Evan Fournier will be the first one to admit that he didn’t play his best game against the Spurs on Monday. It was preseason, but the second-year guard out of France still wasn’t happy with his performance.
“I played shitty tonight,” Fournier said.
Fournier shot 1-of-6 from the field, had no assists, no rebounds, and committed three fouls. At times, he looked lost in the offense, driving without purpose or plan. Fournier did, however, get to the line six times, missing only one of his free throw attempts. Fournier’s self-assessment may be a bit harsh, but his performance on Monday certainly didn’t look like the Fournier from last season.
After averaging no more than eight minutes per game through March of his rookie year, Danilo Gallinari’s season-ending and trajectory-altering injury thrust Fournier into a more prominent role. In April, Fournier played 23 minutes per game, averaging 11.5 points, 2.8 assists and 2.3 rebound while shooting 35% from beyond the arc. Though his performances were uneven, scoring seventeen points one night and six the next, it appeared as if Fournier was ready for a larger role with the Nuggets.
Then came the playoffs, and with them, doom. Fournier struggled mightily against the Warriors, looking lost on offense and defense, to the point where he didn’t even see the floor in the last two games of the series. Despite his sudden disappearance from the rotation, the promise Fournier flashed in April, as well as his 17 points and nearly 4 assists per 36 minutes for the entire season, was enough to inspire hope within the organization and the fans as to the guard’s future.
An aside: On spec, Fournier appears to be everything a team would want in a young shooting guard: bigger, though still lithe and athletic, an able ball-handler and passer, a quick, compact release on his jump shot. Yet on the court, Fournier’s game is decidedly vanilla. Bland, even. The skills and potential are all there, there’s just no flare. He’s not even robotic — he just is. The lack of self-expression in his game isn’t a negative, and in fact many players don’t have a singular style of play. But Fournier lacks it to such an extreme degree that having no style becomes his style.
Fournier said one of his biggest struggles last year was adjusting from the more strict European game to the freer style of play in the NBA. “It’s a different game. We don’t have a lot of plays here. In Europe, it’s more about pick and rolls and different (plays),” he said.
The NBA, by contrast, has much more of a free flow. It’s faster, more athletic, and as a result, not as reliant on fundamentals. This perhaps explains Fournier’s inexpressive play.
When asked what last year taught him, in terms of how to be a better NBA player, Fournier said he needs to get stronger, faster and “better defensively, because (in the NBA) you don’t have a lot of help.” He feels that, despite his poor showing against the Spurs, he’s had a good training camp and preseason overall. The numbers don’t quite back up that claim, as Fournier’s only averaging five points and one assist through four games, but he does at least look more aggressive.
Last season, Fournier’s opportunity came because of an unfortunate injury. This year, Fournier won’t have to wait for that opportunity, given the departures of Iguodala and Brewer and the continued absence of Gallinari. Denver needs him to show that his one-month run was a sign of things to come, not a statistical outlier.