Coming from a dismal 25-win season, the Orlando Magic are one of the pleasant surprises of the 2015/16 NBA so far. After accumulating many high draft picks over the years, the time has come for them to make a statement. The Magic, now 19-15, are on pace to secure a playoff berth next April, ending that way a three-year post-season drought.
Under the guidance of Scott Skiles, all those young talents are blossoming at the same time. One of them is Evan Fournier, who’s making the most of the opportunity as the team’s starting shooting guard. In the fourth and last year of his rookie contract, the French wing is averaging career-highs in points (14.3), rebounds (3.1), assists (2.6) and minutes (31.8).
“I basically have a better opportunity this year. I am in the starting five, I am playing more, and I have more trust from my coaches and my teammates. So of course it is easier to express your game in those circumstances”, Fournier said.
Thirteen games into the season Fournier was averaging 19.2 points per contest, which made him an early candidate for the Most Improved Award. Since then, his numbers have dropped a bit, but he’s still playing big minutes and is a consistent threat from the perimeter. He’s improving in other areas, as well. “I feel like in the NBA usually you have guys who have one main strength, but not a lot of guys who can do everything. I feel like in Europe that’s the way basically we develop players, with a lot of players who can do a lot of good things. Like (Nikola) Vucevic, who is a big that can shoot and play post up. I am just trying to develop and be as good as I can and, of course, I am still working on a lot of things”, he said.
The London game
On Thursday, Jan. 14, London will host the sixth regular-season NBA game since 2011: Orlando Magic vs. Toronto Raptors at The O2. Fournier is excited to come back to Europe to play as a starter with his NBA team. “It is definitely something I am looking forward to. I was born and raised in Paris, which is only an hour and a half away from London, so I will need to have a lot of tickets for family and friends. I have had 10 calls already but there’s going to be a lot more! It is a great opportunity for us to showcase NBA talent in Europe. The Magic are obviously getting better and we will try to show a good image of ourselves”, he said.
More than 15,000 fans turned out at The O2 Arena last year to watch the Milwaukee Bucks beat the New York Knicks. Tickets for next week’s game sold out in under an hour.
“Last time I went to London it was with the French national Under-18 team, so we couldn’t do anything. It was very strict about being there to play. We obviously have more freedom now with the NBA, being pro players, so you know I am looking forward to enjoying myself and seeing a few places as long as we take care of business”, Fournier stated.
With the Olympics on his mind
Next summer will be a busy one for Evan Fournier. After rejecting a four-year, $32 million extension from the Magic, he will become a restricted free agent. The way he is playing, he might be able to make more money since the NBA’s salary cap will balloon to around $90 million. “The contract will take care of itself in due course. I had no pressure to do anything right now and, to be honest, I did not expect (the contract) to be extended. I can wait until the summer”, he said.
The downside of his decision is that he might not be able to play with the French national team in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (June 4-10).
“Hopefully I will be, but I guess we will see. The main thing with the contract is the interest (in me). If I don’t have any interest, I can’t play, obviously. I try not to think about it right now because my main focus is on the team but hopefully we can work something out. But if we go to Rio, I will be there for sure“, Fournier added.