Markelle Fultz still has claim to growth at Orlando Magic’s point guard spot

Markelle Fultz and the Orlando Magic ended their season on a high note. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Markelle Fultz and the Orlando Magic ended their season on a high note. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports /

The headlines have started to write themselves from the national media after Anthony Black’s solid showing in the NBA Summer League, “The Orlando Magic have found their point guard.”

That certainly is a conclusion that someone who has not watched the Magic very much might try to conclude after watching Black play and acknowledging the Magic selected a point guard with the sixth overall pick. Orlando certainly has every reason to invest in Black.

There is probably no doubt of that. The Magic will give Black opportunities to learn and grow. They know they have some big decisions to make at point guard with both Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony’s contracts set to expire at the end of the season.

It is easy to look ahead or discard what was already here.

That is doing a disservice to the players the Magic have built up, especially the growth Fultz showed as the season went on.

The Orlando Magic muddied up their point guard picture some ahead of a big season. But it would be too easy to forget Markelle Fultz and the growth he showed toward the end of the season.

The most dangerous thing to do with a Magic team that has decided to roll things back and give their young players another opportunity to show their stuff is to assume that any decision has been made. Or to assume any decision is simple and easy.

There is a lot still to sort through.

And the end of the season has felt like it was so long ago that it is easy to forget just how good Fultz was playing and the bright future he seemed to be pointing himself toward as he reclaims his career after years of facing injuries.

Drafting Black certainly raised questions about what the Magic intend to do at point guard. As will the extension negotiations impending for both Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony that will begin this summer (and perhaps bleed into next offseason).

Fultz has earned every bit of the recognition and hope that he has brought. Certainly more than being the throw-in, expiring contract in the fake trade fever dream (trust me, they exist).

He just did a lot of things last year that flew so far under the radar.

Fultz finished last year averaging a career-high 14.0 points per game to go with 5.7 assists per game. He shot 51.4 percent from the floor overall, especially strong considering he shot only 31.0 percent on 3-pointers. That was still a career-best for him.

It is still amazing what a little prolonged bout of health can do. And that was what the Magic saw from Fultz.

He used the end of the 2022 season to get himself back on the court. A toe injury cost him the first 20 games of the 2023 season but he did not miss any time the rest of the season. And once he got going and got all the way back, the results were spectacular.

Let’s just take out a portion of the season.

In the 22 games after the All-Star Break, Fultz averaged 15.6 points per game, 6.0 assists per game and 3.7 rebounds per game. He had shooting splits of 53.3/32.4/81.1. That only highlights the shooting potential he still has and how much more confident he was playing.

The Magic played better with Fultz on the floor too.

After the All-Star Break, the Magic had a +0.8 net rating with Fultz on the floor with a stunning 113.9 offensive rating (2.5 points per 100 possessions better than the team’s average) and a solid 113.0 defensive rating (0.1 points per 100 possessions better than the team’s overall average).

In fact, only Paolo Banchero had a better on-court offensive rating than Markelle Fultz after the All-Star Break at 114.3 points per 100 possessions.

This was with a starting group that struggled a bit more overall after the All-Star Break. Fultz was still a net positive. And that is a sign of how much better Fultz was playing to close the season.

It is worth noting then that for the entire season, the Magic had a -3.7 net rating with Fultz on the floor (110.3/114.0 split, both worse than the season’s overall averages).

Something got into Fultz toward the end of the season and it was evident how much more confident he was. That came in the form of his shooting more pull-up 3-pointers and jumpers, his efficiency from the mid-range and his excellence finishing at the rim (Fultz made 68.6 percent of his 4.8 field goal attempts per game in the restricted area after the All-Star Break).

That quarter of the season is a fairly small sample size in the grand scheme of things. But it is important for what it represents.

Fultz returned from his torn ACL shortly after the All-Star Break during the 2022 season. ACL tears are no longer prohibitive for the time it takes to recover fully from them and no longer for the severity of the injury. It is usually a year of recovering to get back onto the court and then another full year to get all the way back on on-court skills.

There is still a lot of room for him to improve without a doubt. He will have to stretch that over a full season and prove he can be healthy for an entire season like he was in his welcome-back year in 2020 (a year that was cut short by the COVID pandemic and he was slow to get back up to speed in the bubble).

On top of this then, this offseason could represent his first offseason where he is not rehabbing from injury. The Magic have not yet seen what Fultz looks like when he has a full offseason to work on his game. They almost got a look at that last year before the toe injury derailed the start of his season.

It is not clear yet whether the Magic will work on an extension with Fultz (they apparently cannot agree to terms on one until September, so it will remain hanging in the background even through training camp).

Fultz has increasingly proven that when he is healthy he can still look like the player who was the clear-cut No. 1 pick in his draft. He just has not had the consistent health to deliver and make good on that talent.

That is what finally looked like was peaking through at the end of last season. That alone may not be enough to net a fresh extension. He may have to prove himself again this season — like so many other players will have to as the Magic do their set of self-evaluations.

Next. Jett Howard has been flashing the shooting the Magic need. dark

The one thing nobody should do though is forget what Fultz can be and what he already is. Like so many young players on this team, he still seems to have a promising future ahead of him. And nobody should be pushing him to the side quite yet.