Few players have had a stranger career path than Markelle Fultz. When he entered the NBA he was supposed to be the next big thing as the top overall pick out of Washington, who Philadelphia traded up to select. A super athletic guard with the potential to be an everything type player, the sky was the limit for what he would be able to do at the pro level.
Then a somewhat mysterious shoulder injury left Fultz on a multi-year path that saw his shot form change and significantly delayed the start to his NBA career. He’d never played more than 20 games in a season prior to this year, but now, with a new team in the Orlando Magic, Fultz has been trying to finally get his career on track. On Sunday night, he took a great step by setting a new career high with 19 points, which he set with a game-sealing steal followed by an and-1 dunk on the other end.
— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) November 18, 2019
In this play, you can see a lot of what made Fultz the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. The athleticism, his aggression, and the instinct to pick off that pass and send it the other way. It was all on display and as it happened you could almost see his confidence rising. That confidence is what Orlando was seeking when they traded for him at the trade deadline last season. They wanted to revive him and help him reach his max potential.
So far the Magic have been integrating Fultz in slowly. He didn’t play at all last season following the trade and began this season as a bench player. However, when the Magic began the season with some major offensive struggles, Steve Clifford decided that it was time to stop waiting around and let Fultz loose. He’s been in the starting lineup recently and the numbers are encouraging. They’re better offensively with him on the floor and there’s not a major expectation for him to take over and score within the starting unit, allowing him to pick his spots.
Now that Fultz has taken a step forward, he might quickly have to take a few more with the injury bug starting to bite teams around the NBA. The Magic’s point guards were hit with hit hard on Sunday as Michael Carter-Williams left early with a hip injury and D.J. Augustin dislocated a finger. While Augustin did return to the game, Carter-Williams did not. Augustin was able to play in this game, but there’s no guarantee that his finger won’t cause future problems, which means Fultz is going to have an even bigger role put upon him now. He’s only playing 23 minutes a game right now, but with key players facing injury, it wouldn’t be shocking to see those minutes increase.
This could be a huge moment for Fultz career, as he’ll have ample opportunity to showcase his talents while the Magic’s point guard rotation is even thinner. We’ll see how he handles that, but Sunday night was another welcome sign of progress for his NBA career.