Markelle Fultz: The Orlando Magic X-factor
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Markelle Fultz, Magic

Markelle Fultz: The Orlando Magic X-factor

  • CLUTCH Summary: Markelle Fultz is a former No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick, but has infamously struggled with his shooting since arriving in the league.
  • Eventually, the Philadelphia 76ers essentially gave up on the young guard, sending him to the Orlando Magic.
  • With a change of scenery and less eyeballs watching his every move, Markelle Fultz is in position to help the Orlando Magic reach new heights in the upcoming NBA season.

Markelle Fultz has endured a puzzling, chaotic, and head-scratching first two seasons in the NBA, but he has the chance to change his fortunes with the Orlando Magic. Furthermore, he’s the X-factor of his new team for the 2019-20 season.

After appearing in just 14 games in his rookie season and missing the bulk of the first half of his sophomore season — which included injuries and talks of legal action being taken — the Philadelphia 76ers traded Fultz to the Orlando Magic at last season’s NBA trade deadline. For the 76ers’ sake, it’s good riddance, as the 2017 No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick became a never-ending distraction and had an inconsistent role in their rotation.

On the other hand, while there’s zero guarantee Fultz thrives in Orlando, his skill set and tendencies at full force are precisely what head coach Steve Clifford’s rotation needs.

Fultz is a scorer. Granted he has severely struggled to make midrange and outside jump shots in the NBA, he’s adept at getting inside and putting the ball in the cup. In his one season at Washington, Fultz averaged 23.2 points per game and shot 41.3 percent from beyond the arc. In the 33 games he played with the 76ers, you could see his inclination to score, but in an offense run through Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, touches can be difficult to come by. The results show as such, as Fultz averaged just 7.7 points per game in his two seasons with the 76ers.

Fultz is joining a roster that complements itself nicely. Nikola Vucevic is a walking double-double and one of the best centers in the NBA. You throw him the ball in the low post, inside, or for a midrange jump shot, and it’s a virtual bucket. Aaron Gordon is an athletic forward who runs the floor, skies above the rim, and plays vigorously on both ends of the floor.

Out on the perimeter, the Magic feature the likes of Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, and Jonathan Isaac. Fournier is a steady spot-up shooter, can stick jump shots off the dribble, and is a reliable ball handler. Ross is also adept at sticking outside jump shots, but is also a dependable defender. Isaac had an encouraging bounce-back sophomore season, sporting athleticism and an ability to chime in offensively.

The Magic also have veteran point guard D.J. Augustin, who tends to serve as an outside shooter and facilitator. He can surely make an impact from a leadership and skill set standpoint next season. However,¬†without a scoring point guard, the Magic aren’t going to improve on their 42-win season, which was headlined by their first playoff appearance since 2012.

Sure, they have a roster with continuity that plays well together, but the Magic need another dimension to their offense to climb up the Eastern Conference. Their offense was predictable and, at times, stagnant last season. Vucevic is an inside threat, Gordon is a physical specimen, and Fournier and Ross are outside threats, but these are players with little to no room for growth. Out of the four aforementioned players, there’s no isolation, or multi-faceted threat to score with the ball in their hands in a halfcourt set.

The Magic have a roster of players who have reached their ceilings; they just so happened to turn a corner, as a team, last season. Fultz hasn’t played a full season in the NBA. In some ways, his first season with the Magic is a restart for his career, as he inherits an offense that needs his potential and will likely start him in their backcourt.

Fultz was a projected top pick and drafted in such a spot for a reason: He has the talent to be an elite scorer. He gets inside off the dribble, draws fouls, and can finish through contact or bigger bodies in his face. With consistent playing time and the ball in his hands, he can blossom.

Expecting a 20-plus point per game season from Fultz would be a mistake, as he has been unable to get in a rhythm at the NBA level. Becoming a steady playmaker would be a great start. Fultz should absolutely be looking to score, but unless time is running out on the shot clock, or there’s a clear path inside, he should be looking to facilitate and take open shots.

By penetrating inside, Fultz can draw fouls, but also find Gordon cutting, or Vucevic inside for an assist. Being patient and taking what the defense gives would make the guard extremely effective. And as he gets into a rhythm, looking for high percentage shots and the open man, the jump shot will come along. One step at a time.

The Magic were quietly — and impressively — one of the best defensive teams in the NBA last season, finishing the regular season fifth in opponent points per game (106.6). Fultz is unlikely to propel the Magic in that respect, which is why when he’s on the floor, he needs to have a profound impact on Orlando’s offense.

Vucevic and Ross were each re-signed to four-year deals in the offseason, and Gordon inked such a deal last summer. Meanwhile, Fultz and Mohamed Bamba, who the Magic selected in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft, are under contract through at least 2021. This is who the Magic are; it’s a matter of where they can improve.

Fultz can’t rewrite the past, or mend fences with the 76ers; he has to move on and save his career with the Magic. He doesn’t have to be an outside sniper, or defensive anchor. He just has to play to his strengths and, at times, be a little selfless. Such a transformation would boast his game, the stigma surrounding his NBA career, and Orlando’s offense.

Whether his talent and potential fulfill the standards that were attached to him when he entered the league is a gray area, but a steady and consistent first full season with the Magic would kickstart the point guard’s career and keep the motor running in Orlando.

The bottom of the East is wide open, per usual. The Detroit Pistons are respectable, but far from a playoff shoo-in, the Toronto Raptors figure to be scrambling for a bottom seed, and the Brooklyn Nets likely won’t have Kevin Durant on the floor this season. There’s no reason why the Magic shouldn’t be back in the playoffs next season, and an advanced Fultz would move them up the conference.

At the same time, if Orlando’s attempts to gel Fultz into their rotation flop, or he struggles mightily, it will come at the expense of them missing the playoffs. Severely toying with your offense, especially with a point guard looking to find himself, has a drastic effect on your team.

Markelle Fultz will make or break the 2019-20 Orlando Magic.