If there is one player who truly excelled in the 2023 season for the Orlando Magic, it is Markelle Fultz.
The point guard began the year with question marks over his long-term health and if he was the right player to lead what the front office hope will be a playoff-level team soon.
By the end of the campaign, not only was Fultz a lot of Magic fan’s favorite player, but he should have garnered more Most Improved Player of the Year award buzz as well.
Markelle Fultz had himself a fantastic season, the best of his still-young career, and was clearly one of the bright spots for a growing Orlando Magic franchise.
It did not begin on the best note though. Fultz started the season injured and did not appear until the start of December. A rocky beginning that came about without a great bang or offensive explosion.
We should have known better than to correlate the impact of Fultz with the numbers that appeared on the stat sheet each night because he quickly became so much more than that.
By year’s end he had averaged 14.0 points, 5.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game, which were all career highs.
Even better was the fact he managed to play 60 games, all starts, the most he had managed since his first year in Florida (72 games, 60 starts). When he returned from his injury, he did not miss a single game the rest of the way. That is the kind of durability and longevity the Magic needed to see from their hopeful starting point guard.
And he kept expanding his game as he got more comfortable.
Fultz took 1.5 3-pointers per night, the second-highest mark of his career. At 31.0 percent from deep, that number needs to improve, but the fact he was taking these shots at all was a real positive.
Fans are not satisfied with the 3-point shooting from Fultz, and that is a fair criticism to have. But when you consider where it once was, the trajectory he is on with it right now is acceptable.
By the last 20 or so games, Fultz was stepping into all manner of jump shots, with as much confidence as we have ever seen from him.
Equally as impressive were the 2.4 trips to the line that he made each night, right in line with his previous best.
Making 1.9 of those attempts was a career-high, and it is that free-throw percentage that should give Magic fans hope that the best is yet to come from Fultz when it comes to shooting the ball.
Throughout his time in the league so far, Fultz has shot 73.4 percent from the charity stripe. This season he upped that number to 78.3 percent, all while being as productive as he ever has in the process.
The link between free-throw shooting and 3-point makes has long been discussed, but no matter your thoughts on how much the two are intertwined, Fultz clearly took a step up in both areas this year.
This was far from the only area where Fultz had an impact, and defensively he was as capable of staying in front of his man as capably as many of the top defensive guards in the league.
Yet puzzlingly Fultz posted the worst defensive rating of his career (114.0), which speaks both to the work he has to do off the ball when defending, and how the Magic as a whole had many lineups (most notably without Wendell Carter) that were porous.
Really though, the magic (sorry…) of Fultz was felt in how he was able to orchestrate all around him when he was on the court.
If Cole Anthony is a more “rock & roll” point guard who attacks every situation with vigor, and Jalen Suggs already looks more comfortable as a two-guard, then Fultz was the poise that was badly needed.
When he was on the court there was a calmness to how the Magic attempted either to hold a lead or, as was more often the case, chip away at one.
Fultz still has his flaws, and perhaps not impacting the stat sheet in the same way he can exercise control over what is happening on the court is certainly one of them.
But this was the year when his confidence not only came all the way back, but he actually had a good run of meaningful games playing and contributing to an effort to try and make the Play-in tournament.
In his sixth season in the league, that is the first time Fultz has ever been healthy, confident and taking part in games that mattered, all at the same time. The results were fantastic.
It is important to get all of the steps right in the process of building a future contender.
The Magic now have Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner as their young stars, and Wendell Carter as the ever-improving big who will be able to anchor the team inside the paint.
Having the right floor general to make all of these pieces go is very difficult to get right. It becomes even harder when you consider this same player will likely spend a lot of time guarding elite guards themselves.
Fultz ticks all of those boxes for the organization, and he was able to dispel any murmurings about his future with the Magic over the course of 29.6 minutes a night (a career-high) in 60 games.
This is not the same guy who not so long ago was the second-best player for the Magic in a playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks.
No, this is an individual who has leveled up, and who the Magic know they are lucky to have.
Fultz is the right player in a key position at the right time, and was truly one of the best things about the Orlando Magic’s season.