World Cup Evan Fournier will bring big returns for Orlando Magic

Evan Fournier has put together a strong run at the FIBA World Cup for France. (Photo by Shi Tang/Getty Images)
Evan Fournier has put together a strong run at the FIBA World Cup for France. (Photo by Shi Tang/Getty Images) /

Another strong performance for Evan Fournier is showing the ways his game has grown. He should be in line for a bounceback season for the Orlando Magic.

Throughout the 2019 season, Evan Fournier seemed like he was searching for something.

By his own admission, it was a rough shooting year and that colored everything that he did for the team. He said he did not really have an answer for why he struggled so much to shoot, something to that point that had been so reliable throughout his career.

Even the way he came off screens was different. He would pause a beat looking for the right hole instead of reacting.

The main criticism for Evan Fournier was that ball-stopping tendency and how he sometimes looked to create his own shot outside the flow of the offense.

Fournier needed a bit of a reset. His other skills seemed to increase and improve. He averaged a career-high 3.6 assists per game and was much improved defensively. Even with his shooting struggles, the Magic relied on him late in games. And he largely delivered in the clutch.

But the bigger picture for Fournier was relatively bleak. The Orlando Magic needed more from him. Fournier knew he needed to give more.

Playing for his national team appears to have given him a refresher.

Again and again, Fournier is coming up with impressive performances. None may have been bigger or more impressive than his 24-point performance against Lithuania to punch France’s ticket to the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup.

Fournier has played like this throughout the World Cup, averaging 18.3 points per game and shooting a 50.0 percent effective field goal percentage. Things are looking a lot better for him throughout this tournament.

He is shooting and driving confidently. That hesitation and uncertainty are not there anymore.

France has put the ball in his hands and trusted him to lead their perimeter attack. They put Evan Fournier in a lot of pick and rolls with Rudy Gobert especially. That has required Fournier to display patience on his attack and smart shot selection.

That was on full display in Saturday’s game. Fournier was able to come around pick and rolls and attack off the dribble or pull-up for a jumper. On one possession he got all the way to the basket and finished with an emphatic jam. On another, he was able to create space stop short of the foul line and drain a mid-range jumper.

When Fournier is on balance and playing with this kind of confidence, he is a dangerous player. And with his improved passing and playmaking, he can take advantage of defenses when they collapse around him too much.

If Fournier is playing like this when he returns to Orlando, the Magic will be getting a very valuable player. Shooting was not the only area he struggled with. And it is not the only area that looks to have rebounded during the World Cup.

According to’s Second Spectrum statistics, the Magic scored just 0.77 points per 100 possessions with Fournier manning the pick and roll. That put him in the 35th percentile for that play type.

That mark was well below his previous averages, just like his shooting.

In 2018, the Magic scored 0.93 points per possession with Fournier as the ball handler in pick and rolls (that was in the 82nd percentile). The team was at 0.92 points per possession in those situations in 2017.

In almost every way, it feels like Fournier’s 2019 season was an outlier. He underperformed in every way offensively outside of his improved passing.

The way he has played with France at the FIBA World Cup is an augmented role than what he will play with the Magic. But having a secondary ball-handler and pick-and-roll playmaker will not hurt either. That was always Fournier’s potential.

France has put Fournier on the ball as one of its primary scorers. They have ridden his ability to read pick and rolls, change speeds and attack the basket or pull up in the mid-range to devastating effect. They believe they can win a medal and are certainly in line for a run through the knockout rounds.

Bringing this back to Orlando and the Magic would be a huge boost.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

One of Orlando’s biggest weaknesses last year was a lack of perimeter creation. Fournier probably still needs a pick to spring him free — he is not taking anyone out in isolation — but he is increasingly showing better awareness on how to attack and read defenses.

In this tournament, Fournier has used early parts of the game to take surer shots and has avoided the over dribbling and fade-away jumpers that drove Magic fans mad last year as he tried searching for his shot.

With his confidence building throughout the game, he is better able to hit those runner and off-balanced jumpers later in the game. He simply looks more in control.

Of course, no matter where Fournier improves, eyes will always go to his shooting numbers. He made a career-worst 34.0 percent of his 3-pointers last year and was even worse in the playoffs, hitting just 8 of 34 (23.5 percent) in the five-game series.

That is also an important part of his game. Fournier has to be able to hit spot-up and catch-and-shoot 3-pointers for the Magic to have any success.

He has always been smart about attacking rotations and closeouts. But without a consistent 3-point shooter for defenses to account for, Fournier has to fill that and create some gravity.

Missing that last year — especially in the playoffs — cost the team dearly. It is hard not to consider Fournier’s 2019 season as anything but a disappointment for that reason.

But a bounceback seems in order. So many of his numbers were so far off his career norms that a return to his average seems almost likely.

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Adding in his improved playmaking suggests he could be even better. Watching him play for France and lead France to some big victories in their quest for a World Cup medal — and Olympic berth — only adds to that confidence.