We all know the story: Markelle Fultz is the former No.1 overall pick who forgot how to shoot.
He was the disappointing player who might have gotten back on the floor but was always short on something. He was not someone you could win with in the league. Not with how it is trending toward shooting as such an important skill.
The shoulder injury took away some of his dynamic shooting, but surely the torn ACL was going to knock him completely out. This would be a career that was not only unfulfilled but a career that never even got started.
Redemption would be tough. And all anyone would talk about with Fultz is what could have been.
His comeback happening in Orlando was almost too anonymous. His lone playoff appearance in his lone healthy season was halted by the COVID pandemic and the Bubble, and he did not even make it all the way back for a second playoff appearance in his career.
Something was always missing with Fultz. The flashes of the potential that made him the top overall pick were there but never enough. And something always interrupted it. And everyone just wondered how a player who was such a poor shooter can make any progress.
The Orlando Magic were a bit crazy to stick by him. To sign him to a fresh contract even with his recovery from the ACL injury that cut short his best start in the COVID-shortened 2021 season.
The 2023 season saw him back and healthy (relatively, a toe injury knocked him out for the first 20 games). So slowly but surely though, the 6-foot-4 guard is changing the narrative around him.
The Magic increased their win total from 22 to 34 wins and Fultz was a driving force for this turnaround. The Magic were 5-17 without Fultz this season and 29-31 with him on the court. Fultz was the stabilizer and the glue that kept the Magic’s offense afloat.
Markelle Fultz has faced a lot of questions throughout his career as he struggled with injuries. But the story is becoming less quiet now. Fultz is getting his bounce back and may prove to be key for the Orlando Magic’s future.
Fultz averaged career highs across the board — 14.0 points, 5.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. If you dive into his shooting numbers, they were much improved too. Fultz shot a career-high 51.4 percent from the field and 31 percent from three.
That shooting improvement is the biggest promise for the future. For the first time in his career, Fultz was just playing. He started to look more like himself. For the first time, he looked comfortable.
It was easily observable in Fultz’s first six seasons in the NBA that Fultz had two different shooting motions — he shot it one way from the midrange and another way outside the three point arc.
When he seemed to be in rhythm from the mid-range, his shooting mechanics looked fine. If only he could shoot it like that from three. There was a fluidity to his shooting motion. It all happened so smoothly and quickly and naturally.
Fultz was deadly in the mid-range. He made 42.6 percent of his mid-range jumpers. This on top of a solid 64.8 percent shooting in the restricted area.
His 3-point shot? It was a jerky motion, seemingly stopping at parts as he tried to hoist a shot to the basket. It was predictably not effective.
Well, by season’s end, Fultz was shooting threes with the same bounce he once did at the University of Washington and DeMatha Catholic High School.
It just looked natural. A pull-up 3-pointer was something that earned a double take before, suddenly looked normal.
After the All-Star Break, Fultz shot 32.4 percent from beyond the arc on 1.7 attempts per game. In his final five games, he made five of his final eight 3-pointers. That sample was still extremely small but it indicated something of a shift.
It indicated comfort.
Boy, was it a sight to see. So too was the development that came next as his game further developed.
Fultz seemingly got his bounce back.
And even before he began shooting threes off the bounce, Fultz started dunking again with authority. The second half of the season can be coined the Fultz’s dunk show.
This was the Fultz everyone who still believed waited to see. All the pieces were coming together. And as the 2023 season went on, Fultz was gaining in confidence.
After returning from a torn ACL he suffered in 2021, Fultz’s game was strictly below the rim. Up until February, when Fultz was dunking even more than he did even before the ACL injury.
Fultz coined the term “jelly fam” because of his acrobatic layups and craftiness around the hoop. But this season, he joined “jam fam” with his thunderous dunks.
The evolution of Fultz’s game has been an incredible journey to follow.
First, he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which he battled back from. He became an impact player on the Magic despite not shooting threes. He, instead, attacked the paint at will and still created problems for defenses.
Fultz then developed a killer midrange game. And this season, he improved his shooting from three — eventually shooting them like his mid-range jumpers.
Since the Orlando Magic acquired him from the Philadelphia 76ers — where he was proclaimed a bust — Fultz has been on an upward trajectory.
The ACL injury slowed him down and then a foot problem before the start of this season, but it all seems to be coming together for Fultz.
An All-Star season may still be a reach, but Fultz is sure fun to watch. A little razzle here, an explosive dunk or even an offensive outburst there. Plus, he plays an efficient brand of basketball and makes his teammates better.
Fultz had control over the game and seemingly made everyone around him better. He gave the team an extra gear and seemingly controlled the tempo and pace of the game better than anyone on the team.
The coaching staff certainly has tremendous trust in him to make good decisions and run the team effectively.
He adds some solid defense on top of that where he uses his big body well to be a deterrent to drives and to grab a career-high 1.5 steals per game this year.
Markelle Fultz did all the Orlando Magic asked of him and then some. He provided veteran leadership for a young group and was the true captain of the ship. More than that, he seemingly started to right the ship of his career. He found his spark again.
Health goes a long way to inspiring confidence and consistency. This was the most extended period of health in his career. That is the first step to improvement.
Fultz showed that and made everyone eager to see how he evolves next after such a successful season. Now that the Magic are going to have some winning expectations heaped on them, everyone seems confident Fultz can step up to the plate.
This season, Fultz solidified that he can continue to lead the Magic in the next step of its rebuild, which will be playoffs and then title contention.
Fultz plays winning basketball and the best is seemingly still yet to come.