Ever since Markelle Fultz entered the NBA, he has always had challenges along the way.
With him being drafted first overall from a Washington Huskies team that only had a 9-22 record raised doubts for Fultz whether he was a true winner.
Then his struggles with thoracic outlet syndrome had a rowdy Philadelphia 76ers fans turn their backs on Fultz, claiming he quit on the team. And then his TOS impacted his jump shot, raising doubts about whether he will ever be an impactful point guard in the NBA.
Fultz arrived in Orlando in 2019 needing a fresh start and needing to see the pressure get relieved. He has rewarded the Orlando Magic for their faith and patience. He quickly took over as the starter in 2020, helping lead the Magic back to the playoffs.
Then, even after tearing his ACL in the 2021 season, Fultz returned a year later and quickly made an impact for the team.
His 2022 season was a breakout season where he put a lot of the injuries behind him and re-established himself as a starting point guard in the league.
Despite all the adversities Fultz faced in his young career, he continues to show resilience over and over again and proves his doubters wrong.
Fultz was a great success story in the NBA this season. Now he is a legitimate core player who can have a gigantic impact on his team’s success.
The Magic were eliminated from the postseason with just three games left in the regular season.
Fultz was a big part of that, averaging a career-high 14.0 points per game and 5.7 assists per game. He was even better after the All-Star Break, averaging 15.6 points and 6.0 assists per game. He had complete control over the offense and guided the Magic into the postseason chase.
His minutes were limited once the team was eliminated from postseason contention. But Fultz continued to point to the development that has Magic fans giddy and the NBA world intrigued heading into next season.
In the final game of the regular season, he rose up and shot the 3-point jumper in his regular shooting motion. No hitch, no push-shot, simply a beautiful silky smooth jumper, and he hit nothing but net.
That is what he had been lacking all along since his TOS diagnosis: His 3-point jumper. He may very well have found it back.
Fultz hit a meager 31.0 percent from beyond the arc for the season. He hit 32.4 percent after the All-Star Break. Fultz ended the season five of his final eight 3-pointers. In this small sample, it is less the numbers that matter than how comfortable Fultz looked taking those threes.
It is an area Fultz knows he needs to continue improving and growing in. It will be part of his offseason work as he tries to build on his career season.
Not to be mistaken, that was not the only bright spot of Fultz’s season. He showed again and again how much he impacts winning.
The Magic started 5-20, all without Fultz due to his fractured big toe suffered just before training camp. Shortly after he returned, the Magic went on a six-game winning streak and he played a major role in that.
Eventually, the team finished 29-28 the rest of the way. Orlando played the majority of the season as a .500 team, giving way to an optimistic and hopeful future.
Especially with a young team like the Magic, they can panic at times when the other team goes on a run. Fultz is that calming presence.
Running the usual Magic offensive playsets instead of rushing and panicking. Multiple times during the season, when there was a controversial call made, you could see Fultz putting his arms around the young Magic players’ shoulders and giving them confidence. Almost as a “Don’t worry, it will be okay.”
That is exactly what you need on the court. He is the true definition of a coach on the court.
Magic were a +0.7 points per 100 possessions with Fultz on the court on offense according to Cleaning the Glass. That number should only improve going into next season now that the Magic players have played almost a full season with Fultz.
Fultz often throws quick wizard-like passes that no one is expecting. That spontaneity sometimes led to turnovers and miscues. Fultz always seems to play at his pace.
This offseason is Fultz’s first offseason in which he can fully focus on basketball and simply getting better. He can build off a fairly healthy season — he played 60 of 62 games after he returned from the toe injury and the two games he missed were from the end of the season.
As crazy as it sounds, with Fultz going into his sixth season next year, he has yet to have a fully healthy offseason and training camp. Due to health and one year due to the COVID-shortened offseason, there has simply not been much opportunity for Fultz to sharpen up his game in the offseason.
The jump Fultz makes can be the game changer in the Magic season.
He shot a career-high 32.9 percent from 3-point range when taking out the end-of-quarter heaves according to Cleaning the Glass. That is a big step in the right direction.
If Fultz can get that number to around 35-36 percent, that will open up things a ton. For both himself and guys like Paolo and Franz.
He has already shown he is a great mid-range shooter and finisher around the rim. He also showed a ton of athleticism this year with some thunderous dunks over defenders. Showing he truly is starting to get back to normal after that devastating ACL injury in January 2021.
An added bonus from Fultz this season was the defensive end. He disrupted the other team’s offenses a ton. He often picked up opposing guards full court slowing their offense. That helped the Magic being able to key in and lock in their half court defense as opposed to trying to catch up in transition. Fultz averaged a career high 1.5 steals per game.
The only knock on Fultz this season was simply he is too unselfish at times.
Fultz took at least 15 field goal attempts in only 11 out of 60 games this season. In those 11 games, he averaged 20.6 points per game, 6.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals on 55 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent from the 3-point line on an average of 16.3 field goal attempts per game in those 11 games.
Albeit a small sample size, he has shown he can efficiently score the ball when he is a bit more aggressive and looks for his own shot. He admittedly said this in the exit interview.
With a long summer ahead, there is a ton of optimism the Magic have in Fultz along with their own summer with potentially multiple draft picks and salary cap.
The Magic players have made it clear that playoffs is the goal in mind for next season. They can certainly reach that goal and much more, however, internal improvement will be the biggest key to get there. And Fultz is the head of the snake when it comes to the Orlando Magic on the floor.