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Winners and Losers, Part II: The curious case of Evan Fournier

Who (or what) stood out and shone? Who (or what) crashed and burned?

Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

We’re back! Last time our season review revealed a pair of winners and losers, leaving the ledger in a place of perfect balance ahead of this installment. Join me first here and then later in the comments as we continue to unpack the season that just was for the Magic.

Winner: Evan Fournier’s regular season resume

Dallas Mavericks v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Orlando’s oft-maligned two guard bounced back in a big way in 2020, putting together what was undoubtedly the regular season of his career to this point. Fournier enjoyed his best shooting season ever, with the increased accuracy propelling him to averages of 18.5 points, 3.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds, with solid ball control and valuable secondary playmaking supplementing his offensive contributions. He was almost certainly the Magic’s most valuable player, and a season lacking cohesion potentially could have spun in an unwelcome direction had he not been around.

Fournier was also the only dependable long range threat on the roster for the vast majority of the season, shooting the deep ball at 40.6% (21st league-wide) on a career high 6.6 attempts per game during the pre-bubble stretch. Removing his contributions would have made the Magic the worst long-distance shooting team of the last five years, a fact that further emphasizes the importance of his output. It’s difficult to envision the Magic as a playoff team without the dependability of Fournier’s scoring.

It wasn’t a perfect campaign for the sweet-shooting Frenchman; he struggled as the team’s lead option in games that were decided in the clutch, and a late injury robbed him of some momentum as he closed the season with more of a whimper than a bang. All manner of debate will rage this offseason over whether or not the team is better served by keeping him around or cutting bait. Regardless of what happens in the future, it should be clear to all that Fournier was the straw that successfully stirred Orlando’s drink during the regular season.

Loser: Evan Fournier’s playoff resume

Milwaukee Bucks v Orlando Magic - Game Four Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images

In light of how the season ended this might seem shocking, but Fournier’s 2020 playoff numbers were superior to those he put up in 2019 in just about every way: he averaged more points, shot better from the floor and from deep, got to the free throw line more frequently, was more likely to dish out an assist, snagged a greater percentage of available rebounds, and did a better job of holding onto the ball. He posted a better PER, accumulated a greater number of win shares, had a more favorable box plus/minus, and even improved his value over replacement player rating. So what’s the problem?

Well, the primary concern is that his performance was still terrible. For the second straight year Fournier was a virtual non-entity in the postseason, failing to provide the steady scoring and veteran leadership that Orlando so desperately needed. The long wings on Milwaukee’s roster made his life hell from game to game, and it was really only in the final contest that he saw his shot fall with some regularity. His secondary playmaking also never really eventuated — just 13 assists for the series — and as the games progressed the coaching staff made a conscious decision to move him off the ball more frequently due to his ineffectiveness.

For the second time in as many seasons Fournier flamed out when the Magic needed him most. It’s a genuine shame that it happened again after the strength of his bounce-back regular season campaign, and there are certainly a handful of extenuating circumstances that perhaps go some way towards explaining his performance (illness, the disruption of the hiatus, tough matchup). However, the NBA is a results-based business, and there’s no denying that Fournier failed to deliver when the deadline came due.

And with that we bring to a close the second installment in this process of review and evaluation. There’s more to come yet, including a look at a lost season for Mo Bamba, an evaluation of availability, a postseason postmortem, and the apparent fundamentally binary nature of the Aaron Gordon experience. Be sure to check back in for round four in the days to come.