2023 Orlando Magic Second Quarter MVP: Markelle Fultz signaled stability

Markelle Fultz returned to the court for the Orlando Magic in the second quarter of the season and brought some needed stability. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz returned to the court for the Orlando Magic in the second quarter of the season and brought some needed stability. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic entered the second quarter of the season feeling incomplete.

Injuries were the repeated story for the first 20 or so games of the season.

Markelle Fultz had just returned from a preseason toe injury. Cole Anthony was just returning from an oblique injury. That would give the team two point guards for the first time in weeks. Paolo Banchero was working his way through a sprained ankle and Jalen Suggs would have his own ankle injuries to be concerned about.

For the Magic, the problem through the first part of the season was about stability and consistency. The roster became a revolving door of players going in and out of the lineup. It rarely felt like the team had the same nine or 10 players every night in its rotation.

Never mind that the Magic played a good chunk of the season without any natural point guards on the floor, leaning on Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero to carry much of the playmaking weight to interesting outcomes but little in the way of results.

All the Magic needed was to be healthy again. They needed to have some stability to grow. The first quarter of the season was disappointing.

The second quarter of the season?

The Orlando Magic needed stability and health to get through the second quarter of the season. Markelle Fultz came to symbolize the biggest change as the Magic’s season recovered.

The Magic went through their lowest of lows in a nine-game losing streak but slowly built the consistency they were missing. They started to build wins, burning off six straight wins and eight of nine to climb out of the NBA’s basement at least a little bit.

They found that stability. And the greatest symbol of that stability was Markelle Fultz.

For that reason, we are naming Fultz our MVP of the second quarter of the season.

Fultz did not lead the team in scoring — that honor still went to our first-quarter MVP in Franz Wagner at 20.4 points per game. He did not even have a positive plus-minus overall — the Magic were -3.8 points per game during the second quarter of the season with Fultz on the floor.

Still, that took into account the period the Magic were still re-establishing their rotations and playing groups. Since the Magic started this win streak, Fultz’s impact became undeniable. The Magic simply needed the stability and direction he brings to the floor.

In the second quarter of the season, Fultz averaged 11.7 points per game and 5.5 assists per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor overall.

Those are not the most impressive raw numbers. But Fultz’s value is often hidden just beneath the surface.

It is something that is hard for the stats to capture — indeed the Magic had a better on-court rating with Cole Anthony on the floor and even a negative net rating with Markelle Fultz on the floor. Overall, Fultz had a positive plus/minus in nine of the team’s 20 games in the second quarter of the season.

There are still a lot of areas Fultz needs to improve on. And he closed the second quarter of the season (including Tuesday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers) averaging 12.4 points per game and 6.1 assists per game in his past 10 games. He shot 51.0 percent from the floor.

Like everything else, Fultz is starting to pick up steam now that he has had a few games under his belt to recover from his preseason injury. Everyone is certainly hoping this newfound aggression and comfort is here to stay to give the team a strong base.

The stats are not there yet. And that may make this pick controversial (thanks for the click, by the way). But the eye test would say how important Fultz is for the team.

He is a master at controlling pace and organization. The team operates smoother and better with him on the floor. When he is in lineups with shooters especially, he is able to get downhill and finish around the basket or dish out to the perimeter for threes. Everything just flows.

It is no coincidence some of the Magic’s best lineups from the second quarter of the season followed this formula — among the top 10 lineups by net rating that played at least 10 minutes, Fultz was involved in seven.

On top of this, Fultz has emerged as a pretty solid defender.

According to data from Basketball Index, Fultz is in the 95th percentile in pickpocket rating and in the 97th percentile in steals per 75 possessions at 2.0 steals per 75 possessions. He is in the 86th percentile in with 3.2 deflections per 75 possessions.

He has not qualified yet for many of the catch-all stats but Fultz ranks in the 61st percentile in Defensive RAPTOR at +0.2 and in the 67th percentile with a 0.4 defensive box plus-minus.

During his last full season in 2020 (or as full as that season could be), Fultz ranked in the 29th percentile in Defensive RAPTOR and 61st percentile in defensive box plus-minus.

These are significant and noted improvements from Fultz this season as he continues to set a better tone defensively as much as he sets one offensively.

It is really an intangible thing from Fultz. It is so hard to describe except to say to watch him and feel how different the team is when he is out there.

And that is why Fultz is the decision for the team’s MVP of the last 20 games. It is because of the presence he represents and the change that helped the Magic right the ship.

It is about consistency and stability. These were the elements missing earlier in the season. The constant injuries and shuffling in and out of the lineup were the biggest deterrent to the team showing tangible results to go with whatever growth was occurring on the court.

Fultz helps facilitate that in a major way. It is abundantly clear how much he does for the team.

He works through his shortcomings extremely well turning defenses hanging off him and daring him into shooting into drives to the basket or easy step-in jumpers that he shocks them by making at a decent clip. That is a lesson for everyone to stay aggressive and take what the defense gives them with confidence.

But Fultz’s real value is not in his scoring or how he puts the ball in the basket. It is not even about his statistics. It is truly about the stability he brings. That permeates everywhere on the roster. It is a recognizable thing but also an unseen thing.

Everyone deserves credit for this. But it starts with the point guard in charge. It starts with the player who is at least nominally leading the show.

Jonathan Isaac stands out in long-awaited return. dark. Next

Fultz has a hand in everything the Magic are doing. And their turnaround this season happened in large parts because of the stability Fultz finally brought to the table for the team.