Markelle Fultz entered the 2017 NBA Draft perceived indisputably as the top prospect in his class. Fultz recently completed his sole season of NCAA basketball at the time, compiling per-game splits of 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists as the Washington Huskies’ floor general. Before ever stepping foot on an NBA court, the jack-of-all-trades guard was drawing comparisons to offensive juggernauts such as James Harden and D’Angelo Russell. So why were Fultz’s freshman and sophomore campaigns with the Philadelphia 76ers an unmitigated disaster?
Unfortunately, he endured a dastardly case of the injury bug as a neophyte in the league. Fultz amassed just 34 total games played and 15 starts in his two-year tenure with Philly. Even when Markelle was able to grace the hardwood in Philadelphia, he appeared a shell of his collegiate self.
Specifically, he developed a peculiar hitch in his once polished jumper and to this day the reason behind this bizarre and sudden tinkering to his shooting mechanic remains disputed. Some attribute the hitch to the result of a nagging shoulder impingement that haunted Fultz during his time in the City of Brotherly Love. Others attest that it was all in the youngster’s head and a dire lack of self-confidence was the culprit behind his shooting woes.
Whatever the case may be, while Fultz is not the franchise cornerstone that folks assumed he would be — he has proven himself to be a steady contributor and valuable cog in the Orlando Magic’s offense this season. Even though Markelle may never live up to his towering pre-draft expectations, I am proud to see my friend take advantage of the opportunity he was granted with. Disclaimer: we are not friends.
First off, Fultz’s once seemingly irreparable jump shot is now a serviceable weapon in his scoring arsenal. The difference in shot technique between his time as a Sixer and now is night and day. Notice how he no longer awkwardly double-clutches the rock in mid-air before releasing it.
Last season, Fultz might not have possessed the confidence to attempt this shot. But, nowadays he is burying looks from the mid-range with respectable accuracy. He connected on 42.2 percent of his jumpers between 10 feet and the 3-point line this year, according to Basketball-Reference. This is a meteoric improvement compared to his mid-range accuracy in Philadelphia. Fultz converted on a ghastly 30.4 percent of his tries from the same distance over his first two seasons.
Markelle’s natural position is point guard, but he was unable to show off his adept distributing skills until he landed in Orlando. After all, Fultz was sharing facilitating duties with Ben Simmons. Because Simmons held down the playmaking task, the 21-year-old’s passing skills were underutilized in Brett Brown’s offense.
With the Magic, Fultz has proven himself more than capable of orchestrating an offense at the highest level. He dished out a career-high 5.2 dimes per game this season and ranked in the 81st percentile among guards in assist percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Markelle has formed a dynamic duo with star big man Nikola Vucevic. Fultz’s success in the pick-and-roll dates back to his college days, and he remains excellent at running simple yet effective sets.
Luckily for Markelle, Vucevic is among the league’s most lethal pick-and-roll scorers. Vuc has the unique capability to either finish with finesse at the rim or pop out all the way to the 3-point arc.
The Fultz-Vucevic duo has also revealed what scouts once pegged as top tier vision. Fultz stays patient by decelerating, only to drop a howdidthatsqueezethrough bounce pass to his buddy. These glimpses of facilitating remind us that there is untapped potential as a playmaker.
Along with Fultz’s playmaking and outside shooting, his scoring at the rim has risen to another level this season. Not to say he was ever a poor finisher in the NBA, in fact, it’s possibly the one aspect of his college game that translated to the big leagues instantly. But it’s his newfound creativity in how he gets to the cup that has transformed him into one of the NBA’s elite inside scorers.
Fultz was elite at the rim this year, as he shot 65.1 percent on 235 total attempts at the basket. Just how great of a mark is that you might be asking? Well, it eclipsed the efficiency of James Harden, Jayson Tatum, and Donovan Mitchell in the paint. Markelle managed to convert at the rim with superb accuracy because he is agile, crafty, and a high flier.
Here are 60 seconds of Fultz embarrassing the opposition with a bevy of gorgeous Isaiah Thomas-esque change of pace drives. Enjoy.
The third-year hooper is a star in his own role (cliche, I know). For the first time in his pro tenure, Markelle was put in a position to flourish. Coach Steve Clifford (a perpetually underrated basketball mind) sought out to maximize Fultz’s strengths on the court, and it has paid off wonderfully.