It took almost 14 long months to rehab an ACL knee injury, but Markelle Fultz is ready to return to the hardwood with the Orlando Magic on Monday night against the Indiana Pacers.

Markelle Fultz Orlando Magic
Markelle Fultz from the Orlando Magic screams in pain when he tore his ACL last season. (Image: USA Today Sports)

Fultz, the former #1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, blew out his ACL last season in a Magic game against the Cleveland Cavs in the first week of January 2021. He’s been sidelined since then, but worked hard to be able to play in the Magic’s final 21 games this season.

Long Road Back to the Magic

Fultz averaged a career-high 12.9 points and 5.4 assists per game in eight games with the Magic last season before his knee injury. Before the injury, the Magic were a team that had postseason aspirations. However after Fultz went down with an injury, the team decided to implode the team and trade away their big assets. They shipped Nikola Vucevic to the Chicago Bulls, traded Evan Fournier to the Boston Celtics, and sent Aaron Gordon to the Denver Nuggets.

The current version of the Magic (14-47) are considered the worst team in the NBA this season. However, with Fultz back in the lineup, they can end this dismal season on a positive note.

“I’m just blessed just to be able to, one, be where I am today after going through an injury like this and being able to fight and just be back on the court with my brothers and friends,” said Fultz on a recent podcast. “So, one, I’m just blessed and I’m thankful for the process and the journey that I’ve been through. I’m very excited just to get out there with my teammates and go out there and compete.”

The good news is that if Fultz fully recovers, he’s a part of a team stocked with young talent going forward. The inexperienced Magic took it on the chin this season, but then again, their starting five this season was essentially a college All-Star team. Perhaps they young Magic can make a big push next season and draw inspiration from the Cleveland Cavs, who turned around their losing ways this season with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Former #1 Pick Out to Disprove Bust Label

Fultz is still young and only 23-years old. He had a tough couple of seasons to start his career in the NBA, but he still has plenty of gas left in the tank to prove to everyone that he’s not a total bust.

It’s not easy being the #1 pick in the NBA Draft because that comes a lot of expectations that very few players can handle. Just look at the guff that Zion Williamson has been getting. When he’s healthy and on the court, Zion is a spectacular player. However, he’s been hit by the injury bug early in his career and missed more games than he played in this first three seasons in the NBA.

The Philadelphia 76ers selected Fultz with the #1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft out of Washington. However, if you ask fans in the Philly area, they’ll be quick to label Fultz as a disastrous bust. Fultz struggled with injuries during his first two seasons with the 76ers.

Fultz appeared in 14 games as a rookie, and just 19 games in his second season. He had a shoulder injury that was poorly handled by the training staff. The 76ers decided to cut their losses and traded Fultz to the Orlando Magic. In just 33 games with the 76ers, Fultz averaged 7.7 points and 3.4 assists per game, while shooting a dismal 26.7% from 3-point range.