Fans have taken to complaining about Evan Fournier and heaping blame on him for the team’s struggles. But he has been vital to the team’s successes.
Over the past few seasons, part of the Orlando Magic fan base has made it clear they would like to see Evan Fournier get traded. They have gone as far as to say he would be an addition by subtraction and give him away for very little in return.
That is not the approach the Magic should take. His opting in was important for retaining a valuable asset for future trades, not to mention retaining one of the team’s top scorers. Even outside of piecing together what this team will look like beyond the 2021 season, Evan Fournier remains an important player for this team.
While a lot of people like to complain about Fournier’s play and his inconsistencies, these may be some fan-driven narratives and a conclusion seeking answers. Fournier was the most consistent player for the Magic last season.
Fournier is not a perfect player, by any means. But he undeniably produced for the Magic throughout the course of the 2020 season.
Last season was a career year for Fournier as he scored 18.5 points per game on 46.7-percent shooting and 40-percent from beyond the arc (the team shot 34.3-percent from three overall). That is great for a team that struggles to shoot from three especially considering the Magic lost D.J. Augustin in free agency to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Offensively Fournier took a lot of the offensive burden, with Orlando facing many injuries and did a good job keeping the team steady throughout the course of an injury-filled season.
Fournier’s raw production was valuable to keep the team in many games.
However, the issue is Fournier is inconsistent in the way he scores those points. Sometimes he can be dangerous and attack off the ball, but on other nights he can be in heavy isolation and take the ball out of other people’s hands. That is the part that rubs off on Magic fans. It seems that it is taking away the development from Markelle Fultz.
But even that might be more perception than reality. According to statistics from Basketball Index, Fournier averaged only 0.9 isolations per 75 possessions and posted a 56.3-percent effective field goal percentage on those plays. The service still rated Fournier as a negative isolation player but only slightly below average — -0.1 points per 75 possessions below the average in the league.
Fournier was still among the best players in the league in 3-point field goal percentage (40.6 percent, 88th percentile) and catch-and-shoot 3-point field goal percentage (43.6-percent, 89th percentile). He rated well in 3-point gravity, 3-point shot-making and 3-point creation.
Fournier’s presence on the floor is vital to the team’s spacing.
The Magic last year had a 107.7 offensive rating with Fournier on the floor that dropped to 104.9 with him off the floor.
Fournier’s creation problem is a fair one. He averaged only 9.0 assist points per 75 possessions. But some of this has to do too with the lineups he was put in — Basketball-Index says he had 25.7 potential assists per 100 possessions suggesting teammates missed a lot of shots off his passes.
That might seem like a problem, but Fournier rates well in almost every passing category minus those raw assists.
Fournier was not taking away opportunities from Fultz, however. Or certainly, he may not take those opportunities moving forward. Fournier is effective scoring off screens too, shooting a 57-percent effective field goal percentage off screens this year (placing him in the 75th percentile).
The Magic have had to use Fournier as a primary offensive creator. That may be a role he is miscast for. And now with Fultz having a full year and an offseason to improve, the Magic may be able to maximize Fournier even more.
Markelle Fultz got better as the season went along and got more opportunities as Steve Clifford got comfortable with him taking more responsibility with running the offense. He finished the season with 12.1 points and 5.1 assists per game in which is essentially his rookie year.
It is also going to fall on Clifford to make sure the offense runs at the optimal level. That is going to end up being Evan Fournier off the ball and either Cole Anthony or Markelle Fultz on the ball.
That should be a change that both the Magic and Fournier welcome.
Fournier’s production is not the problem, but it is the way that he is used, and it falls on coach Clifford’s hands to make sure he puts the team in the best position to win games.
Fournier was never a bad player. Or necessarily the ball-dominant player some Magic fans assume.
He was a player miscast as the primary creator and scorer. That should not be the role Fournier plays to get the most of his production.
Still, it is clear, the Magic got a lot from Fournier in that role. And it is clear Fournier was still fairly effective.
Not effective enough, clearly. The Magic still had a negative net rating with him on the floor. While Fournier is an improving defender, he is not a strong defender for the kind of defense the Magic want to play.
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And the greater concern with Fournier, especially if he will have the ball in his hands a lot, is his effect on pace.
But even that might be a fan-created narrative. According to Basketball-Index, Fournier had a +0.5 impact on pace, putting him in the 79th percentile. He too might benefit from playing at a quicker pace, especially because of his gravity as a 3-point shooter.
While it is clear that Fournier is likely not part of the franchise’s future, it is clear the Magic would not have made it to the playoffs without Fournier. His struggles in last year’s postseason can be chalked up to an illness that kept him from practicing for much of his time in the bubble. Although it is still concerning, Fournier has earned some benefit of the doubt with his solid play in six seasons in Orlando.
It would be wrong to state that Fournier is not valuable and should be given away. Especially for a team trying to make the playoffs and devoid of shooting, Fournier is a vital player and potential playmaker to help the Magic reach their goals, as small as they may be.
Fournier has been good for this team but has been given a role that might be too big for him. So whether he plays out the final year of his contract and he leaves or the Magic trade him before the trade deadline, the Magic should use Fournier in whatever fashion they believe they get the most value in return.
At least for the time being, Fournier remains a vital player.