After about 415 days and 125 games, the waiting is over. Markelle Fultz is set to make his season debut.
Fultz, out since January 2021 after suffering a torn ACL, will return to the lineup on Monday when the Magic host the Indiana Pacers.
“I feel a lot stronger this time around,” Fultz said on the Orlando Magic Pod Squad. “This injury has helped me work on a lot of things. This is probably the best my body has felt in a long time. I’m talking about full body. I can feel my muscles. I can identify certain things in my body. Just all around, core, conditioning, I think this is probably the best I’ve felt coming back and being able to play basketball.”
That’s good news for a Magic organization and fanbase that has been eagerly awaiting the return of Fultz and/or Jonathan Isaac, who tore his ACL in August 2020 and is yet to return.
Fultz’s comeback adds some late-season intrigue over Orlando’s final 21 games, in seeing how Fultz responds to another lengthy rehab, how he develops chemistry with backcourt mates Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs, and how he thrives with teammates who could benefit from his playmaking like Wendell Carter Jr. and Franz Wagner.
“I’ve just been working on everything,” Fultz said. “Being able to use my size as an advantage in the post. Being able to get to my spots where I love to kill, the midrange. Working on going through contact, getting to the rim, trying to get free throws. Stuff like that. Playing the same game. Shooting my threes off the dribble. Just a little bit of everything,”
Fultz, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, suffered the non-contact injury when his knee buckled against the Cavs on Jan. 6, 2021. At the time, Fultz was averaging 14.3 points, 6.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds a game.
The injury came shortly after Fultz signed a three-year, $50 million extension with the Magic.
Fultz was first acquired by the Magic at the trade deadline in February 2019. He sat out the remainder of the season while recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome, making his Magic debut on opening night of the 2019-2020 season.
“Me going through injuries before, especially with my shoulder, understanding that not rushing things and understanding that it’s a process even though some days you might feel great and some days you might not,” Fultz said. “Just understanding your body and listening to your body. I think that’s the big adjustment and advantage that I had going into this rehab this time. I knew that there isn’t any rush. You have to be patient and I had to listen to my body.”
Patience is no longer necessary as Fultz takes the court on Monday, even while under what is expected to be a minutes restriction.
“I’m just blessed just to be able to, one, be where I am today after going through an injury like this and being able to fight and just be back on the court with my brothers and friends,” Fultz said.