We’re almost four years removed from the Philadelphia 76ers trading Markelle Fultz to the Orlando Magic following a disappointing start to his career. His tenure in Philly was plagued with criticism due to poor shooting stemming from a rare arm injury, and the guard was sidelined nearly 14 months after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee in 2021.
The former No. 1 pick was considered a bust and blamed for ruining The Process in Philadelphia. Now, Fultz is away from the spotlight in Orlando and is allowed to progress on a team with no expectations. And he’s been doing that really well this season.
This year’s frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Paolo Banchero, has been getting most of the attention in Orlando, and rightfully so. But it’s hard not to acknowledge the strides Fultz is making to finally becoming a productive NBA player.
The ACL injury hasn’t stripped Fultz of his speed and explosiveness that scouts saw when he played at the University of Washington. Fultz manages to finish trough contact at the rim, even if defenders switch or go under screens. He mostly relies on changing speeds at the point of attack, putting defenders to sleep before stepping on the gas to blow by them.
The sixth-year guard relies on the mid-range jumper as most of the league depends on shooting three pointers. Picking his spot a few steps below the arc has worked for Fultz as he’s shooting 50% from the field and 52% from two-point range — both career highs. He’s knocking down three-pointers at 37%, which is also a career high and much better than his previous best (28%). His play style is effective and was on display when he recorded 23 points, eight assists and five rebounds in 29 minutes against the Wizards on Jan 21.
What is also encouraging is Fultz’s shooting form. Unlike his time with the Sixers, the guard no longer shows different variations of his jumpshot during games. His form is consistent. There’s still a hitch in his jumper — like Pacers’ guard Tyrese Haliburton — but not as bad when he dealt with thoracic outlet syndrome earlier in his career.
Fultz’s playmaking ability isn’t limited to his shot creation. He dishes five assists per game playing alongside 20-point per game scorers Franz Wagner and Banchero. Fultz has missed 21 games this season, but started every game (27) he appeared in for the Magic.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel for Fultz, which wasn’t the case a few years ago. He may never reach his full potential that was expected when he was first drafted, but he’s shown an ability to carve out a role for himself on an NBA roster.
Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon, T-Wolves guard D’Angelo Russell and former Knick Kristaps Porzingis are examples of top-five draft picks who were expected to have bigger impacts on the league than what they have accomplished to this point — the three combine for two total All-Star selections. They were traded from their initial teams — just like Fultz — and found success elsewhere. After a long and winding road back to productivity, Fultz is on his path to joining them.