The NBA hiatus could prove to be beneficial for Markelle Fultz.
Fultz went from playing in 34 games over two injury-plagued seasons, to playing in 64 of a possible 65 games while taking on a starting role. Fultz wasn’t exactly hitting a “rookie” wall when the league stopped play on March 11. Over his last 12 games, which coincided with the Magic’s offensive outburst and 8-4 stretch, Fultz averaged 13.7 points and 7.0 assists while shooting 52 percent from the field in just under 30 minutes per game.
His numbers were improving, but his body was beginning to feel the toll of the full NBA grind.
“I feel really good right now,” Fultz told reporters on Sunday. “I actually feel better than I was after the All-Star break. After the All-Star break, my body was kind of tired, being so that was the first time I played that long. So right now, I actually feel really good. I think it’s just a matter of just getting those reps up in a game and I don’t think I’m far. I think I’m pretty close. I know it’s not going to be easy but I think it’s just a matter of a couple reps.”
Whether Fultz gets those reps on Monday in the Magic’s final scrimmage remains to be seen as he continues to ramp up after his delayed arrival to the NBA bubble due to personal matters. Steve Clifford told reporters on Sunday he’d be determining the status of Fultz (and Jonathan Isaac) later in the day with the Magic’s high performance director, David Tenney.
While unable to play in the scrimmages, Fultz said he’s been watching plenty of film, focusing on ways in which he can improve once back on the court
“Just being organized,” he said. “Just being a point guard, just taking control of the pace of the game, pushing the pace. And then defensively, just being in those spots. I see a couple things, guys are missing rotations. We’re just getting used to playing together again. So, just being aware of those things so when I’m out there I’m on top of it.”
Fultz said conditioning-wise he feels good, but he is still adapting to game speed. He said while ramping back up he has been focusing on his all-around game rather than looking to refine one particular aspect.
“I’ve been trying to lock in on everything so I can have a complete game to be ready,” he said.
Asked what aspect of Fultz’s game has most improved over the course of the season, Clifford highlighted Fultz’s mid-range efficiency.
“The thing that would stand out would be his mid-range shooting where I believe the last, whatever, 20 games I think he was eighth or ninth in the NBA in mid-range pull-up efficiency,” Clifford said.
Over Fultz’s last eight games in particular, he was shooting 66.7 percent on shots 16 to 24 feet from the basket (1.5 attempts per), and 52.4 percent on shots 8 to 16 feet from the basket (2.6 attempts per), according to NBA.com.
“As much as anything, I just think he got back into rhythm,” Clifford said. “He’s had injury issues [his first two seasons], he was able to stay healthy. The more he played the more confident he got. He’s in the paint. As much as anything health related, is just the opportunity to play.”
Fultz will soon have another opportunity to play — whether on Monday or in the Magic’s seeding games — as Part II of his comeback season begins.
“I still have a lot to prove,” Fultz said. “One is just staying in the playoffs and getting past the first round, but we gotta get there first. Take each game one at a time. Just keep establishing myself as a name in this league, as a point guard, a winning player, a great teammate and a great person.”