Milwaukee Bucks’ length stifles Evan Fournier, small forward

Apr 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) dunks during the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier (10) dunks during the first quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Milwaukee Bucks’ length hinted at why it might be tough for the Orlando Magic to use Evan Fournier at small forward in the future.

110. 38. Final. 113. 89

One of the prevailing opinions about the future of the Orlando Magic is the team will eventually have to choose between Victor Oladipo and Evan Fournier. The thought is that keeping both will not make sense financially because they both are best at 2-guard, and giving a huge contract to Fournier just to back up Oladipo is a luxury the team might not be able to afford.

That is, unless Fournier can develop into a viable small forward, in which case he could start there and make the money worthwhile.

Friday night’s 113-110 loss at the Milwaukee Bucks showed why that proposition might be dicey on the defensive end and why this critical decision seems to be coming to a head as the season closes.

Time and again, the Bucks’ length was put to use against the Magic, often at Fournier’s expense.

On this night, Fournier’s main assignment was Jabari Parker, who made 12 of his 14 shot attempts en route to an efficient 26 points (while also notching seven boards, five assists, and a game-high plus-minus of +18). Granted, not all of Parker’s damage was done while Fournier guarded him, but the bulk of it was.

Fournier also defended Giannis Antetokounmpo periodically and did not have much success either.

Of course, most teams in the league have trouble with the Bucks’ length, to some extent. The Bucks’ roster was put together with length as perhaps its defining feature: Michael Carter-Williams (out Friday with an injury), Khris Middleton, Parker, and Antetokounmpo are all players who can exploit length on both ends of the floor.

Watch any Bucks game and it is easy to see just how hard it can be sometimes to make even a simple pass with all of those long arms in the passing lanes (indeed, the Magic committed 20 turnovers on Friday). It is also easy to see how handy that length is when Antetokounmpo gyro-steps across three-quarters of the court in two dribbles.

However, most teams in the league are also starting to realize length might actually be more important than traditionally cited measurements such as height. There is a reason NBA Draft guru Jay Bilas always mentions the wingspans of college prospects – it is annoying how much he talks about it, but it is undeniably important (Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis would be good even with average wingspans, but those long arms sure help).

That brings things back to Fournier.

Offensively, Fournier can more than hold his own playing the small forward spot because of his shooting ability and his craftiness around the rim. And if you look just at his height (6-foot-7), he seems to fit the small-forward bill.

But by wingspan, which is perhaps more predictive of his ability to defend small forwards, Fournier is somewhat lacking. His wingspan (6-foot-8.25) is just 1.25 inches more than his height, while average NBA prospects’ wingspans are almost four-and-a-half inches longer than their heights.

When the Magic are discussing offseason plans this summer, Fournier’s defense on small forwards has to be a factor in deciding whether to match any potential offer sheet coming his way in restricted free agency. His shooting is much-needed on the team, but it is not helping matters much if you give back on the other end as many points as you score.

Other issues plagued the Magic on Friday too (e.g., late-game execution woes again: three turnovers in last 90 seconds), and one game does not make a trend, especially one in which the Magic were on the second game of a road back-to-back and the Bucks were rested and in the middle of a home stand. And perhaps this is not an issue if the Magic execute better late in the game and pull out the victory to make it four straight wins.

But that would just be kicking the can down the road.

The Magic had issues dealing with the Bucks’ length, and those issues are going to keep coming up as the league trends toward length, with Fournier being a part of those issues.

In particular, Fournier’s defense on small forwards has been persistently problematic this season. Despite his best efforts and his willingness to give it an effort. His physical limitations make it problematic in the long run.

Next: Milwaukee Bucks outlast Orlando Magic

Friday’s game in Milwaukee just defined that problem a bit more clearly.