Another season has come and gone Magic fans. The 2018-19 version of your Orlando Magic provided the city and its fan base with many memorable moments to ring in the 30th anniversary of the franchise’s existence.
We were provided opportunities to celebrate big Magic road victories in Boston (twice), San Antonio, Los Angeles, Mexico City (against the Jazz and Bulls), Toronto, Milwaukee, Indiana, Charlotte, and Miami (twice). And don’t forget about those huge home wins against the Heat(opening night), 76ers (twice), Lakers, Raptors, Celtics, Rockets, Pacers, Nets, and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
But none of that compares to the emotions all Magic fans felt after coming to the realization that the team they’ve supported through so many tough losing seasons had finally clinched their first playoff birth since the conclusion of the Dwight Howard era.
My progress reports were back for another season on Orlando Pinstriped Post in 2018-19 (third season featured on this site, I’m blessed). If you missed the first volume, Nikola Vucevic earned the highest grade in the class after the team’s first fourteen games due to his stellar shooting and solid defense. Vucevic again earned the highest grade in my second volume (which covered the team’s next fourteen games). And prior to his first career All-Star selection, Vucevic earned the team’s highest midterm grade.
Let’s explore who on the roster pulled their own weight this season. As a teacher who is used to assessing on a regular basis, “grading” is right up my alley!
Included in this series of final grade reports are statistics from Orlando’s 82 regular season games played this season, along with some comments from yours truly that hopefully explain why I graded the guys the way that I did.
In the comments section below, please feel free to agree or disagree with any of my assessments, or simply just let me know if this is something that interests you. Credit for statistics goes to Basketball Reference and NBA.com. Enjoy!
Evan Fournier, 26 years-old (81 games played)
I wrote the following in my “Final Grade” column for Evan Fournier at the conclusion of last season (2017-’18):
“But now six years into his NBA career, Fournier has shown no progress towards becoming anything more than a one-way NBA player. His defensive contributions in Orlando have been near non-existent for four years. Because of his offensive skill-set, Fournier has to be on the floor for the Magic. Even elevating his defensive play to the point where he’s just an average defender would make all the difference for Fournier. Because right now, he’s basically an average fourth or fifth starter/sixth man playing a much larger role on a bad team.”
I figured I would begin this process with some good Fournier news. I’ve been critical of his defensive efforts since the veteran of seven NBA seasons arrived in Orlando in 2014. Well, in new head coach Steve Clifford’s defensive system, Fournier transformed himself this season into what I described above as an “average NBA defender”, which is a serious improvement over what he has been in his career. In fact, Clifford praised Fournier many times throughout the season during his pre-game and post-game sessions with the media for his defensive contributions.
Fournier has also continued to develop legitimate offensive play-making skills for the Magic, increasing his assist percentage every season he’s played for Orlando (career high assist percentage of 17.6% in ‘18-’19). The Frenchman recorded five or more assists in a single-game 27 times this past season. He was often used this year as the ball-handler in a two-man pick-and-pop game with Nikola Vucevic (was one of Orlando’s go-to offensive plays).
And as John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com wrote about in a recent article, Fournier was one of the NBA’s most “clutch” players in 2018-19. According to Denton, Fournier ranked eighth in the NBA this past season in total points scored in the last ten seconds of a game where the player’s team was behind or tied with the opposing team. Fournier buried two game-winning buzzer-beaters this year (against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons), and either tied the game or briefly gave his team the lead within the last ten seconds of a game on three other occasions.
The Magic favored going to Fournier at the end of games this season, but he was really off for a large chunk of the other 30+ minutes he gave Orlando each night - and that leads me to the bad with Fournier in ‘18-’19.
Fournier had a cold shooting year, there’s really nothing else that can be said. Fournier knocked-down 34% of his three-point field goal attempts this season, a career low number for the 6-7 wing. 42% of Fournier’s attempts from the field came from behind the arc. His field goal percentage, offensive rating, player efficiency rating, and offensive box plus/minus numbers were all the lowest marks he’s posted as a member of the Magic.
Also concerning is that fact that Fournier, a career 80.5% free throw shooter, only got to the line 2.1 times per contest this season. Fournier’s free throw rate (number of free throw attempts per field goal attempts) with the Magic has declined from .298 in ‘16-’17 to just .159 in ‘18-’19. I’m fine with the three-point attempts (I think his shot will return to form next year), but I’m not okay with his lack of free throw attempts as a result of taking too many long two-point attempts.
Orlando’s five playoff games were rough for most of Orlando’s starters, but no one’s game was as ugly as Fournier’s play. Fournier shot a frigid 35% from the field (23.5% 3PT%), scoring 12.4 points per contest in 35 minutes per game. He committed more turnovers in the series than he accumulated assists, registered a player efficiency rating of 5.1 with an offensive rating of 80, and was a -27.5 per/100 possessions while on the floor against the Raptors (mostly defended in the series by Kyle Lowry, who he has six inches on). If the Magic make the playoffs next season, his play will have nowhere to go but up, right?
Best performance of the season: 3/22 vs. Memphis
27 points (9-17 FGA’s, 3-8 3PTA’s, 6-7 FTA’s), 8 rebounds, 6 assists
2019-20 Season Outlook
I’ve heard/read chatter among the Magic fan-base regarding their dissatisfaction with Fournier. For example, some would like to see the veteran guard traded, I see that mentioned a lot on Twitter. I don’t think that’s fair; Fournier is still a large part of what Orlando is trying to do as an organization, and he’s already shown in the past that he has the ability to comeback after sub-par seasons and play well the following year.
I also thinks its unrealistic to assume that Fournier won’t be back because the Magic still owe their starting shooting guard $34 million over the next two seasons. Technically, Fournier has one guaranteed season left ($17 million) on the multi-year deal he signed with the Magic in the summer of ‘16. However, he also holds a player option ($17 million) for the 2020-’21 season, an option he is unlikely to turn down.
With that much money still owed to Fournier, I don’t see a team trading for his services this upcoming season. Perhaps in the summer of ‘20, when his contract becomes an expiring deal, that notion becomes a different story.
Fournier will be back in 2019-20 as Orlando’s starting shooting guard, for better or worse. Personally, I am mildly confident that he will bounce back and have a career year (at age 27) for the Magic next season.
Look for “Don’t Google” to knock down more three’s from the corner next year, and hopefully to pass up some of those long two-point attempts in favor of putting his head down and getting to the free throw line more frequently as well.
Previous “Season in Reviews” in this series