Entering the 2021-22 season, the Orlando Magic had two priorities when it came to Markelle Fultz, both of which were going to require time and patience.
The first was helping him get healthy enough to play again after tearing the ACL in his left knee in January 2021. Fultz’s 14-month journey back to the pitch ended when he returned with a home win. over the Indiana Pacers in February. 28.
“He’s done a phenomenal job of getting his body in that position,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said at the end of the season. “Our interpretation staff has done a great job with him. Our coaching staff has done a fantastic job of trusting the time frame of his return.”
The second priority was to get him into a position where he could be comfortable on the ground.
With a new coaching staff headed by Mosley and several new teammates he hadn’t played with before the season, Fultz was essentially returning to a new team.
Among the 15 players Fultz played with in 2021-22, only four — Terrence Ross, Mo Bamba, Chuma Okeke and Cole Anthony — shared the floor with him before the season. And in the cases of Okeke (46 minutes) and Anthony (15), who were debutants in 2020-21, playing time with Fultz had been minimal.
Despite the changes, Fultz’s impact was immediately felt when he returned.
Fultz averaged 10.8 points (47.4% shooting), 5.5 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 20 minutes (18 games).
He recorded 10 potential assists, passes to teammates who shoot within 1 dribble of receiving the ball, per game, which was the most among players who averaged under 27 minutes.
Fultz constantly created open looks for his teammates in a variety of ways: throwing and kicking to the perimeter, passing forwards or connecting with cutters.
He also scored efficiently despite attempting 0.9 3-pointers per game.
Fultz made 50.3% of his 2-point shots, 72% of his shots at rim and 40% of his long shots from mid-range, all of which were above-average marks for a shooting guard, according to Cleaning The Glass, and they were similar to his numbers in the 2019-20 season.
“Markelle just brings the team to life,” Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said during a recent appearance on FM 96.9 The Game’s Open Mike with Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi. “What we saw was a guy who has an exquisite talent for creating offenses for others, who has a high IQ, who has an insane physical package of size, skills and vision.
“He really performed at a level that I probably wouldn’t have expected from the start. There was a lot of rust there. He has a lot of growth and he knows it. But he’s on his way to [being] a high-level player for our team. Very quickly, we played better with him on the court, which is not a surprise.”
Fultz can use this offseason to focus solely on further improving his skill set rather than having to worry about rehab as well.
As good as he’s gotten at shooting from inside the arc, his limited 3-point volume and percentage (4-for-14 from the free throw line) are areas for improvement.
Fultz’s 75.6% free throw shooting percentage, which is a significant improvement from his time with the Philadelphia 76ers, suggests there is more room for the first overall pick in 2017 to grow as a shooter.
“Honestly, I’m more excited than ever to have a summer where I’m not really focused on rehab or recovery and I can really attack my summer head-on,” Fultz said. “I know I have some goals I want to hit, but this is the summer where I can really focus on my summer and enjoy the process.”