Coaches Continue to Marvel at Evolution of Power Forward Position

By John Denton
Dec. 28, 2017

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic played a major role in the evolution of the power forward position when Rashard Lewis became the first player from that spot in NBA history to lead the league in 3-pointers with 226 in the 2007-08 season.

Now, almost a decade later, coaches agree that power forwards must be able to shoot 3-pointers and cover foes all the way out of the arc to survive in the ever-changing NBA.

As an example, take the power forwards from the Orlando Magic and the Detroit Pistons as what the position has evolved into. Both Orlando’s Aaron Gordon and Detroit’s Tobias Harris are enjoying career years thanks in large part to their vastly improved strokes from the 3-point line.

Gordon, who made his return on Thursday after missing five games with a calf strain, came into the night averaging career highs in points (18.3), rebounds (8.0), assists (2.2) and steals (1.0). Also, Gordon is making 40.1 percent of his tries from 3-point range after never shooting better than 29.6 percent from the arc in his first three NBA seasons.

Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Harris – who played for the Magic from 2013-16 – is in the midst of his best season as a pro, averaging 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds a game while shooting a stellar 45 percent from 3-point range. Prior to this season, Harris had never made more than 36.6 percent from 3-point range over a full season.

Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached the Magic from 2007-12 and made the call in switching Lewis from small forward to power forward to give Orlando more shooting, marvels at the evolution of a position that used to depend more on brute force than outside shooting.

``You’ve seen that (kind of 3-point improvement) across the league with (power forwards) and (centers) who have spent a lot of time on their shooting and Aaron Gordon has done it here,’’ Van Gundy said. ``It’s almost a necessity at the (power forward) spot and even a lot of the (centers) are shooting them.’’

Van Gundy didn’t want any credit for reshaping the way the power forward position is played today even though he and Lewis certainly helped speed up the transition to it becoming a spot filled with more shooting.

``I would say that (Mike) D’Antoni’s teams in Phoenix had much more of an impact on people with their pace and spreading the floor and the game has just evolved,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Now, there are a lot of teams, including here (in Orlando) with (Nikola) Vucevic and even (Marreese) Speights, where all five positions shoot the three. You wonder how much longer guys who aren’t 3-point shooters will be valued.’’

MARIO MAKING STRIDES: The finest game of Mario Hezonja’s NBA career came on Dec. 17 when he buried eight 3-pointers and scored 28 points – both career-best numbers against Detroit. Since then, his numbers have tailed off a bit as defenses have worked to take the 3-point shot away from him, but his streak of five straight double-digit scoring games going into Thursday proved to be signs that the third-year pro is making progress.

Hezonja came into Thursday night having scored 14, 16, 11, 12 and 28 in his previous five games – the first such double-digit streak of his career. The No. 5 pick from the 2015 NBA Draft scored double digits in the final three games of his rookie season and he hit double figures in consecutive games just once last season, doing it twice last April.

Magic head coach Frank Vogel raved about the consistency that Hezonja has played with since his career night two weeks ago in Detroit.

``He doesn’t typically get 12 clean looks from the 3-point line like he did that night, but … Mario’s growing,’’ Vogel said. ``He’s growing and developing and he’s been a bright spot in this stretch of our injuries. Everybody needs to understand that he’s a very young player as well, and part of our team’s development is him getting out there. He looks like a far more comfortable player now than he did at any point last season. That’s been encouraging.’’

FOURNIER’S FIRE: To fully understand just how much the Magic depend on the grit, emotion and clutch shooting of forward Evan Fournier, consider this stirring sequence from Tuesday’s game in Miami.

After teaming with Bismack Biyombo to swat the shot of Miami’s Tyler Johnson, Fournier scooped up the loose ball and whipped an outlet pass to Elfrid Payton. Fournier then sprinted full-bore up the court and ran right into a wide-open 3-pointer, which he buried. Seemingly inspired by his own play, an emotional Fournier turned and screamed to a joyous Magic bench celebrating behind him.

Fournier, who had been out the previous eight games with a sprained ankle, played much of that game in pain and still scored 14 points in 30 minutes. His foot and wrist are also sources of pain, but the forward suited up to play on Thursday against Detroit. Vogel, for one, appreciates the toughness and fire that Fournier possesses.

``He’s got a lot of fight and Evan Fournier definitely has a great competitive spirit,’’ Vogel said. ``We’ve missed that. He makes a lot of winning plays on the defensive end even though he’s not known as a defender. He had that big shot right there (in Miami) and just the emotion he brings to the game is something that we’ve missed.’’

UP NEXT: The Magic will be back on the practice floor on Friday in preparation for hosting the rival Miami Heat on Saturday at the Amway Center.

The Magic and Heat have split two meetings this season. Orlando won 116-109 in the season-opener on Oct. 18 behind 23 points from Fournier. The Heat won 107-89 in South Florida on Tuesday behind 18 points and six 3-pointers from reserve guard Wayne Ellington. In that second meeting, Orlando was without Gordon, Nikola Vucevic (fractured left hand) and Terrence Ross (knee sprain), while Miami didn’t have Dion Waiters or Justise Winslow.

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