Markelle Fultz looks back on Sixers tenure, explains why he's grown since leaving

Noah Levick
·4 min read

Fultz looks back on Sixers tenure, explains why he's grown since leaving originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

During the end of Markelle Fultz’s time in Philadelphia, it seemed his health, jump shot and NBA career were all deteriorating, or trending downward at a minimum.

Though he hasn’t suddenly transformed into a smooth-shooting marksman since being traded to the Magic in February of 2019, he’s on a new, much more positive trajectory.

Fultz, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, played his 33rd and final regular-season game for the Sixers on Nov. 19, 2018. The months that followed featured agent-recommended medical consultations, a new diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome, trade rumors and pervasive murkiness about whether he’d return to the floor that season. He ultimately did not, sitting out the remainder of the 2018-19 campaign with the aim of restoring his health. 

Speaking Thursday morning on Zoom before the Sixers’ game against the 4-0 Magic, Fultz credited the Orlando organization for setting him up for success after his mystifying and difficult start in the NBA.

“One, I’m healthy,” Fultz said. “Two, I just think I have an opportunity to be at the one position and to have the ball in my hands, and to be able to make plays and be comfortable doing that. And I just think my teammates help me, as well. But I think the biggest thing about it is just being healthy and just having an opportunity to have the ball in my hands — play freely and play my game.”

Indeed, adapting to playing off the ball and next to Ben Simmons was a challenge for Fultz, especially given that defenses didn’t respect either player’s jumper. Lineups with Simmons and Fultz scored only 100.9 points per 100 possessions in 2018-19, per Cleaning the Glass, and had a minus-4.3 net rating. The 22-year-old tended to look more natural and dangerous with the ball in his hands and with Simmons on the bench. Now, Fultz is running the show in Orlando and has averaged 18.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.0 turnovers in the early going. He signed an extension with the Magic earlier this month.

About two weeks before Fultz’s last game as a Sixer, the University of Washington product responded to a deleted tweet from trainer Drew Hanlen that indicated he still wasn’t healthy by saying he had “bumps and bruises” but was close to full health.

Thursday, he used the same phrase in reflecting on his time with the Sixers and path to this point.

“I’m just blessed, and I’m extremely thankful for it,” he said. “I think without going through what I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. As much as I learned, not only about basketball but just about life. You’re going to have bumps and bruises you go through in your life — (at) some point in life. I was just fortunate to go through it early in my career. 

“It helped me with my mindset, it helped me with my strengths and weaknesses and being able to grow. I’m just thankful for everything that I’ve been through — not just in Philly, but my whole life. That’s really all it is. I’m blessed to be able to go through that, and just keep looking forward and keep moving forward.”

Fultz’s shot is still not a strength. He went 36 for 135 from three-point range last season (26.7 percent) and is 3 of 10 this year. The Sixers should give him space to shoot Thursday night.

That said, Fultz’s jumper is no longer a damaged object of fascination. He’s made 14 of 15 free throws, too. Pump fakes at the foul line are ancient history.

Fultz is pleased with where he’s at and proud of how he got there. 

“Just never gave up,” Fultz said. “I believed in myself and I had people who believed in me. That’s really it. Like you said, I’m a positive guy, I don’t really look back too much. But again, sometimes you’ve got to look back and see where you came from so you’re not too stressed now for the goals you have ahead of yourself.

"I’m just proud of myself with how much work I put in. No matter what anybody was saying about me or saying about what was going on, I just stuck with it and I kept going.”

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