Abdominal injury derailed promising first season in Orlando for Fournier
Coming out of the NBA All-Star break, the Orlando Magic showed indications of beginning to turn the corner barely two weeks after naming James Borrego their interim coach.
The most encouraging sign came when a team which had allowed more than 100 points in 14 consecutive games during January and early February held the New Orleans Pelicans to 37 in the second half and 84 overall. But the Magic's victory came at a cost to guard Evan Fournier.
Fournier, who went into the night averaging 12.1 points and second to Channing Frye in 3-pointers made with 77, fell awkwardly to the court on a driving layup attempt. The play didn't seem like a big deal at the time, largely because Fournier wound up logging a team-high 39 minutes in the win.
But the 22-year-old native of France who was acquired by the Magic from the Denver Nuggets on the night of last year's draft would play in only four more games the rest of the season. Originally listed as a sore right hip, the injury was later categorized as one to Fournier's core abdominal region.
Borrego couldn't help but wonder in early April what might have been had Fournier stayed healthy. Including an overtime loss Feb. 25 to the Miami Heat where Fournier tried to play through the pain but was clearly not himself, the Magic had a 5-17 record without him being able to come off the bench and contribute like he did before the injury.
"Very disappointing. But, hey, the season is over now. Now I'm focusing on my rehab," Fournier said.
After starting a total of just eight games in two years with the Nuggets, the 6-foot-7 Fournier began the season in Jacque Vaughn's lineup because of an injury to Victor Oladipo. When Oladipo returned, rookie point guard Elfrid Payton was moved to the bench and the combination of Fournier and Oladipo started in 18 of 19 games beginning Nov. 15.
Payton was reinserted into the starting lineup Dec. 21 against the Philadelphia 76ers, and Fournier would come off the bench in all but four of his 30 games which followed.
"I could have done better, obviously," he said. "But I think I showed to a lot of people what I can do and assumed the responsibilities with being a starter."
Fournier also demonstrated his toughness in a game at Toronto by being able to return after getting smacked in the face and bloodied by Tyler Hansbrough.
The Magic had a 52-44 halftime lead over the Raptors but, in a scenario which was often repeated during the season, couldn't sustain that level of play over the final two quarters. Their record in games where they were tied or leading at the end of the first half was 14-16.
"You have to stay engaged for 82 games," Fournier said. "And that's what good teams do, and that's what we don't do yet. But hopefully we're going to be a very good team soon."
WHAT HE DID RIGHT
Fournier hit 37.8 percent of his 3-point field goal attempts, a number which was only slightly lower in the fourth quarter and overtime of games. "I think I'm more of a driver than a 3-point shooter," he said. "But I can do both. It's just a nice weapon to be able to do both." Magic general manager Rob Hennigan ended up doing all right in obtaining Fournier and the draft rights to Devyn Marble for Arron Afflalo, who the Nuggets sent to Portland in February just before the trading deadline. Off the court, Fournier quickly struck up a friendship with center Nikola Vucevic, the only other member of the Magic fluent in French.
WHERE HE NEEDS TO IMPROVE
He shot a career-low 72.8 percent from the free-throw line, a flaw which he readily acknowledged. "It's unacceptable for me to shoot a low 70 percent," Fournier said. He added it will be a priority of his to come into training camp stronger, but not heavier, in order to try avoiding a repeat of an injury similar to the one which bothered him the final seven weeks.
Nov. 12 at New York. Fournier established a career high by scoring 28 points as the Magic, still playing without Oladipo, held on for a 97-95 victory over the Knicks. It was their second road win in a week, a significant achievement for a team which went 4-37 away from home in 2013-14.
12.4 player efficiency rating (based on 15.0 league average), 54.6 true shooting percentage (accounting for free throws and 3-pointers), 19.7 usage rate (possessions used per 40 minutes).
Fournier has been named to the preliminary roster for Team France, the defending Eurobasket champions, for a tournament scheduled to take place Sept. 5-20 in four European countries. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract and will earn almost $2.3 million next season but does not expect to receive anything close to the type of extension Vucevic got last October. "Vooch is our best player, and he's the only one who had an extension," he said. "I love Orlando. I would love to stay here."