Orlando Magic stuck with Markelle Fultz for the winning plays he makes

Markelle Fultz was at the center of trade deadline rumors for the Orlando Magic. February 8 came and went, and Fultz stayed put. Fans and media balked at the decision to stay put with the core, but Fultz's impact on the team's success needs to be discussed despite his limitations on offense.

Orlando Magic v Miami Heat
Orlando Magic v Miami Heat / Megan Briggs/GettyImages
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One week removed from the trade deadline, the Orlando Magic are heading into the remainder of the season without making any improvements last Thursday.

The front office's decision to stand pat significantly contrasts the barrage of options and deals the Magc fans and media drew up in the weeks leading to it.

Despite a February surge right around the Feb. 8 deadline, executives were steadfast in their approach to building a team around the core they had been constructing over the previous few years.

"We have to give them the opportunity to grow and the opportunity to really experience what a playoff drive is all about," president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman told Jason Beede of the Orlando Sentinel. "It's going to change them, make them better, make them more serious and give them a layer of understanding that you just can't have unless you go through it. For us to push our team maybe a game or two further with a temporary fix just doesn't make sense to the big picture of what we're trying to do."

That may still delay some of the questions the team faces this offseason. And all the lingering questions from the deadline still exist.

Among the names in the center of the team's big picture is Markelle Fultz. The former number-one overall pick has been a staple of the roster since arriving in 2019 as the team turned the page into the Paolo Banchero era in Orlando.

Injuries have been a huge part of Fultz's development issues.

The incredibly athletic guard came out of college with a shoulder injury that completely changed his game from an above-average shooter to one of the worst at his position in the league. But he has done a fantastic job, transitioning into an attack-the-basket guard who is physically disruptive on the defensive end.

For fans and media, a team ranked 28th in three-point percentage and 27th in attempts per game cannot thrive as a playoff team with a non-floor spacer at point guard. That, coupled with a 6-foot-7 20-year-old sitting on the bench waiting for his opportunities, kicked up the rumors and hypotheticals leading into the deadline.

But the day came and gone and Fultz stayed put.

At least for the rest of the season, Fultz would start at point guard in Orlando's push for the postseason. However, what remained to be seen in many's eyes is his value for this team during the last five years. He has been an impact player and a key piece in winning games.

There may be bigger questions to answer for the long term, but for this team, Fultz still makes a huge impact.

Since arriving in Orlando, a starting lineup with Fultz has resulted in a 75-71 record. In the last two years, he has not needed to be the primary scoring option. He has been a fantastic setup man for the team's playmakers, from Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier to Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner.

On the other side, Orlando has gone a shocking 55-130 without Fultz in the lineup. While some of that has to do with the long absences in 2021 and 2022, Fultz has been a critical glue piece to the team's winning formula, especially since this new young core came in during the last two years.

Fultz's recent Magic career is highlighted by a 2023 campaign where he averaged 14.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game in 60 games. He has struggled with injuries this year, averaging 8.4 points per game while shooting 49.1 percent from the floor. He has appeared in only 21 games this season.

Still, the Magic have a +1.4 net rating with Fultz on the floor, including a stellar 108.4 defensive rating. The Magic's offense is nothing to write home about, but Fultz is not the statistical drain everyone might think.

He is not a shooter -- taking fewer than 10 total 3-pointers this season. He may be one of the few starting guards who stand with him in that regard.

But Orlando's long-term plan is much more important than flipping Markelle Fultz and a pick for a D'Angelo Russell-type player who may not fit the roster or give a momentary boost only for this season. Everything was about the team's long-term vision for its future.

This Magic core is built on tough defense and attacking the basket (the team is in the top 10 in points in the paint per game). Fultz is precisely that. In reality, even if the team moved for a shooting upgrade at point guard last week, it would not have done much in the long term.

Sure, it could have boosted Orlando into a clearer view of the sixth seed rather than continuing to fight out of the Play-In. But the young core's development, specifically in Anthony Black's case, hinges on keeping Fultz around, at least for now. Orlando's development of Black into a two-way matchup nightmare can be improved with Fultz coaching him.

The 26-year-old will hit free agency this offseason, so shaky play down the stretch this season could result in the end of the line in Orlando. Trading for a likely one-year rental from another team would not benefit the Magic in the long run.

The Orlando Magic will roll with the punches for the rest of this season. If the playoffs fall out of view, fans will likely point to Fultz as the scapegoat. It still feels like the Magic need to make a serious upgrade at point guard, and that focus from the trade deadline will not disappear in the offseason. It was a decision delayed and not denied.

But Fultz's impact on this team winning is front and center, regardless of his limitations on offense.

Next. Paolo heads to ASG a true All-Star. Paolo Banchero heads to Indianapolis a true NBA All-Star. dark

Is he the same player he was coming out of college all those years ago? No. Is he still as good of a fit in this starting lineup as almost every player of his caliber? Yes.