Orlando Magic have chance to optimize Evan Fournier when he returns

Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon missed opportunities that led to a frustrating Orlando Magic loss. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon missed opportunities that led to a frustrating Orlando Magic loss. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic hit the hiatus on an offensive surge without their best shooter. When they return they can finally get the most out of Evan Fournier.

The Orlando Magic have been inconsistent all year long. It has caused them to fall short of their potential as they enter this forced hiatus.

Their offense and defense rarely worked at the same time. The Magic found themselves either winning gritty games or trying to outscore their opponent.

That was enough to get the team into the playoff field as things stand right now. But it hardly felt good to be fighting for the 7- or 8-seed with the potential this team seemed to have (injuries granted).

The question for the rest of the season — whenever it starts back up — and moving forward is whether they can play well on both ends for a stretch of games.

The answer is yes, based on what the Magic has shown after the All-Star break.

After the All-Star break, the Magic have the best offense in the league. They have the league’s best 117.8 offensive rating. This is amazing, considering they were 27th, with a 105.5 rating before the break.

The Magic have also played enough defense in stretches to win games. Although they have a 115.9 defensive rating (26th), they have gotten consecutive stops when it counts which has allowed them to win six of their last nine.

Coach Steve Clifford felt the team was turning its defense around in the last few games, putting in good efforts to close out the Minnesota Timberwolves (114.5 defensive rating in the second half and 100.0 defensive rating in the decisive third quarter), Houston Rockets (a 101.9 defensive rating for the game) and Memphis Grizzlies (a 102.0 defensive rating in the come-from-behind effort in the second half).

The Magic are doing this without Evan Fournier. The Orlando Magic’s second-leading scorer and top outside shooter injured his right elbow in the game against the Miami Heat. He gutted through that game but had to sit out the rest of the road trip.

Orlando has taken care of business without Evan Fournier. The team swept the final three games on the road trip. And offensive freedom has become a trend without him.

With a small sample size of four games, the Magic have gone 4-0 with wins over the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies, three of whom are playoff teams. The sample size while small does show they are more than capable without him.

But it is not Fournier that is the problem. It is the Magic’s play style with Fournier that is at the root of the team’s inconsistency with him and the root of the team’s surge without him.

When Fournier is out, the Magic are almost forced to play through Markelle Fultz and Aaron Gordon. Both are better playmakers than Evan Fournier. Fournier is fifth on the team in assists with 3.2 per game, but he is second on the team with a 23.8-percent usage rate. The ball is in Fournier’s hands a lot and he is more-than-likely looking to set up his own shot.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Playing without Fournier allows the offense to move at a faster pace and allows for the offense to find better shots.

In the Magic’s last three games, they played at a pace of 102.8 possessions per 48 minutes. They play the entire season at 98.7 possessions per 48 minutes, the fifth-worst in the league. Those extra five possessions really matter.

With Fournier in the game this season, Orlando is playing at a 99.9 pace (still better than the team’s overall average). But the team plays at a 100.5 pace with Fournier off the floor. The team plays at a faster pace with only James Ennis and Aaron Gordon on the floor.

Fournier then does not have the most direct effect on pace. But clearly playing at a faster pace is better for this Magic offense. And the ball can stick in Fournier’s hands with his struggles to create plays for others.

It would be wrong to say Fournier is a bad player since he is averaging 18.8 points per game on 47-percent shooting from the field and 41-percent shooting from beyond the arc. He has been really good for the Magic.

But the way he has been used may be the wrong way.

The Magic have found a great flow for their offense and have to find a way to bring Fournier back in a way that he does not disrupt this flow. Fournier needs to be played off the ball and be used as a shooter, allowing him to attack off the dribble once the pass finds him.

This would allow him to use his strengths and allow for Markelle Fultz to be used as the main playmaker. This would be the best way to continue to improve an offense that has finally shown the potential to be dangerous.

This is where the hiatus could be an advantage for the Magic. It could give Clifford some time to reconfigure his offense and implement a plan for when they are allowed to return to the court and practice. Right now, the guidelines for the players suggest they should work out individually and the league is not allowing practices during at least this stage of the hiatus.

Fournier will likely be ready to play and return from his injury after this 30-day hiatus is over. Fournier said his elbow injury was getting better before Tuesday’s game against the Grizzlies. After so much time off, he should be ready to play again.

Next. Offensive rebounding a new aim for Orlando Magic. dark

Although the season has been put on hold, there is a lot to look forward to once the season and the Magic get back where they left off. That includes the hope of adding Fournier to boost an already surging offense. Or at least give them a consistent shooter to get back going once the games start again.