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Victor Oladipo, Pacers

Markelle Fultz finally looked like a No. 1 pick against the Lakers

Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz has faced his fair share of criticism over the course of his career. Skeptics often claim that he didn’t deserve to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. In Wednesday night’s 119-118 victory over the Lakers, however, he proved that he has top-level talent.

Facing LeBron James and the Lakers is a tough task for most teams around the NBA landscape, but Fultz and the Magic were up to the challenge, despite the fact that they were shorthanded at point guard.

The 21-year-old finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, marking his second career triple-double. He had six points and four key assists in the final frame. Four of his fourth quarter points came by way of driving layups in the final minute. With the win, Orlando snapped Los Angeles’ nine-game winning streak.

Markelle Fultz is back in action now after being sidelined with thoracic outlet syndrome, which is a condition that restricted movement in his neck and shoulder area. Some thought Fultz would simply be “a bust,” as they say, but he’s worked extremely hard to recover.

“What I’ve been through, it just gives me more fire to keep going,” Markelle Fultz told ESPN after Wednesday night’s game. “I put in a lot of hard work to be where I’m at. I’ve been through a lot, but I never gave up.

“So, it just shows for people out there, whoever is doubting you, whoever is doing something [to you], put something on your mind and if you have something on your mind, go do it. Don’t ever let somebody tell you that you can’t and I’m never going to stop. I’m going to keep working until I can’t play no more.”

Fultz’ time with the Sixers wasn’t as bright as it was predicted to be. His shoulder injury was a point of contention, with many wondering exactly what was wrong. Some even questioned whether he was injured at all.

The ailment reportedly limited his shooting motion quite a bit. In fact, he shot 33 percent from the field and attempted zero three-pointers in his first four games. The Sixers later decided to sit him for the remainder of the season.

In the end, Philadelphia basically gave up on Fultz, despite the fact that they took him with the No. 1 overall pick. On February 7, 2019, he was traded to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Jonathon Simmons and two draft picks.

LeBron James, who finished Wednesday’s matchup with 19 points and an incredible 19 assists, says he’s happy to see that Fultz is on the right path again:

“Confidence and opportunity,” said LeBron James when asked to explain how Markelle Fultz has turned it around. “They’re confident in him, he’s confident in himself. He’s given an opportunity to go out and play the game how he grew up playing. Everything else takes care of itself. I’ve been supportive of him ever since he was in high school, when he was a rookie in Philly. Been supportive of his situation and still [am] to this day. I’m happy as hell for him.”

If Fultz is able to maintain this level of play, the Magic will be in the hunt for a spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. He’s playing much better this season, and he seems to happy in his role with Orlando. He’s made 40 appearances this season, racing up averages of 11.7 points on 46.2 percent shooting from the field, 4.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 27.0 minutes per outing.

His three-point shooting could still use a bit of work, though, as he’s currently sitting at 26.5 percent from beyond the arc. Still, his story of recovery is great for the NBA.

The Magic will look to improve on their two-game winning streak on Thursday night, when they’ll face off against the Clippers inside the Staples Center.