Markelle Fultz is the key to the Orlando Magic’s rise in 2024

Markelle Fultz started to find his rhythm and flow to end last season. His development could be the tipping point for the Orlando Magic next year. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz started to find his rhythm and flow to end last season. His development could be the tipping point for the Orlando Magic next year. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic’s offseason is going to be on full public display very soon.

Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner will be suiting up for their national teams in a month at the FIBA World Cup (Wagner and Germany play their first friendly Saturday and Banchero and the United States play their first friendly Monday). Magic fans will see them and their progress and improvements in full color (if they get up early to watch the games in the Philippines and Japan at the end of the month).

To be sure, Banchero and Wagner are the most important players on the team. Your stars always are. And everyone around the league sees them as potentially taking that next big step. If the Magic are going to climb into the postseason race, it will certainly be on the backs of Banchero and Wagner’s improvements.

That will not be enough though. There are still questions about the Magic’s roster and how everything will ultimately come together. There are still wild cards that could tip the season one direction or the other.

The Orlando Magic are eager to see if they can take the step up to the postseason. Markelle Fultz’s development and growth could be as big as anything in that journey next year.

Outside of the Magic bubble, the question the Magic face is about their guard situation. A lot of people question whether Orlando has the guard play to take a sizeable leap.

That question is not necessarily a call to trade or leave anybody behind. But it is a challenge for the Magic. A challenge to their guards.

And more specifically a challenge to point guard Markelle Fultz.

His development and play may well be the difference for this Magic team. If Orlando is truly going to rise the ranks in the Eastern Conference, it likely starts with just how much better and much more consistent Fultz can get.

Those outside the Orlando bubble are likely more curious and wondering if Fultz can get anywhere near his pre-draft hype. If anything, a lot of national fans have probably written Fultz off as nothing more than a non-shooting playmaker. Most national analysts wonder if the Magic do need an upgrade at point guard.

To say the least, then, Fultz is in the crosshairs entering a contract year to improve and cement his spot for the team moving forward.

Ask Magic fans, and they are inevitably going to sing Fultz’s praises. As they should.

Fultz has made the most of his time in Orlando and looked to get himself right toward the end of the season. He had a career 2023 season and his return to the court was essential to the team’s growth — the team struggled out of the gates with Fultz out the first 20 games after breaking his toe.

Fultz got himself going though, averaging a career-high 14.0 points per game, a career-high 5.7 assists per game and a career-best shooting splits of 51.4/31.0/78.3 (only his free throw percentage did not meet a career-high).

More than this, he showed a lot more comfort not only running and managing games, something he was clearly adept at, but he showed more confidence as a shooter and scorer.

If it takes a full year of playing for a player to recover fully from a torn ACL, then Fultz’s stats after the All-Star Break are far more important to look at.

In 22 games after the All-Star Break, Fultz averaged 15.6 points per game and 6.0 assists per game with 53.3/32.4/81.1 shooting splits. He was willing to shoot more from three, taking 1.7 attempts per game, and stronger getting to the line, taking 2.4 attempts per game.

More than that, Fultz became a dynamo attacking the basket. He shot 64.8 percent on 4.2 attempts per game in the restricted area for the season. He shot 68.6 percent on 4.7 attempts per game after the All-Star Break.

Fultz also became a more effective mid-range shooter, making 42.6 percent on 2.7 attempts per game for the season. After the All-Star Break, he made the same 42.6 percent of his 2.7 attempts per game.

The Magic generally play better when Fultz is out there. But his impact can be hit or miss still. Orlando had a -3.7 net rating (110.3/114.0 offensive/defensive rating split) with him on the floor last year. After the All-Star Break, the Magic had a +0.8 net rating (113.9/113.0 split).

This was yet another sign of Fultz’s emergence after the break and the upward trend he was playing as he got more comfortable and confident with his body.

Players have always remarked Fultz is a crafty passer. He moves at a seemingly different pace and is not bothered by pressure defense. Players love playing with him for the improvisation he brings and the way he still sucks up space even as teams lay off him to invite him to shoot.

The question then is just how much better can he get. Nobody expects him to return to the top overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft. But hints of that player started peaking through at the end of the year.

All anyone has seen of Fultz was him at Summer League sporting the flat top haircut he had at Washington. Then he posted some workout videos earlier this week (via CMO Training on Instagram):

That is just an appetizer as these workout videos tend to be pure window dressing. Nobody knows how it will actually look in a game. But Fultz is clearly looking much more comfortable, explosive and confident in his entire game.

That is how he ended the season and it makes sense that it would carry over into his offseason as he does his work in Washington, D.C.

This offseason is obviously a big one for him with questions about his contract status lingering in the background (he can become a free agent next offseason and is extension eligible in September). This summer also would represent his first fully healthy offseason, provided he does not have any late injuries as he had last year.

The growth the Magic saw from him last year may have come earlier if not for that toe injury that cost him the first 20 games of the season.

All this is to say, Fultz is the ultimate wild card for this team.

He clearly has the talent and the ability to impact games in a major way. Everyone can see the potential he brings to the team. The question is whether he can stretch that to 82 games, stay healthy and become a potential third scorer to boost this Magic team and ultimately its offense.

dark. Next. Jett Howard can step up as a shooter

Orlando seems like the team is indeed on the cusp of making its push into the postseason. But it will take everyone taking a step up. And no one could tip the season forward quite like Fultz if he can continue growing and developing as he did to end last season.