Evan Fournier’s return is already making a difference for Orlando Magic

Evan Fournier was the most disappointed it seemed of everyone following the Orlando Magic’s 120-118 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday.

The ball was in his hands the last two possessions of the game. He saw a shot go in and out that would have given the Magic a five-point lead with less than 30 seconds remaining in overtime and a sure win. It was his shot around Myles Turner that was a clean look that went no good at the buzzer.

The sting of missing those two shots was evident. As were the six free throws Evan Fournier, usually a 76.9-percent free-throw shooter and 80-percent for his career, uncharacteristically missed.

Fournier felt he left a lot of points on the floor. A heated competitor, he was disappointed that shots did not fall. Shots he knows he can make. He has to own that, and he did, and be better the next time.

That is what comes from the responsibility of taking the last shot. The Magic trust him — he was supposed to get the ball on the last play of regulation but the Pacers denied him the chance forcing Aaron Gordon to go at it alone with time winding down — and put the ball in his hands.

All the more amazing considering Fournier is playing his second game after a nine-game absence following back spasms. Fournier, like the team, is trying to get his legs back under him and find his role.

Evan Fournier’s return has provided a needed boost to the Orlando Magic’s offense. It is in a small sample size, but Fournier has picked up right where he left off before his injury.

But it is abundantly clear after two games that Fournier makes the team better. And if Fournier is going to continue to get better from his blistering return, then the Magic’s offense will be better for it.

Fournier was having a solid season even before back spasms knocked him out for three weeks. But he has come back as if he has not missed a beat.

In his two games since returning from injury, Fournier is averaging 25.0 points per game and shooting 48.6-percent (17 for 35) and 6 for 17 (35.3-percent) from beyond the arc. That is good for a 57.1-percent effective field goal percentage.

Fournier is averaging 17.7 points per game on a 58.8-percent effective field goal percentage for the season overall. He certainly did not miss a beat.

But it was the Magic overall who missed just his presence. Even in somewhat limited minutes (the overtime game Friday changed whatever minute restriction Fournier might have been under), Fournier’s impact was extremely positive.

The team found some offensive spark especially in Friday’s game against the Pacers in the last two games. Granted these are small sample sizes, but the Magic had an 108.0 offensive rating overall. With Fournier on the floor that has increased to 116.3 points per 100 possessions, the best mark of any player on the team.

With Fournier off the floor, the Magic’s offensive rating dropped to 89.0 points per 100 possessions. The team was playing worse only without Gordon on the floor.

These are occurring in small sample sizes. But they track what has happened with the season overall.

For the season, the Magic have a 104.5 offensive rating. But they have a 114.5 offensive rating with Fournier on the floor — compared to 100.0 with him off the floor.

The lesson might well be that the Magic can function a bit offensively without Fournier on the floor, although not much. But he proves to be a huge boost to the rest of the team when he is on the floor and able to get himself going.

Of course, this comes with the usual warnings.

The Magic’s offense only works well when the ball is moving quickly. While Fournier has a better ability to work off the dribble when given the chance. But if he is too much on the ball or forcing pick and rolls outside the flow of the offense, the offense can still get stuck.

This is largely what happened in the late stages of the game against the Pacers. The Magic had an 81.0 offensive rating in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime. That is usually when offenses go into the tank and become much more compressed, but it seemed worse for the Magic.

Orlando is undoubtedly at its worst when it tries to go to straight isolations or high pick and rolls without running offense or creating a secondary option.

In fact, the Magic run the second-fewest isolations in the league — 3.1-percent of their possessions — for 0.88 points per possession. Fournier at least breaks even with 1.00 point per possession when he is the ball-handler in pick and rolls according to data from NBA.com. The team overall averages 0.76 points per possession on pick and rolls involving the ball handler, the second-worst in the league.

While it did not work as well toward the end of Friday’s game, Fournier gives the Magic a far more effective pick and roll initiator. And as much as it may irk some fans, he has a better on-court relationship with Nikola Vucevic in such plays.

Fournier also leads the team in free throw attempts per game. So he is good at forcing the issue and getting to the foul line — he did get 12 free throw attempts in Friday’s loss, even if his uncharacteristically missed half of them.

Regardless of any feelings about Fournier or even how the Magic try to use him, Fournier makes the Magic’s offense better. It is clear even in the small sample size of these first two games back that Fournier has helped given the team a huge boost on that end.

Orlando still has a lot of work to do to get where it needs to be on both ends. It is also clear that Fournier is not 100-percent, especially late in games.

That will improve the more he plays. And especially with an extended period at home and in Florida for the next several weeks, the whole team should be able to get comfortable and more focused on ways to improve with regular routines at home.

No doubt, though, Fournier’s return has provided at least a temporary boost for the team. One they will need to get themselves back to .500 and back more comfortably in the early playoff chase.