Jodie Meeks, Orlando Magic fill in for Evan Fournier

The Orlando Magic have had to scramble some with Evan Fournier‘s injury last week. Jodie Meeks has filled admirably, but the Magic await Fournier’s return.

Evan Fournier finished scoring 21 points in the Orlando Magic’s disappointing loss to the New York Knicks and nothing seemed the matter. Fournier had scored at least 20 points in seven of his past eight games. He was beginning to find his footing this season.

It was somewhat a surprise to arrive at the arena the next evening and hear Fournier was out with a heel injury. The bruised shin he suffered against the Miami Heat earlier in the week had somewhat cleared up. But Fournier, despite trying to work out on the heel and get back on the court, was unable to do so.

The Magic played things cautiously. Frank Vogel in announcing the injury noted he had some heel issues last year and the team opted to be safe. As Fournier has tried to work through the injury, Orlando saw the three days off to end 2016 as an opportunity to get him some rest without pushing him too hard.

The hope is Fournier, the team’s leading scorer, will return for Sunday’s game against the Indiana Pacers. But that is all dependent on how Fournier continues to respond to treatment.

In the meantime, the Magic have had to rely on Jodie Meeks to get by.

Meeks has slid into the starting lineup the last three games and performed admirably. He is averaging 11.0 points per game and shooting 33.3 percent from beyond the arc and a 55.4 percent effective field goal percentage.

It is a small sample size. But Meeks has provided the Magic with some still needed spacing

“Jodie is a good player,” Vogel said. “He gives us a big-time offensive scoring punch. He garners a lot of attention, even when he is not making shots. His man has to be hugged up on him. Gives everyone more space to operate. He has done a good job for us.”

In the three games since Meeks entered the starting lineup for Fournier, the Magic have posted a 112.1 offensive rating with Meeks on the floor and 107.2 defensive rating. The defense is not strong, and worse than the team’s average, but he has made a clear positive offensive impact.

The Magic’s current starting lineup featuring Meeks for Fournier has posted a 117.9 offensive rating and a 117.7 defensive rating. At least it is a positive net rating. And that offense has been strong.

These are extremely small sample sizes, though. There is not a ton to take out of the lineup data here. The Magic had two stellar offensive performances against the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies. And they largely played solid defense in those two games. And then the Charlotte Hornets game happened to weigh everything down as a massive outlier.

But even in these small numbers, Meeks’ offensive impact is very visible. The Magic have been able to keep their offense humming even with Fournier out of the lineup. Meeks has looked good recovering from his early season injury, now playing the largest role this season.

“Guys have been working hard all season,” Meeks said. “I’m getting better and better each week. Guys are starting to hit their shots. There will still be ups and downs because it’s a long season. The last week, week and a half, we’ve been playing really well.”

The Magic certainly are missing Fournier.

While Fournier may not be a stellar penetrator or a true star player, Orlando could use another ball handler and distributor who can attack the basket and spread the floor. Meeks is still a largely one-dimensional player, although he has shown a penchant for a quick drive against closeouts for a pull-up jumper or floater.

And Fournier is a more impactful defender than Meeks. Meeks at least takes away more defensively than he adds, according to Basketball-Reference’s box plus-minus metric. Neither are going to be confused as stellar defenders. The Magic’s defense as a whole is still a work in progress.

Despite Orlando putting up stellar performances offensively in the first two games without Fournier, it would be wrong to say the Magic could not duplicate those results with Fournier added back in.

Nobody with the Magic believes losing Fournier is addition by subtraction. Other players — such as Serge Ibaka and Aaron Gordon — stepped up to fill the offensive void.

“I think that can be overstated looking at that as the reason,” Vogel said of the team’s offensive surge without Fournier those first two games. “We’ve been moving the basketball when Evan has been playing. I think we moved it well. I think we made a lot of guarded shots the other night [Monday vs. Grizzlies]. We had 23 assists, not 40 assists. I think the ball movement has been pretty consistent when Evan was there.”

And then there are the games the floor drops out, like against Charlotte. The Magic could not find that consistent perimeter scorer against the Hornets. Meeks’ 11 points led all perimeter players. No one was creating much for anyone else. Not with Elfrid Payton making just 2 of his 10 shots.

If Fournier provides one thing, it is consistency in his scoring. His scoring run before the injury was proof of that. And against Charlotte, Orlando could have used that offensive stability to get out of that crazy shooting funk.

Meeks has helped hold the boat steady for the Magic. When others are playing well, it certainly boosts and supports the Magic to have Meeks and his shooting out there. But it is also clear Orlando needs the consistency Fournier provides.

Orlando has played well and Meeks has played well. The Magic are holding the ship steady until Fournier returns.

You never want to see anyone fall to injury,” Meeks said. “I’m just trying to take advantage of an opportunity. The team has been playing pretty well. Hopefully, we continue.”

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