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Markelle Fultz: Most Improved Contender if Healthy?

After a torn ACL in January of 2021, Fultz returned for the Orlando Magic for the final 18 games of last season, averaging 10.8 points, 5.5 assists and 2.7 rebounds.

For a player who has suited up for just 131 of his 391 possible games up to this point of his career, many around the association have forgotten why Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz was the consensus No. 1 pick in 2017.

A prolific high school and collegiate career led the Philadelphia 76ers to trade up to select the 6-3 guard from Washington in a draft class that included Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo.

Over his first two seasons with the 76ers, thoracic outlet syndrome limited Fultz to just 33 games with the team. His injuries made him look like a shell of the player we saw dominate the Pac-12.

Fultz showed immense promise in his first full season with the Magic, playing 72 games while averaging 12.1 points, 5.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds in the first fully healthy season of his career.

The team rewarded Fultz for that season with a three-year, $50 million extension in December 2020, but unfortunately his injury history caught back up, tearing his ACL in January 2021 to end his season after just eight games.

When he did return in the latter part of last season, there were bursts of the player that many expected to be a long term guard in the league, posting averages of 10.8 points, 5.5 assists, and 2.7 rebounds in 18 games.

While the numbers may not be eye catching, the metrics show how elite of a finisher around the basket Fultz was in the games he played.

According to Cleaning the Glass, he shot 72 percent when attacking the basket, ranking in the 98th percentile among guards, with just 19 percent of those baskets coming off of assists, which placed him in the 100th percentile of players.

The production Fultz provided led to much more competitive basketball for a team that finished last season 22-60 and last in the Eastern Conference.

In those 18 games, where he averaged roughly 20 minutes per contest, he finished with a negative plus/minus in just six of them, posting a +5.4 per 100 possessions.

With health on his side, it is not out of the equation to witness the six-year veteran contend for a Most Improved Player award, and if it happened, would be the first time a No. 1 pick won since Pervis Ellison in 1992.