Want to take the temperature of the Orlando Magic? Check on Markelle Fultz.
In one moment, Fultz can do something amazing. He can dart into the lane and get a steal and go to the other end for a breakaway dunk. He can drive into the lane, slow down to get his defender on his hip while freezing the big dropping to protect the paint. Just as quickly he can speed up and explode to the basket or rise up for a jumper. Or he could dish it to an open shooter if the defense starts to collapse around him.
In other moments, Fultz can look like he is either operating on a different plane, finding passing angles his teammates are not quite expecting him to see or even conceiving. He can look a bit off-tempo. He can dribble himself into traps without much of an outlet. He can sometimes look a bit uninvolved or like his mind is trailing off.
Like so much of the Magic’s young team, Fultz has to keep his attention to detail. He has to be focused and purposeful with his dribbling and his attack. Fultz is the one who usually is the clue to whether the Magic are dialed in.
Inevitably every question about the Magic turns to their veteran (compared to the rest of the roster) point guard. Fultz is undoubtedly a supremely talented and gifted playmaker. His talent — the same talent that made him the number-one pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Markelle Fultz’s talent is undeniable in the moments he takes over games. But the Orlando Magic have a lot of questions about their future and players like Fultz have a lot to prove still.
And as some begin to think about the Magic’s future, they seem to be thinking about what comes next for the Magic at the point guard position. They seem to be thinking about whether there is an upgrade in the making for Fultz.
Fultz has had a solid season. He is averaging a career-high 13.2 points per game and 5.5 assists per game. He is shooting 50.0 percent from the floor and 30.9 percent from beyond the arc, a massive improvement from his noted shooting struggles in his career.
He has taken some major steps. And the Magic have certainly turned things around not coincidentally since Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony returned to the lineup. Everyone notices what Fultz is doing and how much he controls the game’s tempo.
"“They took off when Fultz came in because he is an experienced point guard,” Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey said before last Thursday’s game. “As much as you want [Jalen] Suggs to be a fifth- or sixth-year guy, it just doesn’t happen. They’ve got a veteran point guard in there. He’s playing like a top-five pick as he was. I think that’s the difference in their team. He is playing at a high level. it takes time for all young guards in our league to grow.”"
The Magic know how important having a point guard can be. Their first quarter of the season was essentially played without a point guard with Markelle Fultz out with a fractured toe and Cole Anthony out with an oblique injury.
All the eye tests say how critical Fultz is to this team functioning.
Yet the Magic have an on-court rating of -4.0 points per 100 possessions with Fultz on the floor since Dec. 7, the third-worst on the team (ahead of only Chuma Okeke and his one game played and Jonathan Isaac). The team is worse offensively (108.9 points per 100 possessions) with him out there.
Some of that may be that he is playing primarily with the inconsistent starting group. It is hard to get a handle on this or square it away with the eye test.
It goes deeper than that though. Fultz scores more and shoots better in Magic losses. He averages 14.4 points per game and shoots a 56.9-percent true shooting percentage in losses compared to 12.0 points per game and a 53.3-percent true shooting percentage in wins.
This just raises all the questions again for Fultz. It should make it clear how critical Fultz can be but also that something is not quite matching up. Not in a way that is clearly visible.
Nobody wants to get rid of Fultz or move on from him. He is a 25-year-old in his first full season coming back from a torn ACL. He has all the qualities and shiftiness to be an impact player.
But the Magic’s progression into a potential playoff team brings everything under pressure and into question. The team is going to be ready to take some significant steps forward soon.
Fultz’s contract status — his contract is non-guaranteed for the 2024 season and he will be a free agent that summer if that gets picked up — adds to those questions.
The rumors that do not seem to die connecting the Magic to Fred VanVleet are not about the Magic throwing their money to get a veteran former All-Star or to fill the Magic’s need to get a knockdown shooter. Rather, these rumors seem to persist because everyone is curious about whether Fultz is the Magic’s future.
The part that everyone <ahem> aggregated was Fischer’s suggestion he had heard the Magic were prepared to make a big-money offer for VanVleet in free agency this summer. But the conversation continued from there into a discussion about Fultz.
Fischer reported the Magic really like Fultz. And the rumor suddenly did not seem so sure as it appeared. It helps to listen to the whole thing.
But the question still lingers. And the numbers back up that there should at least be some question and evaluation.
Fultz has been extremely valuable to this team. He was our MVP for the second quarter of the season. He very well could be our MVP for the third quarter of the season. He feels that important.
But there is still more to prove. There is more to prove in how he plays and impacts winning in measurable ways. There is more to prove in how the Magic finish the season.
Very few players probably have as much to prove to end the season — there are a lot of young players who have a lot to prove the rest of this season. Fultz has a lot of work to do to keep this team humming and growing.
That is ultimately the responsibility of a point guard.
Obviously, no one should give up on Fultz. He has shown plenty to warrant continued investment and belief. He still has plenty of room to grow.
But the storm clouds are building off in the distance. He has to show more and has to show more tangible impact toward winning, not just the feeling of what he can be.
That could probably be said about a lot of players on this team. That is what the final quarter of this season will be.
Things will not be the same next year. The Magic are probably ready to make some winning moves in the near future.
And it all starts with the point guard in Fultz.