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Markelle Fultz could be the NBA’s greatest redemption story

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Fultz had a great opening night. And this could just be the beginning.

Markelle Fultz curled around a Nikola Vucevic screen, found his way through the paint, then went up-and-under Cedi Osman’s block attempt for an acrobatic bucket. It was his third make on three tries in the opening quarter of his Orlando Magic debut. He was playing loose and with confidence, flashing all the athleticism the Philadelphia 76ers saw when they drafted No. 1 overall in 2017.

Fast-forward two years later, and Fultz is playing to revive his career. It’s a bizarre thought for someone who’s all of 21 years old, but Fultz is universally known as the wonder who either had a 700-day bout of the yips or was too injured to succeed. The pressure on him to succeed was enormous from the get-go, and each day since, it’s only grown greater.

Fultz answered the big question before the first quarter closed out. For his seventh and eighth points of the frame, he took a Mo Bamba screen, saw space in the mid-range, and did the unlikely, pulling up for a fluent-looking jump shot.

Swoosh.

Fultz could be the NBA’s greatest redemption story

Fans tend to look for a redemption sports angle even when there isn’t one, but Fultz’s is pure. His athletic meltdown has been relentlessly public, with analysts dissecting every part of the failing jump shot and injury rumors about his peculiar shoulder injury. But Fultz has weathered it all. After a two-season nightmare, he’s now free from expectations.

Wednesday night was Fultz’s first game since Nov. 19, and though he wasn’t perfect, a 12-point, six-assist and two-steal night was as good a debut as anyone could’ve expected. He came off the bench and played 23 minutes, with Steve Clifford giving him ample time to get comfortable. He was a big contributor in the Magic’s 94-85 win.

Fultz will have his eye on taking D.J. Augustin’s starting role, but even if he never takes it and stays a solid sixth man, that’s enough to call this a redemption story.

Where does Fultz’s game go from here?

Fultz’s spring was in action in Game 1. He can bounce.

His playmaking abilities were showcased, too. He wasn’t running the off-ball guard role Philly wanted him to next to Ben Simmons. Instead, he controlled the pace of the game, wove around defenders, and timed passes perfectly down low to Vucevic and up high to skyscraper Mo Bamba. He had good chemistry with bigs in the pick-and-roll. He’s a point guard.

He’ll still hear questions about his ability to shoot from distance, though. He missed all three of his tries against the Cavs, and the fluency in his form on the mid-range shot got lost in the mail from a few feet deeper. Fultz still has a slight hitch and looks to be exerting a ton of awkward strength just to fire from range.

Maybe that’s OK. Fultz can still be effective even if he isn’t a reliable shooter. The jumper was a big part of his game at Washington, but there have been guards who have thrived in spite of a consistent jumper. He has the size, quickness, and creativity with the ball in his hands to still make it work.

For now though, even if he’s just a supplementary bench piece this season, that’s enough. This could be his first fully healthy season for all we know, and heck, he’s only played 34 NBA games in his career.

There’s a lot of time for Fultz to develop. And this time, there’s hope, too.