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Evan Fournier enters contract year looking to improve defensively

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Fournier discussed picking up his player option, his goals for next season and more

Orlando Magic v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It was a stress-free offseason for Evan Fournier.

Coming off a career regular season — and a disappointing playoff performance — he had options. One of which was a player option worth $17 million that he ultimately decided to exercise.

“It wasn’t stressful at all,” Fournier told reporters of his decision to pick up the option rather than enter free agency. “You know me, I don’t necessarily put too much thought into stuff like this. I was in the luxury position to have the choice, so there’s really no stress. We decided with my agent to just pick up the option and just keep playing for the Magic for this year and see what happens.”

Exactly what happens in Fournier’s seventh, and perhaps final, season with the Magic likely will be determined by how the team performs in an improved Eastern Conference and whether they become sellers. Fournier, as much as his critics love to deny it, is vital to the Magic’s playoff hopes. Should the team fall out of the playoff picture, or simply decide to start trading away veterans to build around the younger core, Fournier and his expiring contract could be a valuable rental for a contending team seeking shooting.

For now, though, the Magic are running it back and once again banking on continuity being an advantage in a shortened offseason that saw teams like the Nets, Hawks, Bulls, Hornets, Pistons and Wizards make significant moves (for better or worse).

“It’s definitely an advantage that we know Cliff’s system and that we’ve played together for a few years,” Fournier said of the Magic’s continuity. “It’s always challenging to add new guys, but I think that the core of our team is still here. That’s definitely something we can use to our advantage.”

As Fournier embarks on a contract year, he said his individual goal is to improve defensively, returning to the form he said he showed during Steve Clifford’s first year with the Magic in the 2018-2019 season. Advanced defensive stats can be sketchy given all the factors and needed eye-test aspects involved, but per Basketball Reference, Fournier’s defensive win shares dropped from 2.5 in 2018-2019 to 1.7 in 2019-2020, and his defensive rating increased slightly from 111 to 112 points per 100 possessions.

NBA: Playoffs-Orlando Magic at Milwaukee Bucks Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

“From last year I would say, I took a step down a little bit defensively,” Fournier said. “I didn’t play as good as my first year with Cliff on the defensive end. I would like to get back to being a really good defender on the ball, especially on close outs. That’s something I’m really going to focus on in training camp. And, you know, I had a career year last year so I’m just gonna have the same mindset again. Try to get better, try to do things better. I’m 28 now, so I’m getting a little bit older. I have more experience and I plan to use that.”

What’s the key for a veteran like Fournier to improve defensively during an unprecedented offseason such as this?

“Number one thing is commitment,” Fournier said. “Playing defense at a very high level is hard. It’s very taxing on the body. So yes, there is a physical aspect to it. But the number one thing I think is commitment. You gotta commit to coming in every day and giving every thing you have. And that’s what I plan on doing period because I want to win bad and I realize that if we all commit then we’re going to be a much better team and it has to start with someone.”

On the offensive end, Fournier is coming off a season in which he proved to be the Magic’s lone consistent outside threat as he averaged a career-high 18.5 points while shooting 46.7% from the field and 39.9% from three, his best percentages since his much lower shooting volume rookie season.

The Magic offense found it’s rhythm during an 8-4 stretch just before the league paused, leading the league in offensive rating over that span. That offensive outburst carried into the NBA bubble over the first two games before injury set in.

“You can’t really compare something that happened a year ago into this season,” Fournier said. “But I think we played faster, but not necessarily just running. We got to our sets faster, body movement was better, and we got to our spacing also faster, which allows guys like Markelle [Fultz] to be able to drive. And as a shooter, once you get to your spot faster, you don’t have to get ready for the shot because you’re already ready. So, for us I think the key is going to be the pace because we are a really good team offensively when we have play calls and we all know what to do and we all have a job. We kind of struggle when it’s more like an open play and random basketball. That’s where we have to get better and that’s why we did great during that run.”

Fournier will have to replicate his offensive production from last season for a Magic team hoping internal improvement and a pair of rookies alleviates their shooting woes. That will be impacted by the loss of D.J. Augustin, a steady veteran shooter whose departure also made Fournier that much closer to being the Magic’s “senior citizen,” as it was phrased by one media member during Thursday’s interview.

“Chief is older and Vooch is older,” Fournier replied. “Come on now.”