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2021-22 Knicks Player Review: Evan Fournier

Salute the 3-No-D French King

Chicago Bulls v New York Knicks Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It feels like yesterday when we were celebrating the addition of one of the final pieces to round up an already strong roster. The Knicks acquired Evan Fournier's rights back on Aug. 2021, not even three full days into the hella hot month and just hours after the start of free agency. Adrian Wojnarowski with the bomb, including a second tweet that talked about a fourth-year team option on the fourth year of the deal.

You read that right. Your NYK ponied up a very tasty $78M on the French Fournier to have him in tow — all things going well — for his age 29, 30, 31, and hopefully 32 seasons on top of everything, pending an extension down the road. It kinda made sense to walk this route. It’s been discussed to death already, so I don’t think it’s worth revisiting over five paragraphs. A line would suffice: the Knicks front office went all-in last summer after COTY Tom Thibodeau led the team to the postseason after a near-10-year absence, so the thinking went the way of adding a few proven veterans to solidify the achievement and start contending seriously from 2022 on.

At the end of the day, be it his fault or not, it just wasn’t meant to be. Not that you can argue that much about the reasoning above, though.

Fournier got to New York by the way of Boston after getting traded by Orlando to Beantown in 2021. Between Florida and Massachusetts, Fournier put up a 17-3-3-1 line shooting 45/41/79 splits. Encouraging enough for a free agent, you’d think, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But he finished this season with a lower 14-2-2-1 line, shot the worst percentages of his career by a freaking mile with mediocre 41/39/71 splits, and still played 80 games, starting all of them.

Only once in his career (2019) had Fournier started as many games, and only twice in what is now a 10-year career had he played more than the 2,358 he logged this season. All of that was reasonable to see in his stat sheet when he was part of a stupidly bad, pertinently rebuilding Magic team in which there weren’t many options to hand the rock to. For a team trying to win like the Knicks . . . and even more, as the season progressed . . . I guess a tweak in Fournier’s usage wouldn’t have hurt that much, let alone once New York hit peak-developing mode (even if Thibs rejected it) come the All-Star break.

Lots of threes, just no D

If I’m honest with you, I like watching Fournier. It’s fun! He is coming off a career year in which he’s hoisted more three-point shots (7.7 3PA per game) than he ever did before. Fournier is New York’s Steph Curry, only worse at shooting, and definitely the worst league-wide at this thing called defense. There is no defensive assignment Fournier has ever liked. None of them. Focus on Fournier defending any play — any, believe me; it never changes — and you’ll see him losing track of his partner, arriving late to contest shots, etc., etc. It’s very frustrating.

But then, of course, you have the scoring — or perhaps better said, the shooting — explosions and the bombing away to at least keep you entertained here and there when the thing works. Fournier has had an extraordinary season from beyond the arc, one of 21 players attempting at least 7.7 3PA a pop, and he hit them at the third-highest clip (38.9%). Don’t let his career numbers fool you. Yes, the percentage is lower, but the volume is one full triple up from all of his prior years doing it in the NBA, so the slight downgrade in 3P% is understandable.

Also, God bless NY’s single-season Best Three-Point Shooter.

Fournier took 619 long-range shots to get to 241 made. John Starks went 217-of-611. It’s a franchise record for a single season, so I guess Fournier wasn’t the best player out there on the court nightly. Even then, he found a way to make it to the history books, penning his name in golden letters. A win’s a win, folks. For him, at least.

Ups and downs, highs and lows

The highs were super high, including three of Fournier’s top-5 games this season happening against Boston. Can’t complain. Fournier dumped 32 points on the C’s on opening day, added 41 (season-high) on Jan. 6, and then poured 32 more on them come Feb. 14. That’s 105 points alone in three games against Boston. Oh Là Là!

The lows were super low. And remember, Fournier started every game of his 80 played this season, so get ready for some ridiculously bad numbers because they’re surely coming. This is a totally subjective exercise I’m doing here, but I have just picked a bunch of random games to put on this handcrafted bad-game list:

  • vs POR (Feb. 12): 36 minutes of playing time. 4 points on 13 field-goal attempts for a ridiculous 7.7% shooting percentage from the floor, going 1-of-2 from the free-throw line and (thank God) contributing 3 boards, 3 dimes, 2 steals, and a block. Of course, he turned the ball over three times.
  • vs WAS (Dec. 23): 38 minutes of playing time. 8-3-1-1 line shooting 15% on 13 FGA to go with a 2-for-2 from the charity stripe. Again, 38 minutes played.
  • vs PHI (Mar. 2): 27 minutes of playing time. Cardio game. 3-0-0-2-1 line. 1-of-8 from the field, no treys, 1-of-2 from the charity stripe. Somehow, two steals and a block because Fournier operates in another dimension.

I could keep going, but I also could highlight some perfectly valuable nuggets from Fournier’s first campaign as a Knick, don’t get it wrong.

  • Fournier was one of only seven players with 10+ 3PM in a game in the 2022 season.
  • One of only 16 with 15+ games in which he made at least 5+ three-point shots.
  • One of only nine with 21+ games in which he took 5+ 3PA, hitting 50% or more.

At the end of the day, the couple of small lists above are enough to get to know Fournier’s calling card. He can shoot, he will hoist shots no matter what, but that’s pretty much all he does. And that’s the problem, too.

So, what is next?

I have seen and read a lot of takes and opinions about how the Knicks are surely going to have to eat Fournier’s deal whole without finding a trade partner in the next few weeks/months. Compared to those of Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, Alec Burks, or Kemba Walker, there is a strong collective voice sounding pretty sure about Fournier’s future and how that goes inevitably through staying put in NYC. I’m not that sure.

Yes, he’s burnt just one year of his four-year, very-rich $78M deal. But Fournier is more than capable of playing first-level basketball, and one of those four years is a team option, remember. Maybe it didn’t work that well for Boston — they got Evan in exchange for Jeff Teague, mind you — but that’s the type of deal/team that could land Fournier elsewhere sooner rather than later if the Knicks front office finally decides the franchise is better off rebuilding/retooling rather than forcing their way to a still realistically unreachable postseason berth, let alone a deep postseason run.

In any other sort of contending team, even those wonderfully overperforming 2021 Knicks, Fournier could be a very interesting player to have around — as a borderline starter, though; perhaps more a super-sub level of player, Fournier is still “young” enough to log tons of minutes on a per-game basis, but also in a very limited and focused role that boosts his pros and suppresses his cons. The Knicks, I’m afraid, are still not at that precise point. Thibs, of course, is not going to sit Fournier while favoring any of Cam Reddish, Quentin Grimes, Immanuel Quickley, or any soon-to-be-rookie landing in New York.

Things could have gone better, but things could have definitely gone much worse. Given the developments and results over the final stretch of the season, though, and now that it should be clear on which rung of the contending ladder the Knicks are, it might be time to move on — whether Thibs and the FO like it or not.