Magic fandom is an interesting place these days.
With the front office opting to essentially “run it back” with the first playoff roster this city has seen since 2010, most players have accepted their share of credit for that triumph, as well as blame for the hard times that preceded it.
If you had a strong opinion in any direction about nearly any player on the Magic roster last season, there was a time where you felt vindicated...as well as an equal moment where you couldn’t have felt more wrong.
Because of the topsy-turvy nature of last season, from the promising start, to the hopeless middle, to the ever-so-sweet end — nearly every player had their share of both fans and haters.
Except for one, who seemed to always fade into the background of the good times, but re-appear when it was time to dish out blame. I’m talking, of course, about Evan Fournier, one of the most consistent faces in this era of Magic basketball.
Fournier has always been a bit of a jack-of-all trades on a team that needed a master of anything. And last season’s uncharacteristic shooting slump sure didn’t help his case.
Fournier's awkward fit last season
When the Magic re-made their image into an old-school smash-mouth team under Steve Clifford, Fournier looked tailor-made to fit their biggest need: shooting. Surprisingly, however, he had his worst season as a pro from beyond the arc to the tune of 34 percent on nearly six attempts a game. Statistically, you’d have to go back to just before Y2K to find a season where that was even average.
Shooting alone probably isn’t what led to fan sentiment growing lukewarm on Fournier, and I would argue it had more to do with something he couldn’t control: the rise of sixth-man extraordinaire Terrence Ross.
Of all Magic players, Ross may be the most liked. Since coming over in the Ibaka trade of 2017, he has done and said nearly all the right things to endear himself to the Magic fan base.
On the court, Ross’s play style is flashy and contagious, stabilizing the second unit and igniting runs with the swish of each deep three-pointer. And there was a ton of steak to go along with that sizzle, too. A new bench unit led by Ross helped spark the Magic’s mid-season transformation into a winner.
Last season, Ross was like the new, fun girlfriend that liked skydiving and slam poetry, and by contrast, Evan’s tried and true play style seemed a bit stale.
The Magic need both Fournier and Ross to succeed
So, that’s it then, right? Last season was the changing of the guard for Magic wings. Heading into this season we have a struggling Evan Fournier, and a Terrence Ross whose shot is so hot that he has been affectionately dubbed “The Human Torch.” Seems easy enough. But life is never that easy.
First off, Fournier is anything but old, in fact, he’s younger than Ross. His consistent scoring touch from all over the floor is invaluable when the Magic go cold. The Frenchman -who got off to an encouraging start in the season-opener, scoring 16 points on 7-for-13 shooting - is one of the few Magic players truly comfortable with the ball in his hands, and as his game has evolved, he has begun to excel at getting others involved as well.
The reality is that both of these players are very valuable to the Magic, and their skillsets are just different enough to where they compliment each other.
We should be excited
While Fournier and Nikola Vucevic have been criticized as part of the old regime, each proved that he could be a valuable part of the team’s new winning culture.
It’s important to note that despite complaints of his unorthodox play style, Fournier was the most clutch player in the league last year when the game was on the line.
While Fournier’s three-point shooting dipped last year, he posted a career-high in assists per game (3.6), as well as posting his second-best season in Orlando from two-point range (51%).
In basketball, as well as in life, it’s often smart to consider the worst case, the best case, and what is most likely.
Is it likely that Fournier, a career 38 percent three-point shooter heading into last season, will have another uncharacteristic dip? Probably not.
In fact, what was saw last season was much closer to the “worst” case. A scorer gone cold who was still able to scrap his way into helping the team win in other ways.
If we get this new, multi-faceted Fournier with the shooting touch of yesteryear, that could certainly be a huge problem for opposing defenses.