Fournier Was One of NBA's Most Clutch Players in 2018-19

by John Denton

ORLANDO – At the end of games, there was no player that the Orlando Magic wanted to have the ball more than guard Evan Fournier, who drilled two game-winning buzzer beaters and had three more baskets that either tied things up or briefly put them into the lead.

It was those other 47-plus minutes that at times proved to be baffling for the tough-minded and usually reliable Fournier.

In the last 10 seconds of games this season where the Magic either trailed or were tied, Fournier led the Magic in points (16) and field goals (five) and tied for first in 3-point shots (two). Those 16 points in the final 10 seconds of games that were either tied or saw the Magic trailing ranked Fournier eighth overall in the NBA. Extend it out to the final 30 seconds when the Magic were either trailing or tied and Fournier scored a team-best 23 points (14th-most in the NBA) and had a stellar plus-20 plus-or-minus ratio. And in what the NBA defines as clutch situations (inside the final five minutes with the score within five points either way), Fournier had a team-best offensive rating of 98.2 (points per 100 possessions).

All that being said, Fournier’s season was somewhat disappointing personally even as the 42-win Magic were more successful than they ever had been in his five seasons in Orlando. The 26-year-old guard’s scoring was noticeably down (from 17.8 points per game to 15.1), his shooting (43.8 percent overall and 34 percent from 3-point range) was well below his career averages and his performance in the playoffs (12.4 points on 34.8 percent shooting in five games) also left him frustrated.

After all of it, Fournier vowed he would be a regular around the Magic’s headquarters throughout this offseason so that he could rediscover a shooting stroke that would extend well beyond the final clutch seconds of close games.

``Obviously, I’m disappointed in the way I shot the ball this year. This is like my worst year in terms of making shots,’’ said Fournier, who still made major strides this season as a one-on-one defender and a playmaker while averaging a career-best in assists (3.6 per game). ``But, somehow, I feel like I’ve never been better – whether, that’s defensively, being active on the floor, being a leader or making plays. But for some freaking reason I just couldn’t make shots.

``I’m going to fix that, but I feel like this year is going to help me in a lot of ways,’’ he added. ``I think it’s first year where my numbers (didn’t) get better, but somehow, I still feel like I’ve never been better. So, I’m going to continue to get better, continue to work and I’m going to be around (the Magic practice facility) for sure.’’

Undoubtedly, Fournier will take some time off in the coming weeks when him and his wife, Laura, welcome the birth of their first child. Fournier, a native of suburban Paris, is excited about the fact that his son will be born in the U.S. and will be an American citizen. For months now, he’s talked to with teammate and close friend, Nikola Vucevic, about the joys and struggles of being a first-time father after Vucevic welcomed the birth of a son back in December.

``I’m just trying to be like Vooch; he had a baby, so I’m having one, too,’’ Fournier joked. ``(Fournier’s son is) going to be an American, man. I just got my Green Card and he’s going to have a passport.’’

Despite his individual struggles at times, Fournier was never more delighted than this season when the Magic went 22-9 down the stretch to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Acquired on draft day in 2014, Fournier had his patience tested by played on four rebuilding teams in Orlando and enduring seemingly constant coaching and front-office change prior to this season.

In the five years that they had played together, Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Vucevic talked about what it would be like to bring basketball excitement back to Orlando. Despite the playoffs not going like he wanted – the Magic won Game 1 versus Toronto before losing four straight – Fournier took great pride in the resolve that Orlando showed all season.

``I’m proud of this team and how we fought the adversity this season,’’ said Fournier, who had a 30-point game and 19 20-point efforts during the season. ``That win in Boston (on April 7 to clinch a playoff berth) was one of the highlights of my career, so far. Obviously, I wish we could have been better in the playoffs, but I think we gave ourselves a chance to do something special. Having a (winning) record after having 25 wins last year was good and I’m definitely looking forward to next year so that we can build on what we did. I want to start next season the way we finished this one.’’

To do that, the Magic would most likely need to retain Vucevic and Terrence Ross, Orlando’s two most important unrestricted free agents. Vucevic was the Magic’s first all-star in seven seasons, while Ross became the first player in NBA history to hit at least 200 3-pointers without starting a game this season.

Fournier was in a similar situation following the 2015-16 season when he was a restricted free agent following a breakout year in which he averaged 15.4 points on 46.2 percent shooting and 40 percent accuracy from 3-point range. He ultimately signed a lucrative, multi-year contract with the Magic, in part, because he loved living in Orlando and wanted to help the franchise get back on track. He believes that the same applies to Vucevic and Ross and he’s confident that both will be in Orlando beyond the NBA’s free-agent courting period from July 1-6.

``If I was a free agent, the number one thing, obviously, is the team,’’ Fournier said. ``Where is the team going, who is the coach and who am I going to play with? Then, second, of course, comes the comfort of where you are living. To be honest, I’m pretty confident that those guys are going to stay. We’ve done something pretty good this year and Orlando is a great city to live in if you have a family. There are a lot of good things about Orlando that would make you want to stay here.’’

Fournier hopes he, too, remains in Orlando so that he can fix his shooting stroke and be better for the Magic in the years to come. In a perfect world, he said he’d stay a member of the Magic and his newborn son would grow up alongside of Vucevic’s son, Filip. For all of that to become a reality, Fournier knows that he’ll need to shoot the ball better and the Magic must mature into the kind of team that can do some serious damage in the playoffs in the coming years.

``We’ve talked about that a lot,’’ Fournier said of his talks with Vucevic about the two of them playing together in Orlando for several more years. ``We’re definitely talking about becoming parents and somehow, I think (Vucevic is) going to help me with things. He can tell me what to do and what not to do since he’s a few months ahead of me (as a parent). It’s going to be fun. If we’re still together, it would definitely be fun to see our sons playing together some day.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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