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Evan Fournier Starts Season as Magic’s Surprise Lead Scorer

Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

Through the Orlando Magic’s first seven games, their team leader in scoring — by just a skosh over the rest of the starting lineup — is, somewhat surprisingly, fourth-year Frenchman Evan Fournier. New head coach Scott Skiles hasn’t hesitated to give Fournier huge responsibilities as an every-game starter, and the 23-year-old has responded emphatically. Fournier is ninth in the league in minutes per game and 26th in scoring¬†at 18.7 points per game, in a virtual tie with Danilo Gallinari.

You can’t score 18.7 points per game in the NBA without having a multitude of tricks up your sleeve. Fournier has always been a talented deep shooter, and that long-range accuracy has certainly been on display this season. Through seven games, Fournier is hitting 37.5 percent of his three-point shots, which is right in line with his 38.0 percent career average prior to this season.

What’s impressive about Fournier maintaining the same shooting percentage, though, is that he’s taking many, many more three-pointers than he ever has: after a previous career average of 3.0 deep shots per game, Fournier has nearly doubled that at 5.7 such shots per game here in 2015-16. If you look at the three-point percentages of all of this season’s “mega-shooters” — who I’ll call anybody that takes over five three-point shots per game — Fournier so far ranks 12th in accuracy among the 30 mega-shooters. That means Fournier is a serious long-range threat, drawing respect from his opponents and opening up the many other attacking elements of his offense.

Even though Fournier’s dribble-drives to the basket appear — in comparison to the league’s other great scorers — to be taking place in slow motion, it’s hard to argue against their effectiveness. One reason this is the case is that Fournier is an incredibly intelligent basketball player, and one can almost see him learning from his mistakes in-game.

For instance, take a first-quarter sequence from Orlando’s double-overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the season’s second game. Fournier was being defended by Kevin Durant, who (understandably) conserves most of his own energy for the offensive end. After Fournier first slipped by Durant, his hesitant finish harmlessly bricked off the rim from just a few feet away. On Orlando’s very next offensive possession, Fournier received the ball in the exact same spot, juked Durant, but this time went strong to the rim, getting the bucket plus the and-1. Fournier continued that aggression later in the game with an emphatic dunk after blowing by Dion Waiters, plus another acrobatic finish around shot-blocker Serge Ibaka.

Fournier’s all-around basketball intelligence ensures that he’s not simply trying to “get his.” Take a sequence against the New Orleans Pelicans, the game in which Fournier scored a career-high 30 points. In the first quarter, with Anthony Davis sitting and Ryan Anderson playing as an extremely small center, Fournier showed aggression in going from the arc to the rim, finishing a strong dribble-drive with a lay-in over Anderson. Later, in the second quarter, Fournier sensed the presence of Davis on another drive and instead threaded the needle to Nikola Vucevic, a play that actually drew a standing ovation from Skiles.

Since the Magic and Fournier didn’t agree to an extension before the mandated deadline earlier this month, Fournier is going to be a restricted free agent this summer — this continued improvement in his performance could drive his going price way up, and the Magic could be just as happy to match.

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