Markelle Fultz on Success with Magic After 76ers Trade: 'I Can Play Freely'

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2020

Orlando Magic's Markelle Fultz (20) passes the ball as he gets in front of Washington Wizards guard Admiral Schofield during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux/Associated Press

Away from the shadow that loomed over him in Philadelphia, Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz is beginning to show why he was the No. 1 overall pick three years ago.

Fultz says the change of scenery—along with finally being healthy after shoulder injuries nearly derailed his career—has helped him "play freely."

"I'm still the No. 1 pick," he told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. "That will never change. But I took care of the injury. I can play freely. I can do what I want. I can do what I love most. Every game I'm improving. Every game I'm feeling better. It helps when you see the ball going in. That just makes it even better."

Fultz is averaging 11.3 points, 4.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and has already appeared in more games this season (37) than he did in two seasons with Philadelphia (33). While those are hardly world-beating numbers, he is light-years ahead of the seemingly broken player he was when the Sixers offloaded him last year.

Fultz credited the Magic with being patient in his rehab from thoracic outlet syndrome, building him up slowly over the course of the summer. He's playing with a sense of confidence he never displayed with the Sixers, who traded a 2019 first-rounder to the Boston Celtics in order to swap spots and select him in 2017. The picks they dealt turned into Jayson Tatum and Romeo Langford.

In two years with the Sixers, Fultz struggled so mightily with his shooting that some wondered if it was a hurdle he'd never get over.

"The thing is, it didn't really bother me," he said of the criticism. "If I saw something negative, most of the time I laughed at it. Because it's just not true. People say some crazy stuff. I read somewhere that I got into a motorcycle accident. I cracked jokes with my friends about this stuff. People just don't know. I was [injured]. That's it."

While Magic have made him more comfortable, Fultz is still a work in progress as a jump shooter (25.4 percent from three). Regardless, his story is one of the best of this NBA season.

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