The Orlando Magic found themselves without the services of guard Evan Fournier on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers. Fournier, who was dealing with a sore left heel, went through his usual pregame warm-ups and felt as though it would be better if he took the night off. Coach Jacque Vaughn seemed to think that the injury wasn't too severe, and that Fournier would have a chance to return to the lineup against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.
Fournier's absence was felt directly from the tip. He's been one of the players, along with center Nikola Vucevic, who have really helped the Magic get off to some good starts this season, and not having that hurt them considerably. The team also missed Fournier's floor spacing, and his ability to handle the ball when needed for much of the night.
Vaughn was asked about how tough it was to learn that someone like Fournier, who's been one of the most efficient players for the team all season, would be out.
"That's why you've got to be ready," said Vaughn. "You come to the arena like you're gonna play 40 minutes; like a backup quarterback, you never know what plays going to happen that gives you a chance to get in the game. So, in preparation, I hope we're coaching and teaching guys the same way."
Vaughn called upon Willie Green to start in Fournier's place. Green played a season-high 30:45 on the night, but struggled mightily from the field, going a woeful 2-of-10.
It's hard for a team to replace over 17 points a game no matter what happens. Not having Fournier out there was a huge loss, and could be tabbed as one of the reasons the Magic were unable to put it all together on Wednesday night.
After starting the team's first 10 games, rookie point guard Elfrid Payton has come off the bench in the team's last three. Victor Oladipo's return from a facial fracture pushed Payton to the bench, but how long will Payton remain there? Will he be able to continue to learn, grow, and improve coming off the bench?
Payton, who started the season off with four straight games of seven or more assists, something that's only been done by two other players in NBA history has struggled of late. Payton's limited offensive game has hurt him, but he's also had trouble finding a real rhythm since his strong start. Magic opponents know that they can crowd the paint with him, and he's proven reluctant to take jump shots, even when he's wide open.
Following the game, I asked coach Vaughn what he had seen on how Payton was adjusting to coming off the bench. "Yeah, it's an adjustment," Vaughn said. "He had been playing 30, I think averaging close to 31 minutes, for us. I thought his defensive presence, his energy defensively was really good tonight, whether he was picking up Jordan Farmar and trying to create a tempo for us defensively. So, I thought that was good."
Vaughn, and the Magic as a whole, are in a tough position when it comes to Payton. They've got to figure out a way to make him more of a threat on the offensive end, while not sacrificing what he can bring to the team on the defensive end of the floor. There's also the caveat that, with Payton being such a negative on offense, the team has a better chance of winning basketball games with Luke Ridnour running the backup point.
In the end, I don't think this issue will be too big for Payton to overcome. He's young, and it's only 13 games into the season. Remember, Oladipo bounced between starting and coming off the bench a lot in his rookie year, and I imagine that will be the case with Payton for a bit of the season.