and all the Magic players have to gain. They have to understand where the cutting opportunities are and how to position themselves off the ball as other players work.

As Mosley constantly puts it, the idea of the Magic’s offense is just to play basketball. There are no set positions within the team. Everyone has to do everything. That gives incredible freedom but also puts pressure on everyone to do everything.

No doubt all three of those players are effective on the ball. But their and the team’s success might rely on how effective they can be without the ball. That is something each individual is still adjusting to.

"“It’s as tough as you make it,” Fultz said after practice Tuesday. “I feel everyone has done a great job being open and learning each other’s game and playing off each other. I think it is going to take a little bit of time. As you are seeing we are getting better and better. This is going to be something we have to keep in mind as we move forward is we are always going to be adapting to something new.”"

If there are growing pains for Orlando, it is there in individual usage. Fultz is undoubtedly a player who can help the Magic be better. That is still plainly evident even through some of these early struggles.

The Magic are still pulling all these pieces together and getting used to a new player. A critical player that is changing the way the Magic are attacking. Elements of the old style are still present and that will force Fultz to change and adjust too.

On top of this will be more integration of injured players — including Mo Bamba, who is set to return from back spasms Wednesday against the LA Clippers.

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Everything though is getting up to speed. That will take time. And some of the early results are promising even with some share for concern and adjustment as they get going.