Markelle Fultz Ready to Make Jump to Next Tier of Point Guards
ORLANDO -- Proving himself is a process that Markelle Fultz is all too familiar with.
Throughout all the steps of his basketball journey he’s had to deal with silencing naysayers and doubters.
Now, coming off the first healthy season of his NBA career, Fultz is ready to once again elevate his game and prove that he belongs in the conversation of the league’s elite point guards.
“I actually like being doubted, I like people thinking that I can’t do something,” Fultz said. “I just love proving people wrong. … My destiny is as far as I want to take it.”
Heading into last season, there was plenty of uncertainty around Fultz’s career. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft had played in just 33 games over the course of his first two seasons in the league. He was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in his right shoulder and arm and had not yet played in a single game for the Orlando Magic after the team acquired him from the Philadelphia 76ers at the trade deadline during the 2018-19 season.
As a result of spending much of last offseason focusing on a vigorous rehabilitation process, Fultz had to simultaneously rebuild his game while also completing his first full go around in the league.
“I thank God for (only missing one game last season) and thank the training staff that we have here in Orlando and them putting a great plan for me to work hard and get that under control,” a grateful Fultz explained. “Now, I’m just focused in on being the best basketball player that I can be.”
The 6-foot-4, 209-pound guard now looks to build on a campaign where he set career highs in nearly every statistical category, including points (12.1), assists (5.1), rebounds (3.3), steals (1.3) and field goal percentage (46.5).
“Last year, he proved that he’s a solid NBA starter and I think this year he’ll take another step and put himself into that next category of point guards,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said.
Over the course of last season, Fultz made tremendous progress in his mid-range shooting as he regained strength in his shoulder and built back his rhythm. Fultz shot just 34.6 percent from that distance over the course of Orlando’s first 48 games. In the team’s final 25 contests, the Magic’s floor general shot 52 percent from midrange.
He also was cool in the clutch. Fultz went 10-of-15 from the field (66.7 percent) with less than three minutes in the game and the Magic ahead or behind by three points or less. Among all players in the NBA with at least 15 shot attempts in this situation, that was the best percentage.
“My confidence just grew as the season went on and also my mechanics got better,” Fultz explained. “Right now, it’s the same thing, I feel really, really good.”
This offseason, Fultz has continued to expand his range. Unable to shoot beyond the free throw line while rehabbing for much of last summer, Fultz was able to finally focus on scoring at all three levels during the break.
On the offensive end, he’s spent a considerable amount of time working at finishing at the rim, improving his 3-point shooting, and knocking down triples off the dribble. He’s now starting to develop that same confidence in his 3-point shooting that he has in his midrange game.
“I’m growing that same confidence from the three-point line, off the dribble, catch and shoot,” Fultz said. “So, I’ve been really excited.”
Along with improving on the floor, Fultz hopes to grow into his role as a leader for a Magic team that’s coming off two straight postseason appearances. He wants to be more vocal on the floor as well as assert himself in key situations.
“I came to win,” he explained. “I’m coming to play hard and I’m going to push my teammates to do the same. Just holding each other accountable is going to be a big part of it.”
Just as Fultz has heard doubters regarding his career, he’s aware that analysts are overlooking the Magic and that few people are labeling his team as a serious postseason contender. And once again, he’s ready to prove them wrong.
“I’m excited for what this team has in store,” Fultz said. “I don’t think a lot of people have us in (contention) or anything – (although) I’m pretty sure there are people that do – I just love being the underdog and working to prove people wrong.”
Through trades and free agency this offseason, a number of Eastern Conference teams made significant additions to their roster, including two Southeast Division rivals, the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets. The Magic, meanwhile, will hope that continuity in an abbreviated offseason, internal development and the addition of two first round picks – Chuma Okeke and Cole Anthony – will assist them in reaching the postseason for the third straight season and finally getting past the first round.
While the team will surely ease in Anthony, especially without a summer league and full camp under his belt, his skillset and scoring attributes could provide elements the Magic having been lacking in their lineup for a number of seasons. The ability at times to play him alongside Fultz could give the Magic a dynamic backcourt and the opportunity to run sets similar to those utilized by the Toronto Raptors when they roll out Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
“Just having multiple guards who can push the ball up the floor and play through screen and roll is always a great thing,” Fultz said. “I think we can be two guards who push it on the break, he can play off ball, I can play off ball, and I think that’s going to be great for this season.”
If Fultz can continue to make progress at the same pace he did last season, it will mean great things indeed for the Magic.