Fournier Still Trying to Snap Out of Slump

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

ORLANDO – For four years, the Orlando Magic have only known Evan Fournier as a guard with confidence and conviction and someone who always wanted the basketball in his hands when the pressure was the greatest.

This Evan Fournier, the one who has been tentative at times and is not only struggling with his jumper but also passing up open looks, seems unfamiliar to an organization that is greatly dependent on his shooting. Nobody knows that more than Fournier, a prideful player who doesn’t take well to losing or letting his teammates down.

``I’ve just got to get my (stuff) together,’’ Fournier said following a nine-point night on Tuesday where he made just three of 13 field goals and only one of six 3-point shots in a 107-99 loss to Sacramento. ``I’m playing terrible for this team. I’m a big-minutes guy, and I can’t play like that (for the team to win), period. We need everybody on this team, and I’m just not playing well enough for this team, and I think it’s a big reason why we keep losing these games. I know if I play the way I can, we’d be winning right now.’’

Fournier, who has connected on just 37.4 percent of his shots and 27.7 percent of his 3-pointers while averaging 15.1 points, is far from alone in struggling to shoot the ball for the Magic. Orlando ranks 30thin scoring (100.6 points per game) and is one of just two NBA teams not averaging at least 100 points per 100 possessions. The Magic are also last in field goal percentage (41.0) and 28thin 3-point shooting.

Even if Fournier is playing up to his usual standards, the Magic are still light on shooting in today’s 3-point-heavy NBA. Without Fournier shooting it well, they know will likely struggle to keep pace as scores continue to surge throughout the NBA.

``There’s not a day that we aren’t sharing the ball. We’re getting good looks, but we’re just not making them,’’ said Jonathan Simmons, who has also struggled with his shot following offseason wrist surgery. ``We’ve just got to make them.’’

Two particular scenes from Orlando’s loss to Sacramento – a game where the culprit once again was a lack of dependable outside shooting – summed up the puzzling predicament that Fournier finds himself in now. The numbers for Fournier are Halloween gory and the lack of success seems to have affected his usually confident demeanor.

First, with the Magic trailing 78-72 late in the third quarter and Fournier looking for the spark that could get himself going, he passed up an open 3-point shot from the right corner even though Kings’ guard Buddy Hield was several feet off of him. Instead, Fournier drove baseline and into traffic where 7-footer Kosta Koufos caused his layup to sail over the rim. Fournier batted the rebound out to teammate Nikola Vucevic, who got it back to Fournier only to see him miss a 3-point try at the end of the shot clock.

Secondly, with the Magic trailing 94-91 with 4:08 to play, Fournier passed up another open 3-pointer – this time from the left corner even though Sacramento forward Nemanja Bjelica had sagged off. This time, Fournier head-faked the defender and dribbled once before letting fly a 22-footer – which analytically is one of the most inefficient shots in basketball. The shot hit off the back iron and the Magic never seriously challenged for the lead the rest of the way in their third consecutive loss.

``I wish I had the answers,’’ Fournier said, seemingly puzzled at what is causing his moments of indecision. ``I guess it’s a rhythm thing. I’ve been here for five years now and I’m just missing dumb stuff, so it’s very frustrating.’’

Fournier, coach Steve Clifford and Magic players are confident that the numbers will eventually turn around for the shooting guard because of his proven track record in the NBA. In his career, Fournier is a 44.6 percent shooter from the field with a 37.6 percent success rate from 3-point range. In his previous four seasons in Orlando, he’s shot better than 45 percent from the floor twice and he topped the 35 percent plateau from 3-point range four times.

``It’s not like he’s had (only) one good year, so at the end of the day, I think his numbers will be where they were last year or better,’’ said Clifford, who is in his first season in Orlando. ``He’s a good competitor, very good, his defense has been good, and he’ll start making shots.’’

Added Vucevic, his closest friend on the Magic and his teammate for five seasons: ``I think it’s just him trying to find his rhythm with the new offense. It’s a little different for him than how he played last year. He just has to find his rhythm and it’s a long season. You go through these periods a couple of games where shots aren’t going in. It’s only a matter of time. He’s a great shooter. We know that he’s a great scorer and he’ll come out of it.’’

As much as Fournier undoubtedly appreciates the support from teammates like Vucevic, he discounts the notion that he is being affected by playing in a different offensive system under Clifford. After all, Fournier has played for seven head coaches in his seven-year NBA career in Denver and Orlando, so he is quite used to having to adjust from one year to the next.

``Basketball is basketball,’’ he said. ``I’ve had seven different coaches in my career. It’s never been an issue and it’s not an issue right now. When you have an open shot, it’s an open shot and it’s not about your role or the offense.’’

Fournier said one thing puzzling to him is that he’s never started a season like this. In seven games last October, he played exceptionally well for the Magic by making 55.6 percent of his field goals and 54.5 percent of his threes while averaging 22 points a game. For the most part, his best basketball in a Magic uniform has come early in seasons.

Simmons, Vucevic and Fournier talked after Tuesday’s loss about the plight of Golden State superstar guard Klay Thompson, who started the season in frigid fashion before hitting an NBA record 14 3-pointers in a 52-point performance on Monday in Chicago. Thompson, of course, is a four-time all-star and a three-time champion for the Warriors.

Fournier, 26, is confident that all the work that he puts in on his shot – he often arrives well before practice and routinely returns to the Magic practice facility for late-night shooting sessions – will eventually pay off and help him get back to form.

``What kills me is that I work too hard to be playing like that,’’ he said. ``It’s extremely frustrating, but it’s my first time starting a season like this. I usually start very well. I guess it’s a new experience for me, but I’ve got to get it back, for sure.’’

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