Orlando Magic guard Markelle Fultz said the NBA's long layoff amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the unique circumstances of the late July restart to the season in Orlando—with just 22 teams coming together in one central location to finish off the season—has the feel of an "AAU tournament."
Fultz further elaborated on the AAU analogy, per Nick Friedell of ESPN:
"You go on the road—sometimes you have tournaments in your hometown, but you still stay in a hotel. I've been trying to think positive about it. ... It's going to be a challenge, but I think that's what's going to make it fun for me and also some of my teammates. But also, it's kind of nerve-wracking not to know how it's going to be. Also being with no fans. I think that's another thing that's going to be a big difference. But I've been thinking about the positive about it. I think it's going to be just like a practice scrimmage atmosphere, which I think some people play better in."
Fultz, 22, was having a solid first season for the Magic, averaging 12.1 points, 5.2 assists and 1.3 steals in 28.3 minutes per game across 64 appearances (59 starts). He was acquired by the Magic ahead of the 2018-19 trade deadline in a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers.
The former top overall pick got off to a bizarre start to his career with the Sixers, as injuries and the degradation of his shooting form led to a rocky two years. While Fultz was drafted to be the third star alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, he ultimately made just 15 starts and 33 total appearances in Philadelphia.
With the Sixers adding players like Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris last season in the hopes of fast-tracking their title hopes, Fultz fell out of the team's plans. But for a younger team in need of a point guard like the Magic, he was an excellent gamble.
And he's been a key contributor for the 30-35 Magic, who currently hold the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference standings.
His shooting woes aren't completely behind him. While he's shooting a career-high 47.3 from the field and 72.3 percent from the charity stripe, he's only shooting 25.4 percent from three. That's a far cry from the 41.3 percent he shot from beyond the arc in his lone season from Washington.
Regardless, Fultz's ability to score at the basket and facilitate for his teammates has been important for a team that lacked quality point guard play last season. If the Magic are to ultimately secure a playoff spot, he'll be a big reason why.