Markelle Fultz has had one of the more bizarre starts to an NBA career in recent memory. Once heralded as a must-have prospect and consensus No. 1 overall pick due to his upside, the Orlando Magic guard now finds himself in a situation where he needs to prove himself all over again.
Drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2017, Fultz, so far, has failed to live up to the billing as the top selection in his class. Much of it has to do with a rare shoulder injury called thoracic outlet syndrome that completely derailed his shooting stroke and ultimately sidelined him for the majority of his first two seasons in the NBA.
The Sixers gave up on their 2017 first overall pick at the trade deadline last season and dealt him for an undrafted G League standout in Jonathon Simmons and some draft picks (protected 2020 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick). Quite the contrast of backgrounds and beginnings, but that’s where Fultz’s career had fallen at that point.
Now, with his shoulder injury in the rearview mirror, Fultz can start fresh in Orlando and has all the opportunities to finally take off. Here are three reasons why the 21-year-old can have a career turnaround with the Magic.
1. Magic’s positional need
Orlando has long been searching for its point guard of the future. Fultz could potentially be that man for them.
Currently, Fultz is behind veteran D.J. Augustin on the Magic depth chart and could compete with former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams as the backup PG. No offense to MCW or Augustin, but Fultz has all the potential to surpass them and eventually become Orlando’s main man at the point.
Orlando is also in need of a player who can both create plays for himself and for others as well. Once again, Fultz could potentially fit that bill for them.
Sure, there will be growing pains this season and it may take some time for him to be a consistent contributor. But if all things work out and he meshes well with the rest of the Magic’s young core, it’s hard to imagine him not becoming a part of that in the near future.
2. No pressure
Fultz faced immense pressure after being selected first overall by the Sixers. They were immediately billed as the team of the future with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in the fold.
However, prior to the start of his rookie season, Fultz showed up to training camp with a funky looking jump shot, a far cry from the sweet stroke he showcased in his lone season at Washington. Pundits knocked on him for the drastic change on his shot.
As we came to know, his shoulder injury had a lot to do with the hitch in his shot. He sat out for most of his rookie and sophomore seasons due to the nerve issue in his shoulder. Playing just 33 career games through two seasons, Fultz eventually faded into the limelight and from the memories of NBA fans.
With that injury supposedly behind him and the spotlight no longer on him, Fultz can just focus on basketball and play his game. At this point, there’s no real pressure on Fultz to perform at a high level. Nobody’s really expecting him to go out there and be Orlando’s face of the franchise all of a sudden.
Playing freely from the pressure could potentially bring out the star many envisioned him to be.
3. The talent is there
There’s a reason why Fultz became the top prospect in the 2017 draft. Put aside the shooting woes, and the man has other elite skills that could potentially make him a force on offense.
He is as dynamic as they come when driving down the lane and can explode to the cup with the best of them. Likewise, Fultz is slowly gaining confidence in taking mid-range pull-ups, as we saw in his first two preseason appearances. This is a skill set he utilized well in his one year in college.
Fultz has also shown flashes of being a great playmaker. He has a good feel with the ball and has the knack to get other people involved in the offense.
Defensively, Fultz has showcased great instincts when reading the passing lanes and shows great energy and hustle whenever he’s on the floor. Sure, he could improve on his overall on-ball defense. But at 6-foot-4 and with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, he certainly has the length and the athleticism to become a disruptive perimeter defender in the league someday.
Making it happen
Certainly, Fultz has all the skills to become a star in this league someday. But, as mentioned, he will have to go through some growing pains to reach that point. We have already seen these growing pains in the preseason (3-of-18 shooting the last two games), but playing freely in a situation that gives him the right opportunities to play his game could be his formula for a breakout campaign.
With how his career has turned out so far, you have to imagine Fultz will be playing with a massive chip on his shoulder (no pun intended). The Magic could provide him the proving ground to showcase his elite talent and eventually get his NBA career back on track. It’s now ultimately up to him if he can take advantage of his golden opportunity in Orlando.