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Confident, improved Markelle Fultz owes success with Magic to a disastrous stint with Sixers

“I think without going through what I’ve gone through I wouldn’t be where I am at today," Fultz said.

Markelle Fultz (20) shoots the ball as Washington Wizards forward Isaac Bonga (17) and Wizards forward Deni Avdija (9) defend on Dec 26.
Markelle Fultz (20) shoots the ball as Washington Wizards forward Isaac Bonga (17) and Wizards forward Deni Avdija (9) defend on Dec 26.Read moreGeoff Burke / AP

ORLANDO — It was only an eight-minute interview. But in those eight minutes, Markelle Fultz showed a confidence and command not seen during his brief stint with the 76ers.

It’s obvious the change of scenery has been good for the 2017 first-overall pick. He’s gone from being recognized as one of the NBA’s biggest draft busts to a solid face of the Orlando Magic.

“I’m just blessed and extremely thankful for it,” Fultz said of his Sixers stint. “I think without going through what I’ve gone through I wouldn’t be where I am at today. As much as I learned, not only about basketball, but just about life. You are going to have bumps and bruises that go through your life, at some point in life. I was just fortunate enough to go through it early in my career.”

In Philadelphia, he was often criticized for his shooting woes and his extended time away from the team.

In December 2018, his agent, Raymond Brothers, announced that Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which affected his shooting shoulder and caused erratic shooting. Brothers said his client would remain sidelined at least three-to-six weeks. He didn’t play after that with his last game on Nov. 19, 2018.

The Sixers traded Fultz to the Magic on Feb. 7, 2019. He played in just 33 games, all with the Sixers, in his first two NBA seasons.

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Fultz said the early struggles helped with his mindset, strengths and weaknesses, and growth.

“So I’m just thankful for everything that I’ve been through,” he said. “Just not in Philly, my whole life. That’s really all it is. I’m blessed to be able to go through that and keep looking forward and keep moving forward.”

The Sixers were far from an ideal situation for him.

He was the primary ball-handler at Washington but had to move off the ball with Ben Simmons at point guard. The first-overall pick usually comes to a team where they are going to be the first option.

But if Joel Embiid was Batman and Simmons was Robin, Fultz was more like Alfred in the chain of command.

This season, the point guard is having the best start of his career, averaging 18.3 points, 5.8 assists, and 1.0 steal through four games.

On Sunday, he had a career-high 26 points while making 2-of-3 three-pointers in a seven-point road victory over his hometown Washington Wizards. On Tuesday, he had 11 points, 10 assists, and made 1-of-2 three-pointers in an 11-point road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Fultz made 3 of 5 three-point attempts in his last two games after going 0-for-5 in the first two games. In Philly, he was a 26.7% three-point shooter.

Happy with his development, the Magic signed him to a three-year, $50 million extension on Dec. 21. And during Thursday’s interview, it was obvious the 22-year-old is one of the team leaders.

Maybe it has to do with fewer expectations or playing in a smaller market, but Fultz has shown growth in Orlando that wasn’t present in Philly.

“For one, I’m healthy,” he said of his growth. “Two, I just think I have an opportunity, you know, to be at the one position and have the ball in my hands and be able to make plays and be comfortable doing that.”

Fultz also credits his Orlando teammates helping him out, but health and playing point guard has enabled him to play his game freely.

He’s back to having fun and oozing confidence.

“One of the things to emphasize since I got here was taking my time to get healthy,” Fultz said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, you know. I think it’s just showing in my play.”