Clifford Impressed With Fultz's Basketball IQ

by John Denton

SAN ANTONIO – Long before he ever directed an Orlando Magic practice involving the dynamic talents of Markelle Fultz, veteran head coach Steve Clifford did his research and homework on the point guard.

Clifford talked extensively to Fultz’s former head coach with the Philadelphia 76ers and his close friend, Brett Brown. He also studied game film of when Fultz starred for the University of Washington and he talked to the guard about the offensive sets that he prefers to be in.

But coaching Fultz – something that Clifford has done for the first time throughout a week of training camp practices – has taught him something about the 21-year-old guard that no amount of prep work ever could have. Coaches often like to say they don’t truly know a player until they coach them, and that’s certainly proven to be true with Clifford and Fultz.

``The thing that I most like about him – and you don’t see this with all young players – is that you work on something and they play five-on-five and he takes what you’ve worked on and he implements it into the team,’’ Clifford raved prior to Fultz making his Magic debut on Saturday in San Antonio. ``Obviously, he’s a terrific individual player, he has skill and he knows how to play, he has IQ and he knows how to play both ends of the floor. But the thing that I’m seeing is not surprising. His IQ translates into good team play, and a lot of that is because of his attitude and the way that he works.’’

Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, was acquired by the Magic in a trade deadline deal last February. He saw the first two years of his career derailed by the thoracic outlet syndrome in his shoulder, but he’s eager to prove himself as a future star in the NBA now that he’s finally healthy.

Fultz said he’s always prided himself on being a student of the game and a player who can take direction from a coach.

``I just think it’s something I learned when I was younger – always be coachable and try to learn the game as fast as you can,’’ Fultz said. ``If you do that, (the information) translates quicker, when you learn the plays and listen to what your coach says. And it lets your coaches know that you are coachable and a fast learner.’’

MO PROGRESS: Fultz isn’t the only young player on the Magic roster who has been impressive so far while attempting to make a comeback this season from an injury.

Mo Bamba, whose rookie season was limited to just 47 games last season because of a stress reaction in the tibia of his left leg, also falls into the same category as Fultz.

Bamba, a 7-foot center with a 7-foot, 10-inch wingspan, spent most of his offseason in Orlando working to better his body and grow his game. In addition to adding some noticeable muscle, Bamba bulked up to 231 pounds in hopes of better combating the physical play that he often struggled with last season as a rail-thin rookie.

Clifford said that he’s been impressed with Bamba’s play thus far, and he thinks the center is on track to have a significantly better second season because of his improved conditioning and strength. Also, Clifford feels that Bamba has grown mentally as a player in that he has a better plan of attack now when he gets the ball in the low post.

``I think his purpose of play has been greatly, greatly improved,’’ Clifford said. ``(Assistant coach) Mike Batiste has done a great job with Mo, but still it always gets back to the player and Mo has put a lot into it. He has a lot better idea of what the NBA is about and ways that he has to play so that he can play well at both ends of the floor. … I think purpose of play is a big deal and he’s made great strides there.’’

BIGGER, STRONGER MCW: With the emergence of Fultz at point guard, the Magic are trying to get creative with their resources and they plan on experimenting this season with Michael Carter-Williams playing some shooting guard and small forward.

At 6-foot-6 and already an elite defender at the point guard position, Carter-Williams has always had the length and wingspan to guard opposing wings. But he worked over the summer to bulk up a bit after being told by the Magic coaching staff that he would likely be expected to check bigger defenders at times this season.

``I worked on my body, getting stronger and gaining about 15 pounds,’’ Carter-Williams said of his summer work regiment. ``I think it will help me with the length of the season and it will help me sustain my play. It will help me guard more positions and be stronger with the ball. I feel more athletic and bouncy. I knew I’d be in the position, having to play more of (shooting guard) and (small forward), so (the added muscle) will definitely help me out.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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