As humans, our natural tendency is to prescribe simple, digestible solutions to the complex problems of the world. In those solutions, we find the illusion of control over things that we wish we could do more to change.
That may sound like the intro to one of the political tirades that have gripped our country over the last few weeks, and not a trivial basketball blog post, but the motivations of those affected are quite the same.
The Orlando Magic are a bad basketball team. They have tried everything short of relocation in the years since Dwight Howard’s departure, and it has resulted in little but a gradual slide out of NBA relevance.
With each passing year, fans have — correctly — become more and more disillusioned with management and the product on the floor. In talking with many, many Magic fans since I was accepted into this community, it seems that every fan has a concrete thesis on both what’s wrong and what the franchise should be doing to fix it.
These theories range from firing Alex Martins, to tanking, to pushing all the chips in and trading for a marquee free agent — but almost all of them involve moving on from the veteran European tandem of Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic.
The issue with this isn’t either player is unmovable, it’s that people view them as inseparable.
Nikola Vucevic is what he is: an old-school center who struggles with the rim-running and perimeter-switching aspects of the modern league. His offense would be amazing as the sixth-man on a playoff team like Boston, but his style seems to conflict with the athletic, defensive mindset of the current Magic squad.
Evan Fournier, however, would be a valuable piece for any team, and his current status as the scapegoat for the Magic’s failures could not be further from the truth.
Evan Fournier is a do-it-all wing, who can consistently score from all levels in nearly all circumstances. In studying his shooting dashboard, it’s incredibly hard to find holes in his game. Fournier can handle, pass, shoot, drive, and do it all at least an above average mark for his position. There could be a whole separate article here where we talk about his advanced metrics, but instead, check that link out for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
The only trouble with Fournier is that he is not a star, just a very good player, and in a league where nearly every team has one, he is treated like a star by NBA defenses. Maybe if he was James Harden or Stephen Curry, Fournier could single-handedly lift the flotsam of previous Magic rosters into the playoffs.
But he’s not one of those players, and that’s perfectly okay.
What worries me about this whole situation is that Magic fans may not know what they have in Fournier until its gone. As the best player on a very bad Magic offense, he has become the poster child for its shortcomings. Nearly every possession of his draws groans of “Hero ball!” on Twitter, and I recently talked to a Magic expert who claimed that Fournier’s value around the league is “next to nothing.” Insanity.
Others would point to the raw numbers of Fournier’s $17 million dollar per-year contract, while overlooking the fact that he reportedly turned down three other, more lucrative deals to stay in Orlando.
Yes, he’s not the star that Orlando desperately needs, but he has a skill set that may be harder to find: he can fit next to any star in the league and make that player better.
As I watch my secondary team, the Pelicans, struggle every year to find exactly what Fournier brings, it has made me keenly aware of just how valuable he is.
Consider how impossibly hard it is to average 17.8 points per game for a season while only breaking 30 points a single time. In fact, Fournier only has three career games of 30-plus points, despite being arguably Orlando’s best scorer since arriving from Denver four years ago. What this tells me is that the Frenchman is one of the most consistent players in the league. In a world where streaky scorers are the norm, Fournier is the furthest thing from it.
Sure Fournier has his limitations. He’ll never be as athletic as some of his counterparts on the wing, and his defensive optics and metrics leave something to be desired, but any star would love to play next to a smooth-shooting release valve like Evan. The unbelievable thing is, the “young veteran” is still only 25-years-old, and despite being used incorrectly during his time in Orlando, he’s gotten better every season.
For years, the Orlando Magic have been one complex problem, a Gordian Knot that has been unsolvable to some of the best minds in basketball. Though the roster has its problems, Evan Fournier is not among them.