With Evan Fournier Injured, Magic Need Others to Step Up

By John Denton
Dec. 7, 2017

ORLANDO – The Orlando Magic’s potential path to navigating life without standout forward Evan Fournier was right there in plain sight on their final possession of regulation on Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks.

Down three points with 14.7 seconds left, Magic head coach Frank Vogel turned to his favorite play to use in crunch time – one where Fournier comes up to set a back screen for a cutting Aaron Gordon and then peels off a Nikola Vucevic pick for a clean look from 3-point range.

The Magic have had so much success with the play throughout this season that, not surprisingly, the Hawks dramatically shifted their defense toward Fournier to take away any shot of the forward getting a clean look. Reading the play perfectly, Vucevic instead swung the ball to his right and found a wide-open D.J. Augustin, who buried the tying 3-pointer.

Orlando would go on to win 110-106 in overtime, but not before losing Fournier to a potentially serious ankle sprain. The Magic’s second-leading scorer (18.3 points per game) and their best player in the clutch was on crutches on Thursday and has already been ruled out for Friday’s home game against the Denver Nuggets. X-rays on Fournier’s ankle after the game were negative and the Magic were still awaiting results from a MRI as of Thursday afternoon.

Regardless, the Magic (11-15) know they must learn to live without Fournier’s efficiency and productivity in the days, and potentially weeks, ahead.

``The ball’s got to move and we’ve got to continue to get great shots, but we’ve got bucket-getters on this team,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, the team’s leading scorer at 18.7 points per game. ``We’ve got to give people the luxury, the confidence and the encouragement to go and get us buckets. That’s what Evan is – he’s a bucket-getter, whether it’s a three, getting in the lane or off cuts. So, the bucket-getters on this team have to step up and have the confidence in each other.’’

Further complicating matters for the Magic is that fact that Terrence Ross (knee) and rookie Jonathan Isaac (ankle) are already out with injuries. Super sub, Jonathon Simmons, was recently moved into the starting lineup to fortify the first string, but that shift and the rash of injuries have taken a toll on the effectiveness of Orlando’s bench unit.

Vogel said filling the Fournier void will require a team effort, including some much-improved play from the reserves. The coach said on Thursday that he was still contemplating who Fournier’s replacement will be in the starting lineup, but the candidates most likely will be veteran Arron Afflalo, young players Mario Hezonja and Wes Iwundu or Augustin playing a hybrid guard role.

``We’ve got other guys who can deliver – that’s the only way to look at it,’’ Vogel said. ``(Fournier) will be missed, for sure, because we put the ball in his hands a lot, particularly down the stretch and throughout games as one of our primary playmakers. But we have other guys who are capable and now it’s time for them to step up.’’

Afflalo, 32, has played just 12.5 minutes a game on average this season, but he said on Thursday that he is more than ready to move into a more prominent role than the one that has seen him average just 2.3 points on 33.3 percent shooting in 20 games. Magic fans certainly remember the 2012-13 (16.5 ppg.) and 2013-14 (18.2 ppg.) seasons when Afflalo carried the team as a go-to scorer in crunch time – much the way Fournier has this season while shooting an efficient 47.8 percent from the floor, 41.5 percent from 3-point range and 86.4 percent from the free throw line. Afflalo has kept himself sharp and in shape with plenty of extra work before and after practice and he’s eager to help the Magic try and cushion the blow of losing Fournier.

``I’ve been on plenty of teams where when the leading scorer goes down it more or less becomes a group effort,’’ said Afflalo, who is in his second stint with the Magic and is a career 11.1 point per game scorer. ``I’ll pick it up, of course, but it will be a collective effort.

``We’ve got a lot of hungry guys on this team and I’m pretty sure everyone has seen the aggressive nature of our guys, which sometimes doesn’t work out in our favor,’’ Afflalo added. ``But sometimes when a guy goes down it just opens up more space for other guys to do what they really can do and it can work out well. We need everybody, but I think we’ll be OK.’’

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