Yes, you can call it a comeback. It’s not complete, but Markelle Fultz, who was this close to done in the NBA after being taken No. 1 overall in 2017, has signed a three-year, $50 million extension with the Orlando Magic, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
From a purely human perspective, you can’t help but be happy for Fultz. I’m not sure anyone will ever fully understand all that happened in Philadelphia and how low Fultz sunk psychologically. It would’ve broken plenty of strong men.
I remember being in Orlando for Jimmy Butler’s first game with the Sixers in November of 2018, and as the team bus left the local high school where the Sixers were shooting around, Fultz stayed behind with a few coaches to get up shots. He looked lost. Desperate. His jumper was beyond broken. Fultz has a naturally lackadaisical look about him, the half-speed rhythm of a disinterested teenager. It’s deceiving. It doesn’t reflect his energy, and that arrhythmic cadence has actually served him well on the court.
But that day there was a look of futility to his sauntering movements, or maybe that’s just how I saw them trying to put myself in his place, trying to remember something I was never consciously aware of in the first place. Shooting was once like walking to Fultz. Now he was just trying to put one foot in front of the other again. It looked exhausting. Devastating. The kid having to stay behind at physical therapy while his friends went off on their two good legs to play in the games he used to love.
I couldn’t imagine there was anything about basketball Fultz loved at that moment. I was convinced he was finished and just didn’t know it. That he was would eventually, understandably, give up.
But he didn’t.
The Sixers traded him to Orlando, where he could finally fly under the radar as he tried to find whatever joy he had left for a game that had abandoned him. Last year you saw strides in his game, but it always felt like we were grading him on a curve, overselling these improvements as something more than the tiny, incremental steps they actually were. Personally, I was no longer convinced he was completely finished, but I didn’t think he would ever get a contract like this.
Now the Magic are, in a sense, his team. He’s the starting point guard and he looks relatively worthy of the promotion. He is incredibly strong with the ball, a quirky finisher; he has, relatively speaking, a Luka Doncic element to his game, rarely blowing by defenders but consistently establishing enough leverage to use his finishing strength and craftiness. He has a nice knack for getting defenders on his back as he methodically works the lane. He’s a patient, last-second passer as he gets deep toward and even underneath the rim. His athleticism is known and yet still surprising when it shows up on the end of an almost lumbering probe.
Most importantly, his mid-range jump shot off the dribble looks legitimately smooth. The 3-pointer is still more of a push shot, like he has a tight suit shirt on and can’t comfortably extend his arms upward, but he is far less hesitant to pull the trigger as defenders go under screens and he appears to have developed a new feel for his new shot.
Keep it all in perspective. Last season, among 67 guards who logged at least 20 minutes per game with a usage rate of 20 or higher, Fultz’s true shooting percentage ranked 58th. The ship might have sailed on him ever being a feared shooter, but he can still be a relatively respected one. Given the other parts of his game, notably his poise in the lane, herky-jerky pace that is hard to time and defensive length and stoutness, he doesn’t have to be a good shooter to be a good player.
Orlando knows that, and that’s why it paid a guy who has perhaps been talked about as a bust for so long that we’ve all lost sight of the player he’s actually become. Who knows what happens with Fultz’s career from here, but there is plenty of reason for optimism. For all intents and purposes, last season was his rookie year. A 21-year-old trying to learn the league and relearn his own game at the same time isn’t the most fertile ground for accurate evaluation.
Now the Magic have seen him at length, and on spec, this is a good deal for both sides. On his current track, Fultz being worth north of $20 million a year is entirely realistic.
Considering the lofty expectations with which Fultz entered the league, it’s possible, and probably likely, that he’ll go down as a disappointment to the casual fan when it’s all said and done. But I suppose that depends on your perspective. I highly doubt if you asked Markelle Fultz how he feels right now — having secured his financial future barely a year after his basketball future was hanging in the balance — the word disappointed would even register on his radar.
And it shouldn’t. Most athletes will never know the kind of struggle Fultz has endured, and is still enduring. To me, this contract makes his career a success wherever it goes from here. He was this close to being done. Now he might be just getting started.
Published: 2020-12-22 06:30:34
Tags: #Markelle #Fultz #reportedly #secures #million #contract #extension #comeback #story #finished