The star-crossed former no. 1 pick is back, and he’s shooting marginally better
The NBA’s superteam era is mostly over; it is now a league of dynamic duos. This group includes LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. It also now includes Markelle Fultz and his jump shot.
Fultz was filmed working out on Wednesday. Not just that, his shot looked normal. This is significant news for two reasons. The first is that we now know Fultz’s status, which has been kept under wraps since the February trade that brought the former first overall pick to Orlando from Philadelphia. Jeff Weltman, the Magic’s president of basketball operations, said last month, “We’re not going to put timelines or expectations on how that all unfolds. It will come as it comes.” It unfolded on Wednesday. The second reason this is significant news is because Fultz has cleared the bar for loud, uninterrupted hype. The bar was impossibly low, but let’s not get bogged down with details. This is no time for specifics, this is time to recklessly inflate expectations.
My colleague Haley O’Shaughnessy has detailed how Fultz’s shot got off track. In short, it used to be normal and then stopped. Somewhere along the way this happened:
Markelle Fultz is a living, breathing 2K glitch. It’s tough to watch. pic.twitter.com/wMUXZBPQR2— Andrew Joseph (@AndyJ0seph) November 13, 2018
It’s not important. The point is the bar has been cleared. He’s back, and, folks, he appears to be marginally better.
Though thematically, Wednesday’s events seem like a Marvel movie—regular, nervous guy discovers his incredible power—it is visually reminiscent of a Christopher Nolan movie: a story told through different lenses that all come together. You can see the remnants of one shot in the background of another. All of the pieces are woven together very carefully and collide, eventually, perfectly. Because of this, there is no reason for me to continue talking about this; I will simply be your guide through Wednesday’s workout videos:
Magic guard Markelle Fultz looks good as he gets in some shooting work today at Amway with Michael Carter-Williams and Josh Magette. pic.twitter.com/PjHJvaYgt1— Roy Parry (@osroyparry) September 25, 2019
More video of Markelle Fultz here at Amway Center a few seconds ago: pic.twitter.com/VZPXROjnjv— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) September 25, 2019
Chuck Klosterman once said that Beatles songs change along with you. If you hear Julia at 15 and then Julia at 30, they will be dramatically different experiences. They created such art that it becomes a movable feast.
This brings us to these two angles of Fultz, dribbling twice, spinning, dribbling some more, then hopping before a shot. Which is your favorite? It will change. It will keep changing. Is it Dante Marchitelli’s footage from under the basket, which shows the gym in more depth? Is it Josh Robbins’s, which is closer and shows more of a side angle? They are both masterpieces in their own little ways. True Grit was made into a great movie twice, and there’s a lesson in that.
Fultz Making One of Two 3-Pointers in 17 Seconds
Fultz Making Three 3-Pointers During a Shooting Drill
In August 2012, I was in a hotel in Green Bay when I saw the news that the Magic were trading Dwight Howard to the Lakers. I felt a tinge of sadness because I, and everyone else with any connection to Orlando, knew this was the end of something special: Howard had led the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals. He teamed with Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu to form one of the most underrated teams in the Eastern Conference. By that point, the trade was inevitable—the Finals team had withered away, and Howard had been involved in trade rumors for months. The thing I was unprepared for was the purgatory the team would be stuck in. The team, against all odds, had found a way to stay relevant for most years before that, either through the lottery (Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Howard) or free agency (Tracy McGrady, Horace Grant, Grant Hill). I thought the team would restock and be relevant again by the middle of the decade. I was wrong. This is a long way of saying that these two videos are a top-50 Orlando Magic moment of this decade.
A 15-Second Video of Two Fultz Free Throws
Markelle Fultz’s free throw form is looking good— Be Magic Or Be Gone! (@BeORLMagic) September 25, 2019
: orlandomagicradio/IG pic.twitter.com/SmgdAv82DV
OK, no need to panic, but this appears to be a flaw. He still looks uncomfortable taking these shots. Teams will probably notice this and send him to the line often, so this could become a recurring issue if it’s not fixed.
Anyway, again, let’s not get too into the weeds with little things like he clearly isn’t fixed. Let’s focus on what he can win this season if everything breaks right. There is no comeback player of the year in the NBA, as there is in the NFL for injured players, so Fultz will be in the hunt for Most Improved Player.
Fultz Draining a Midrange Jumper
Sorry, I meant MVP.
Fultz Hitting a Corner 3
Ack. Finals MVP.
Fultz Hitting One 3 Then Missing Another
More video of Markelle Fultz: pic.twitter.com/q4qJQUxpaW— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) September 25, 2019
OK. OK. A bit of a setback here. Fultz’s motion is not fixed, exactly. It’s just normal. But again, the bar to clear was “can he shoot without getting the yips?” and it’s very much mission accomplished in that regard.
In all seriousness, there is a massive gap between Fultz shooting normally and Fultz being the player he once was. There is also a massive difference between the Magic’s investment in Fultz and Philadelphia’s. The Sixers drafted Fultz first overall with the hope that he would be the last piece of their rebuild. The Magic acquired Fultz for a top-20-protected 2020 first-round pick and Jonathon Simmons. Fultz is a flier for the Magic, particularly since they will be picking 30th in 2020. There is only upside here, and thus less pressure on Fultz. It has the chance to be one of the best trades in recent memory for the Magic if Fultz can fulfill most of the promise he once had. The problem, as you can see from some of these videos, is he may never regain the fluid shot he once had. The question the Magic might have to start asking is how good he can become without it.
An Orlando Magic Hype Video Titled “In case you were wondering what Markelle’s been up to …”
In case you were wondering what Markelle's been up to... pic.twitter.com/3RE39oLN51— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) September 25, 2019
There were, I suppose, good films made before Wednesday. Apocalypse Now. The John Wick series. But very few check the boxes this does. Were you interested in seeing Markelle Fultz tie his shoe? Boom. It’s there. What about dribbling in the general proximity of D.J. Augustin? And lifting 70-pound weights? All in there. I was wondering what Markelle was up to, Magic; thank you for asking. Any questions? Oh, right. A lot. I forgot.