ORLANDO — The change of scenery has benefited Markelle Fultz.
It’s not just because at 68 degrees, “The City Beautiful” was 32 degrees warmer than Philadelphia’s high on Wednesday. Fultz also appears more relaxed with the Orlando Magic in what is a less pressure-packed situation than he had as a 76er. And, while his perimeter shot remains a work in progress, his shooting mechanics look better.
Fultz will tell you there are two reasons for the difference.
“I took the time to recover, make sure I’m healthy,” said Fultz, who was diagnosed last season with thoracic outlet syndrome, which affected his shooting shoulder. "Second of all, I think it’s a matter of opportunity, the place that I’m in when I’m on the floor. I think it’s a combination of both.
“I just [have] the opportunity to do what I wanted to do, and I’m taking advantage of it.”
In the Magic’s 112-97 win, Fultz showed the Sixers how he has improved. He scored 8 points on 2-for-6 shooting and going 4-for-6 from the free-throw line, with four rebounds in 21 minutes.
The 21-year-old point guard entered his first regular-season game against his former team averaging 9.7 points, 3.1 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.7 turnovers in 23.5 minutes. He was shooting 47.1% from the field.
Fultz, who had well-publicized shooting woes in Philly, has scored most of his points on drives to the basket. He has hit only 4 of 24 three-pointers, or 16.7%.
The Magic are happy with his play. Fultz moved into the starting lineup Nov. 2 against the Denver Nuggets.
“He’s got a very mature game for a younger guy,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said. “You know he’s played at a great high school program [DeMatha Catholic in Maryland], a great college program [Washington], and obviously his experience in Philadelphia.”
Clifford noted that Fultz understands and studies the game. He thinks Fultz will get more in rhythm with more playing time and when he gets healthier. And Clifford’s not alone.
“He’s still getting comfortable,” Magic reserve guard Michael Carter-Williams, another former Sixer, said before the game. "He’s only played in 10 games this year. So we are just being patient with him.
"He’s explosive. He can do a lot of different things on the floor. I think the best is yet to come.”
Hitting perimeter shots would make him more well-rounded. But, right now, the team would like to see him drive to the basket move. He’s been averaging about 10 drives per game.
“He has the unique ability to get the ball into the paint and make plays for his teammates or for himself,” Clifford said.
The Sixers traded up two spots to draft Fultz with the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. In Philadelphia, he was often criticized for his shooting woes and his extended time away from the team. The Maryland native was regarded as one of biggest draft busts in NBA history.
In December, his agent, Raymond Brothers, announced that Fultz’s shoulder injury had been diagnosed, causing his erratic shooting. Brothers said his client would remain sidelined at least three to six weeks. He didn’t play after that, however, with his last game being Nov. 19.
The Sixers traded Fultz to the Magic on Feb. 7. He played in just 33 games, all with the Sixers, in his first two NBA seasons.
“I can’t compare situations,” Clifford said. “We are just glad he’s here.”
Fultz needed a fresh start on a team that would give him a chance to become the starting point guard. The thought was that a change of scenery might help him overcome the stigma that comes with failing to live up to lofty expectations.
While time will tell, Fultz is back to having fun on the court.
“Have fun. That will take care of the other jitters and everything like that," Fultz said. “I don’t have to worry about anything.”