For Orlando Magic fans like myself, the news of finally trading for a point guard made my week. Markelle Fultz will now head to Orlando, and based on his pedigree, he should easily become the best ballhandler the Magic have had since Jameer Nelson ran the offense. That said, Fultz comes to the team as damaged goods. The former number one pick has a shoulder issue of some kind, currently diagnosed as thoracic outlet syndrome. It’s not great, but number one overall picks aren’t available less than 24 months after they’ve been drafted if everything is good.
In this case, Fultz and the Philadelphia 76ers needed a divorce (and bad). The Magic were willing to pay a paltry sum, a 2020 Top-20 Protected 1st pick from the Thunder, a 2nd rounder, and Jonathan Simmons. Magic fans will quickly tell you that this Simmons is not the one that was so good in San Antonio and considering he was shooting 36.4% from the field, and 22.9% from three, the Magic should be giving those minutes to the players that need development (looking at you Wes Iwundu). Ultimately, this boils down to risk. Clearly, the Magic have signed up for the fairly rocky, but exciting Fultz experience.
It has been far too long since Orlando actually had quality PG play. Last year, the Magic got roasted when they posted the unfortunate truth that Shelvin Mack led the team in assists with a paltry 3.9 APG. That was terrible. Here’s the sadder truth. 2019 has only a single Magic player above that mark right now, with D.J. Augustin averaging a paltry 4.8 APG. If you zoom out, the Magic are dead last in the league in Offensive Rating from their guards. Even if the defense has been top notch (1st in the league over that span), the differential puts them at 21st in the league. The guard’s Assist Ratio, or the number of possessions that ended with an assist from a guard, ranked 29th. The guard play has been a black mark on the organization. So how can Fultz help?
To start with, Fultz gets to finally run pick and rolls. According to NBA.com, the 76ers do not like running pick and rolls, and anyone who watches the team can see that. Instead, they roll with a motion offense, often giving Embiid the ball in the post as the number one scoring option. This year the 76ers are dead last in the league in pick and rolls, and 2nd to last in pick and pops. Meanwhile, the Magic are 9th in pick and rolls, and 20th in pick and pops. With players like Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and Jonathan Isaac, the Magic should be running these kinds of plays. Gordon and Vucevic are both solid shooters but can rim run with the best. Watch the Augustin/Gordon pick and roll on Milwaukee from a Saturday night.
On the Magic, Fultz gets to finally get back to what he does best. Draft Express was very high on his pick and roll potential. He is best when surrounded by shooting, and in theory, a Vucevic, Fournier, Gordon, and Isaac group should help considerably with that. With another year on D.J. Augustin’s deal, the Magic could roll out two ball-handlers and let Fultz run the offense and turn Augustin into a spot up shooter (he has shot more than 40% from three over the past two seasons). For the Magic, the ball handler usually completes the play (about 16th in the league), and when given the opportunity, Fultz did just that.
He can also contribute in a big way defensively. As The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor pointed out in his scouting report, he was a vocal defensive player in college, and his length clearly pairs up with the rest of the Magic. He’s 6’4″ and has a 6’9 1/2″ wingspan. Jeff Weltman and John Hammond love players with length so much you’d think its a comedy bit. With Isaac (7′ 1″ wingspan), Gordon (7′), and Mohamed Bamba (7′ 10″) this looks like the 2015 – 2016 Oklahoma City Thunder.
If the Magic can get Fultz back on the court, there’s plenty of reason to get excited. Fultz scored 23.2 points per game, nabbed 5.3 rebounds per game, and dimed 5.9 assists per game at Washington. Even if he never reaches that level of scoring potential, his ability to snatch rebounds and create assists can return. I may just be the latest writer to fall in love with Fultz’s potential. That said, the chances that the Magic could find this player in the 20s (or even later), were unlikely. It’s worth the gamble and could make for bright new future alongside the young core of the team. Fingers crossed we have the next D’Angelo Russell in Orlando.