The lists are starting to come out.
We are in the deadest part of the offseason — minus the FIBA World Cup — and yet so close to the start of the season. We can feel and touch it. The Orlando Magic will hold their media day in exactly one month on Oct. 2.
And so these player rankings and lists are starting to come out.
The Magic are not front and center in the league obviously. The team only has one nationally televised game on its schedule. The general expectation is the Magic will compete for a Play-In Spot.
But they are on the radar. Everyone recognizes the young talent the Magic have on the roster and the potential both Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner present. The going national narrative is the Magic will be a team to keep on your League Pass watch list and nobody will be surprised if they start making waves around the league.
The larger national viewing audience might end up being surprised to look up and see them in the postseason since they are on national TV so few times.
Everyone will recognize the Magic have two pieces in place with Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. They are both in the top 50 players on Bleacher Report’s list of the top 110 players and got listed in Seth Partnow of The Athletic’s tiered player rankings — both in Tier 4 as budding stars who have yet to prove their consistency.
What everyone has been trying to figure out is what the Magic need next. Or what is the piece that could take the team over the top?
And consistently the national media has turned the focus on the point guard spot — not the uncertain shooting guard spot, the only spot that seemingly is up for competition in training camp. A lot of the observers around the league are wondering if Markelle Fultz is a long-term option for the team.
Fultz remains a curiosity around the league. He is missed potential it seems as injuries kept him from living up to his top overall pick potential. And everyone who has not watched much of him in his career seems eager to compare him to that version of himself rather than what he is. And missing a year due to a torn ACL only further put question marks on him.
Fultz was left off the Bleacher Report list, although he made Matt Moore of the Action Network’s list of the top 100 players, citing the Magic’s need to figure out if Fultz can still play a role with Banchero and Wagner take up more usage.
Still, that bigger question remains: Is Fultz the right point guard for this Magic team? Is he the long-term answer? Is this an immediate need for the Magic to address or a secondary question as the team continues to grow up?
These are important questions for the Magic to ask. They should not ignore these. But they have fewer answers than many think.
To listen to the national media would make it seem like all Orlando needs is a shot-making point guard to tie the whole thing together. To listen to Magic fans would make you believe the first-overall-pick version of Fultz is about to re-emerge.
The answer is likely somewhere in the middle. But the Magic are prepared to let Fultz find out this year — especially before his contract year, even if the Magic ultimately decide to extend him before the season.
Fultz had a strong season for Orlando last year, averaging a career-high 14.0 points per game and 5.7 assists per game. He shot 51.4 percent from the floor and 31.0 percent from three.
The 3-point shot has been something everyone has been obsessed with Fultz since the shoulder injury sapped him of some of his shooting ability he displayed in college. He has been often reluctant to take 3-pointers, but pretty effective and efficient from mid-range.
The important thing with Fultz is to analyze his time since the year anniversary of his return from the torn ACL. After the All-Star Break then, Fultz averaged 15.6 points per game and 6.0 assists per game while shooting 53.3 percent from the floor and 32.4 percent from deep.
The end of the season provided a ton of optimsim of what Fultz can still do. He showed more of the bounce that characterized his lone year at Washington, going up for dunks with tricks and with some explosiveness. He also started hitting and making more threes — taking 1.7 per game after the All-Star Break.
As a point guard, the Magic had a +0.8 net rating with Fultz on the floor after the All-Star Break with a 113.9 offensive rating. Fultz indeed made the Magic’s offense hum at 2.5 points per 100 possessions better than their average.
It was an encouraging finish. One Magic fans recognized and got enthused about just as much as hardcore NBA fans appeared to. Everyone else is catching up to him.
At the very least, the Magic made a choice to see how Fultz can develop further with a fully healthy offseason. That is something Fultz has not had, losing the first offseason after his first full season playing because of how late the Bubble ended and the truncated 2021 season and then losing last offseason because of a late-offseason toe injury that caused him to miss 20 games.
Fultz has come through a lot of false starts in his career and finally seems capable and ready to take over in full.
That might be a reason the Magic will wait to offer him an extension so they can see just how much he has grown and what he looks like with all of these advantages.
Nobody associated with the Magic though is considering his place with the 2024 team in any kind of jeopardy. Those in the national media who think that Jalen Suggs or Anthony Black could replace him in the starting lineup — or that anyone could take his starting spot — did not see the growth and progress he made through last year or understand fully his impact with this team.
That is how Fultz is overlooked.
At this point, the Magic might expect Fultz to fill in as the team’s third-leading scorer. If Banchero or Wagner are not attacking and getting to the paint to initiate offense, it will be Fultz. Orlando is expecting much of Fultz’s play from late in the season to continue.
Will that lead him to a new contract or a permanent place with this team as they continue to grow? That is a question that only his play can answer. The Magic are confident he can give them what they got last year.
And that should be enough to help them climb the ranks to get to the postseason. Simply dismissing Fultz is not something anyone should do — player or analyst. Overlooking Fultz is a mistake a lot of people are seemingly making.