After the Magic traded for Markelle Fultz, we sat down with one of Philly’s own to have a Q&A about the saga in Philadelphia and the fresh start in Orlando.
Now more than a year has passed since the trade, and we thought it would be a good time to follow-up with Kevin P. Love of Liberty Ballers to hear how he, and Philadelphia as a whole, feel about Fultz’s performance this season.
Fultz, after playing just 33 games for the 76ers before a messy divorce, has played in 54 of 55 games for the Magic, taking over the starting point guard spot early in the season. He is averaging 11.9 points while shooting 50.8 from the field, 27 percent from three on 1.9 attempts per, and 75 percent from the free throw line. In 28.2 minutes per game, he is posting 5.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals. His per 36 numbers work out to 15.2 points, 6.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds.
Has Fultz been better than you expected this season?
I’d say from an impact perspective, yes. In a vacuum, I think he’s shown himself to be reliable in the areas we thought he could be and struggles in the areas we expected him to. But of course, nothing exists in a vacuum. And while I haven’t wavered too much on what I believe Markelle brings to the table as far as skill set, I think it’s very encouraging to see that the Magic aren’t some drastically better team with Fultz off the floor.
This is really Markelle’s first season in an NBA flow and being given the reins of an offense, so in some respects, he’s like a rookie. Most inexperienced ball handlers are sort of the other way around: they flash a lot of raw talent but their teams perform very poorly. But the Magic’s offense seems to be much better with Fultz on the floor: per Cleaning The Glass, they are +5.5 points/100 possessions with Markelle out there. To me, that says Fultz is aware of what he’s good at and is focused on using and improving those tools to help the team, rather than trying to force himself into a role he’s not prepared to fulfill.
What have you seen from Fultz this season that you didn’t see in his brief time on the court with the Sixers?
The last time we talked, I had mentioned that one thing that really stood out to me about Markelle was his ability to get to the rim. However, I made a distinction between getting to the rim and converting at the rim. In Philly, he dribbled and danced his way to the rim whenever he wanted but he struggled to put the ball through the hoop once he arrived. This season, he’s really improved his finishing, connecting on 63% of his attempts at the rim which is really solid for a 6’4” guard. I see the next step for ‘Kelle as punishing teams from the line by obviously improving his percentage but also getting there more and more often. We’ve fallen in love with the three ball, but at the end of the day, free throws and layups are still the most valuable shots in the game.
What has impressed you most about Fultz? Was there a particular game or moment that stands out?
This may be a boring answer but I’m truthfully impressed by his resilience. I mean, there was a time when it was hard for me to see how ‘Kelle would make it in the NBA beyond his rookie deal. It wasn’t just a jump shot, Fultz lost his love for the game. And so how do you rebound from that, when what you typically find solace in becomes an arena you dread being in? Most of us look for a new job or change our major. It speaks to his character.
Do you in any way regret the trade?
I don’t. I just don’t think it was ever going to happen in Philly for Markelle Fultz nor do I think Philly could create an environment to increase his trade value to eventually get a better return. The player he is now comes off the bench for the Sixers (they can’t afford to compromise the spacing of their go-to lineup anymore than they already are plus would welcome the ball handling off the bench), and I wonder if he even gets to the point he’s at now without getting starting minutes, much less playing in an environment in which every loss comes with severe scrutiny given the expectations the Sixers placed upon themselves.
What type of reaction do you think Fultz will get when he plays in Philly for the first time later this season?
There’s certainly still fans who are bitter about how things went with Fultz. To them, Markelle will always represent a missed opportunity. But for the most part, I think the Wells Fargo Center crowd will give a warm welcome to Markelle. Now that the Fultz era has come and gone from Philadelphia and we’ve been able to piece some of the puzzle together, most fans realize that Fultz was a kid who had his life drastically changed overnight and how disorienting that can be.
Thank you again to Kevin for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to check out the great Sixers coverage that he and the staff produce over at Liberty Ballers. Follow them on Twitter at @Liberty_Ballers.