ORLANDO — Markelle Fultz appears to be in a great place basketball-wise.
The Orlando Magic guard was in a great mood leaving the Grand Bohemian Hotel in downtown Orlando six hours before Sunday night’s game against the 76ers. Several hours later, Fultz, the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft by the Sixers, joked around with members of the 76ers’ staff. He then went out and had a solid performance against the team that gave up on him after less than two seasons.
Fultz had 12 points on 5-for-11 shooting to go with five assists, one rebound, two steals, and two turnovers in a 126-94 loss to the Sixers at the Amway Center. However, he fouled out with 8 minutes, 18 seconds remaining after 20:28 seconds of playing time. The guard, who had well-publicized shooting woes in Philly, scored most of his points on layups. He went 5-for-11 overall from the field, but made only 1 of 4 shots outside of the paint.
“It was fantastic to see him play,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “It was fantastic to play at, I think, a high level. We are always following him. We wish him well, and it’s good to see him back on a basketball court and playing well.”
Sixers center Joel Embiid was the game’s leading scorer with 15 points to go with nine rebounds in 21:51. He missed Friday’s victory over the Charlotte Hornets due to load management. Josh Richardson added 13 points, five assists, five steals, and four rebounds. Tobias Harris added 14 points, followed by Al Horford (11), and rookie reserve Matisse Thybulle (10 points, one steal, one block).
Ben Simmons had three points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals, while reserve post player Kyle O’Quinn had a game-high nine assists in 13:12.
The victory improved the Sixers to 3-0 in the preseason.
But most of the attention on the night went to Fultz, who has been a welcomed addition for the Magic (3-2).
“I feel good just working,” Fultz said before the game. "The atmosphere here. They have a lot of young guys here. But just work ethic. I feel good here.
“The medical staff has helped me.”
While Fultz was a Sixer, his agent Raymond Brothers announced on Dec. 4, 2018, that the point guard was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. Brothers said the condition was the reason for Fultz’s shooting woes and that his client would remain sidelined at least three to six weeks. However, he didn’t play after that, with his last game being Nov. 19.
“Everything is going a hell of a lot better as far as my shoulder [and] me getting in better shape,” Fultz said. “Everything is going good.”
That wasn’t the case in Philadelphia, where Fultz was often criticized for his shooting woes and his extended time away from the team. He was being regarded as one of biggest draft busts in NBA history.
The Sixers traded Fultz to the Magic on Feb. 7.
He needed a fresh start on a team that would give him a chance to become a 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.
But on Sunday, he showed glimpses of why the Sixers initially believed he could become a cornerstone of the franchise alongside Simmons and Embiid.
“I’m happy for him,” Simmons said. “He was killing.”
Fultz entered the game with 5:08 remaining in the first quarter, and made a contribution 36 seconds later. He stole a bad pass by Simmons, dribbled up court in transition, and assisted on Aaron Gordon’s dunk. His first basket came on a pull-up jumper 58 seconds later.
“He’s hard to guard,” Brown said. “He has that downhill fluid motion where you think you got him stopped and he can spin back and find cracks and find seams. He’s so long that he get his shot over bigs in the paint.”
He ended the quarter with two points, making one of his two shots, with the steal, assist and added one rebound.
The Maryland native added eight points in the second quarter on three driving layups and a pair of foul shots. His last basket of the quarter came on a drive over Embiid with 15.4 seconds left before intermission.
“He got lucky on that one,” Embiid said. "I didn’t really jump. But it doesn’t surprise me. That’s how he plays. Everybody always talks about jump shots, jump shots. I feel like he has more than that. He can be a type of a scoring guard.
“He’s extremely athletic and explosive. So, like I said, I’m extremely happy for him.”
Fultz said he carries a chip on his shoulder.
“I always carry a chip on my shoulder being where I’m from and the way I’ve been raised and all the people that doubted me,” he said. “Me being who I am, I think it’s just me to have a chip on my shoulder and go out there and hoop.”
The game was special because he was playing against his “brothers," Fultz said. But, for the most part, he said, this game was about having fun.
Fultz headed into Sunday’s matchup averaging 5.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 20 minutes in the preseason.
However, he had made just 10 of 36 shots for 27.7 percent and missed all five of his three-point attempts. Fultz made 3 of 4 foul shots, had 17 assists and committed 11 turnovers.
The 21-year-old has only played in 33 career regular-season games, none in Orlando.
“I’m happy for him. Super happy,” Simmons of Fultz, who is trying to rejuvenate his career in Orlando. "That’s my guy. That’s my little brother. So I’m just happy he’s out there playing and doing what he loves.
“It’s always tough to miss half the season and having a lot of people talking about you and other voices and other opinions going on. But I’m glad he’s locked in and found a happy place in Orlando.”