It's been a tumultuous road for former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz since being selected by the Philadelphia 76ers back in 2017. After averaging over 23 points per game in college and entering the draft with high praise for his two-way game, Fultz's career unraveled almost immediately due to injuries. A complicated shoulder injury, which received significant attention during his time in Philadelphia, limited Fultz to just 33 games over his two years with the Sixers. Following an unsuccessful start to his career in Phildelphia, the Sixers traded Fultz to the Orlando Magic at the 2019 NBA trade deadline, where he's remained since.
Injuries have again been an issue for Fultz during his time with the Magic, most notably an ACL tear just eight games into the 2020-21 season which sidelined him for much of the following year as well. He also suffered a fractured toe to start this season, but since returning fully healthy at the end of November, Fultz has had the best year of his career. He's averaging a career-high 12.1 points, 5.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from deep.
He's become an integral piece in Orlando's starting lineup, and when the Magic hit the road to take on the Sixers on Monday night, it'll be the first time since being traded from there that Fultz will face his former team in Philadelphia. Ahead of the matchup, Fultz shared his excitement to play in front of Sixers fans for the first time, while also reflecting on his time with the team.
"I'm excited," Fultz said via the Orlando Sentinel. "It's a little bit different. Obviously now, they got a different coaching staff. They got some of the players but still the same feelings as far as going back to Philly, play there and have the chance to play in front of their fans."
In the four seasons since being traded to Orlando, Fultz had been injured each time the Magic headed to Philadelphia to take on his former team (the Sixers also hosted Fultz and the Magic in a "home" game during the 2020 Orlando bubble). Now finally healthy, and playing his best basketball since entering the league, Fultz's return has finally arrived. While there was a significant amount of drama that surrounded Fultz's tenure with the Sixers, the former Washington product spoke positively when describing Philadelphia and his time with the team.
"Philly being a grimy city and the way they love their sports teams are kind of different," Fultz said. "They give tough love sometimes. My time and experience there was very dope, especially with the city. I felt like they gave me a lot of love. Just living there for a little bit, being able to embrace the culture they have there is pretty dope. It was a positive thing. Everything happens for a reason, I'm a firm believer in that. I'm very thankful for everything that Philly's done for me."
Although Fultz didn't live up to expectations with the 76ers, the 24-year-old guard has found his groove with this young, talented Magic squad. Surrounded by fellow No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, as well as young guys like Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr., Orlando has an impressive young core to build with for the future. And while Fultz has already logged six seasons in the league, this is really only the second season he's been fully healthy, so there's still some untapped potential as Fultz continues on this journey.