Nobody expects Markelle Fultz to take threes.
They look at the stats and the numbers. They know his history and his troubles. Teams are still more than happy to hang off Fultz and beg him to shoot. They still stand feet away from him as he looks to probe defenses.
Except, Fultz is not afraid to take threes. It is just about comfort. Everything is about comfort for Fultz — it always has been.
And he is looking a lot more comfortable these days.
So as the ball kicked back out to him in the first quarter of the Orlando Magic’s 113-108 win over the LA Clippers on Saturday, Fultz got the ball, gave a quick pump fake and then reset himself before firing away.
Of course(?), it went in.
Those were the first three points Fultz scored Saturday afternoon. They were far from the last. And Fultz continues to make performances like the one he had Saturday fairly normal.
Fultz scored a career-high 28 points in the win. He hit several big shots including four field goals in the final five minutes. He helped put the game away and made big baskets as the team knows it can increasingly rely on him to make.
Fultz has not hit the 28-point high ever before. But big-scoring games are becoming the norm.
The former No. 1 overall pick is starting to look and play like that player a whole lot more from his movements that get him into the paint to his jumper to even his athleticism (we still do not know why he is so angry at the rim).
The comeback phase of Markelle Fultz’s career is quickly coming to an end. The Orlando Magic point guard is proving capable of being a big-time playmaker and scorer for the team more consistently.
He has been a nice comeback story. Everyone outside of Philadelphia seems to be cheering him on.
But it was always a nice story of a player reclaiming part of his career to become useful. Fultz may not become an All-Star, but it is clear he is a solid starting point guard and energizer for this team.
This is not a comeback story anymore. At last, Fultz can go through the regular progression of his career and development now. And that development has been impressive.
Fultz is averaging 14.1 points per game this season while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. He has added 5.6 assists per game. All of those are career highs.
Since the All-Star Break, about a year after returning from his torn ACL, Fultz is averaging 17.5 points per game and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 53.8 percent from the floor. He has hit 90.0 percent of his free throws too.
Fultz has hit overdrive. This is the most comfortable and confident he has looked. And that has allowed his talent to shine through in meaningful ways.
That was what was on display in Saturday’s game as much as anything else.
"“I’m loving it. I’m really having fun,” Fultz said after Saturday’s game. “What you are seeing from me is someone who doesn’t take anything for granted and tries to do anything to help his team win. The sky is the limit. I feel like I have a high ceiling and so much room to grow. Every day I am trying to get better. That’s what you are seeing out there a guy who is trying to get better and compete to help his team win.”"
He did it all, driving to the basket and hitting a twisting layup to give the Magic a four-point lead. Staring down his defender and pulling up for a mid-range jumper to maintain that lead. And then getting out in transition off a blocked shot to put the game away.
Fultz had finishing flourishes, using his strength to work around defenders and his touch to score over them. He displayed his patience, keeping defenders off balance with the threat of his drive to set defenders up for his killer mid-range jumper — 43.6 percent from mid-range for the season and 18 for 39 (46.2 percent) since the All-Star Break.
The consistency has been the thing too. Fultz followed up a career-high tying 25 points with his career-best 28 points. But Fultz has scored at least 10 points in 21 of his past 23 games. He has hit 15 points or more in seven of his past 11 games.
Fultz still rated his game Saturday as an “8” saying he missed some rotations and had some fouls he would like to get back. The most important thing was getting the win. This is the high standard Fultz holds himself to.
That is what has endeared Fultz to everyone. He is not out there searching for his stats.
But this is something much more consistent. This is something more than a player getting his feet under him. This is a player who is thriving and impacting games on a major level.
The stats have not always shown it. The Magic’s starting lineup has struggled for some time and his on/off numbers do not look great. But watching games, it is clear what Fultz can bring — honestly, on both ends.
Fultz has always played at his own speed and has had to get comfortable again. This has always been what he is chasing.
"“I’m so proud of this young man just for the fact that he has constantly endured,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Saturday’s game. “He never walks into the building without a smile on his face. you see that there’s such a level of joy in his heart to play the game of basketball. You can take the numbers out and the way he plays the game, the way he has a passion for his teammates. No matter what it takes to get a win, he’s going to try to do. That’s what is so special about him and the way his teammates feel about him.”"
But now more than a year out from returning from his ACL injury and putting behind the foot injury that caused him to miss the first 20 games of the season, Fultz has found that footing. He has looked the best he has looked in his entire career. He is not only reclaiming the lost potential injuries took from him. He is making good on that.
At the beginning of the season, certainly part of Fultz’s goal was to grow beyond playing under the context of his injuries. He wanted to move forward with his career. He wanted the “comeback” part of his career to be over.
With continued high-scoring and high-impact performances on both ends building up as the season winds down, it is clear Fultz is more than just this comeback story. He is a real player of real impact and importance to one of the most promising young teams in the league.
Fultz is not just a comeback story anymore. He is a story of progress and improvement for a young team that needs it.