After a bizarre, 2-year saga where he appeared to forget how to shoot, Markelle Fultz is wowing the NBA world
Carlos Osorio/AP Images
Carlos Osorio/AP Images
- Markelle Fultz missed most of his first two seasons in the NBA with a shoulder injury and bizarre shooting woes.
- He is now thriving with the Orlando Magic and earning praise from teammates and opponents.
- On Wednesday, Fultz had arguably the best game of his career, posting 21 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists, while scoring clutch baskets to seal a win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
- Fultz has gone from a question mark to an impact player and Most Improved Player contender.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
It took over two years, but Markelle Fultz is showing flashes of why he was the consensus top prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Fultz's first two years in the NBA were not the typical roadmap for a No. 1 pick. Upon entering the NBA, Fultz's ability to shoot from anywhere outside the paint mysteriously disappeared, amid discussion over whether he changed his shooting motion to deal with a shoulder injury or suffered a shoulder injury while changing his shooting motion.
Over two years, Fultz sat out large portions of the regular season, went viral for ugly shot attempts, and was generally ineffective when he was on the floor. The 76ers ultimately cut ties with him at a fairly low cost in February, trading him to the Orlando Magic for Jonathon Simmons, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick.
Fultz did not play the remainder of the 2018-19 season with the Magic, but over the first half of 2019-20, he's proven to be a valuable piece for a playoff contender.
Through 40 games, Fultz is averaging 11.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 46% from the floor. Fultz still hasn't found his three-point shot, shooting just 26.5% from deep on 68 attempts, but he's found ways to contribute with a relentless, attacking style on offense.
On Wednesday, Fultz had arguably the best game of his young career, posting 21 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in a surprise, 119-118 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Staples Center.
Despite a shaky outside shot, Fultz uses his quickness and tight ball-handling to knife his way into the paint.
He impressed viewers on Wednesday with a strong push-off on LeBron James in transition to create space for a layup.
Down the stretch, Fultz was once again in attack mode, diving into the paint - and at James again - for some tough finishes. He ultimately helped seal the game with some clutch baskets.
After the game, just about everyone in the NBA world was happy for Fultz, including James.
"I'm happy as hell for him," said James, who said he has followed Fultz since he was in high school. He added: "He's given an opportunity to go out and play the game how he grew up playing. Everything else takes care of itself."
Members of the Orlando Magic noted that Fultz shows glimpses of special talent that some players simply don't have - it's about putting it together consistently.
"That boy can play," forward Gordon said (via The Athletic's Josh Robbins). "He's got a lot of tricks. He's got a lot in his bag. Tonight, he brought it out."
"Everything 'Kelle does looks like it just comes natural," guard-forward Terrence Ross said (via Robbins). "The stuff he does, you can't really teach."
The rest of the NBA world was just as impressed.
Before the season, the Magic picked up Fultz's fourth-year option worth $12.2 million, a sign that they believed he had something to offer in the coming seasons.
With Fultz on the floor, the Magic are outscoring opponents by 1.9 points per 100 possessions, a small, but meaningful mark for a 20-21 team trying to make the playoffs. Their offensive rating jumps three points when he's on the floor, per Second Spectrum.
It's early, but Fultz could find himself in the running for Most Improved Player. Even if he doesn't win the award, the reversal from non-contributor to impact player is noteworthy in itself.
Fultz told ESPN's Dave McMenamin on Wednesday that the rocky start to his career has only fueled his desire to turn things around.
"What I've been through, it just gives me more fire to keep going," Fultz told McMenamin. "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."
I don't want to overstate it, but here goes: Markelle Fultz was awesome last night. #1 overall pick awesome.- Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) January 16, 2020
-On the road against one of the NBA's best
-No other ballhandlers available
-Poise down the stretch
-Athletic & strong
-No Fournier to ease burden
-Had the look. THE look.
Always say that UW Markelle Fultz was one of the most talented prospects I've ever evaluated. Aside from the hesi jimbo, the body control, shiftiness, creativity and instincts at 6-5 always really stood out. Just moved differently with the ball than other guards and loved to hoop- Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) January 16, 2020
Good for Markelle Fultz, man. Was painful seeing him struggle early. https://t.co/dh76Hx0sc7- Evan Barnes (@evan_b) January 16, 2020
It's nice enough alone seeing Fultz back on the court, enjoying his basketball. The fact he went bucket for bucket with LeBron last night and helped his team come out on top is incredible. https://t.co/LCLW6fttVg- David Cartlidge (@davidjaca) January 16, 2020
Good for Fultz, man. Young man has been through the fire https://t.co/qRFJAbxkIm- Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) January 16, 2020