Philadelphia 76ers: Why Markelle Fultz will win Most Improved Player

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

After a largely wasted rookie season, Markelle Fultz looks like an early favorite to win the 2019 NBA Most Improved Player award.

253 minutes.

253 minutes is all we got to see of Markelle Fultz during the 2017-2018 NBA season after disgraced former Philadelphia 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo took a home run swing on acquiring the one-and-done Washington Husky combo guard at the top of the 2017 NBA Draft. Though he only scored 100 points over 14 regular season games, it’s fair to say Fultz’s freshman campaign will be the talk of Philly fans for years to come.

For better, or for worse.

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Over his first four games in the NBA, Fultz looked absolutely lost. Though he did average a respectible six points a game on almost seven shots, boy was it hard to watch. Unable to raise his arm above his head, Fultz’s game was essentially handicapped, as he could only take his shots around the basket, limiting his fairly extensive bag of tricks to nothing more than driving layups while coming off the bench in limited action.

And from there, things got a whole lot weirder.

After missing the team’s fifth game of the season against the Houston Rockets, Fultz was essentially shut down for the next 68 games, rehabbing his shoulder and attempting to relearn how to shoot in one of the strangest basketball stories I’ve reported on in my albeit short time in the field (VR goggles were involved).

But with very little fanfare, everything changed almost overnight.

After whispers arose throughout the fanbase that Fultz was inching closer and closer to returning to the court, Brett Brown shocked the NBA world by announcing that his starboy wayward point guard would be making his triumphant return to the court on March 26th against the Denver Nuggets at the Wells Fargo Center.

Spoiler alert, he did not disappoint.

Over the final 10 games of the 2018 NBA season, Fultz scored in double digits five times, including a season-ending triple-double on his home court, a calling card that left some pretty lofty expectations for his future going into the 2018-2019 NBA season.

Now considered untouchable by his coaching staff, it’s safe to say that the Sixers brass hopes that Fultz will be eventually replacing J.J. Redick in the starting five sooner, rather than later, but could he cash in on those lofty expectations next season?

Stranger things have happened.

After finishing out the season with a very unimpressive stat line of 7.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists, it seems incredibly likely that Fultz could double his production numbers with relative ease in his sophomore campaign under Coach Brown.

Not to put the cart before the horse, but we could be looking at the NBA’s next Most Improved Player award winner this time next year.

For those unfamiliar with the award, every year the NBA acknowledges a player’s achievements who took a major step forward in their development from one season to the next, with past winner including legitimate NBA superstars like Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Zach Randolph, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

With the award’s most recent winner Victor Oladepo, who just so happened to go to Fultz’s high school, having increased his stat line from 15.9 points, 2.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds as a member of the OKC Thunder to 23.1 points, 4.3 assists and 5.2 rebounds as a member of the Indiana Pacers in rout to a MIP crown, it’s totally possible that Fultz could have an even more drastic percentage increase in his overall production as he takes on a larger role with the 76ers moving forward fully healthy.

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Though only time will tell which other players are able to turn their production around and make a run at the award next spring (like, say, Jabari Parker), if his 2018 performances are of any indication Markelle Fultz should be considered the favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award next spring. Not bad for a player many Philadelphia 76ers fans called a wasted pick six months ago.