With averages of 14.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, and a 38.9% three-point percentage, Evan Fournier had himself a very nice 2021-22 season. He wasn’t always loved by Knicks fans, however. His play, especially on the defensive end, often left a lot to be desired. But if you look at who Fournier is and what he was brought in to do, you can make a very strong argument that the French shooting guard did everything that was expected of him. In fact, I’d argue that he was even better than advertised.
Fournier certainly has his weaknesses. He is a revolving door on defense at times and tends to have some careless turnovers because of his lack of a consistent handle. We also saw him miss tons of floaters as he struggled to create separation from his defender and his lack of explosiveness limited the kind of angles he could create when trying to create his own shot. That being said, those who had seen Fournier as a member of the Orlando Magic knew that these were all things that came with the package that was the Evan Fournier experience.
Also a part of that experience though, is his elite three-point shooting (4th in the league in 3-pointers made last season). In the 2021-22 campaign, Fournier excelled as a spot-up shooter, where he finished 10th in the league in points per game, and in hand off situations, where he ranked sixth in the league in points per game. The many different ways in which he could get off a three-point shot was truly incredible and it was a big reason he ended up setting the Knicks’ franchise record for most three-pointers made in a single season. His movement and ability to catch fire at any given moment gave a Knicks offense that was abysmal at times a light of hope and he seemed to really thrive in that role.
And yet there have been rumblings of a potential change in the starting lineup heading into 2022-23. With coach Tom Thibodeau at the helm, the Knicks will continue to focus on defense in an attempt to make that their calling card once again. With the addition of undersized point guard Jalen Brunson, there may be a real concern about the Knicks’ point-of-attack defense, something the team struggled with at times last season. We were subjected to watching Kemba Walker and Fournier, in a joint effort, gave up straight-line drives to the rim. The pair often got burned by young and quick guards. While Brunson is younger, faster, stronger, and a better defender than Walker, it is reasonable for a team that wants to be known for their defense to be worried about the potential shortcomings of a Brunson and Fournier pairing.
In an attempt to combat this, the Knicks could and should start sophomore shooting guard Quentin Grimes. Grimes doesn’t have the name recognition around the league that Fournier does, but he is a damn good player, and his overall fit should make this a seamless transition. Grimes didn’t get nearly the same amount of minutes or opportunities that Fournier did, but when he was in there, he often made a lasting impression on Knicks fans. There is hope that with a bigger role, he could offer a lot of what Fournier offered.
Grimes (3.3 3PM/36) is almost as deadly of a shooter as Fournier (3.7 3PM/36) was last season and shot a very similar percentage at 38.1%. Also, despite Fournier’s prolific scoring as a spot-up shooter last season, Grimes actually had a higher effective field goal percentage at 63.2%, good for 16th in the league for players who had played at least 45 games. Fournier finished the season in the 87th percentile as a spot-up shooter while Grimes ranked in the 91st percentile.
If you look at their effectiveness and efficiency in handoff plays, Grimes again ranked in a higher percentile at 97.6%, which is 20 percentage points higher than Fournier. With Grimes’ ability play well off spot-ups and handoffs, two actions the Knicks loved to run for Fournier, he should be a great complementary offensive piece for Brunson, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett while being a huge upgrade on the defensive end. Just imagine a play like the one below where we see a motivated Randle rolling after setting a screen for Brunson and then making a quick pass out to Grimes. Or with Brunson’s incredibly efficient shooting from the corner, we could potentially see Randle setting a screen for Barrett with Brunson and Grimes as the two corner shooters to space the floor out.
Quentin Grimes' quick and high release is beautiful to see. He's 13-for-22 (59.1%) from the corner this season.— Ersin Demir (@EDemirNBA) January 16, 2022
For Atlanta it's worrying that it took only one decent P&R to totally dismantle their defense. pic.twitter.com/Jyxq5MukKt
Quentin Grimes' defense as a rookie last season was pretty dang impressive pic.twitter.com/0Rt4pOWHgS— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) July 5, 2022
Grimes isn’t necessarily a flashy defender, but he gets the job done on that end of the ball. The former first-round pick combines solid athleticism with really good fundamentals, discipline, and effort to make a lot of nice plays on defense. When he was getting consistent minutes in the middle of the season, we saw Grimes come up with quite a few all-out hustle plays where he closed out from the other side of the court. He also rotated really well for a rookie.
Grimes posted the third-highest loose balls recovered per 36 on the team, was third among qualifying players on the team in contested three-pointers per 36, and was third among rookies according to BBall Index’s On-Ball Defensive Metrics.
2021-22 Rookie On-Ball Defense metric leaders (min 500 minutes):— BBall Index (@The_BBall_Index) March 26, 2022
1. Ayo Dosunmu
2. Austin Reaves
3. Quentin Grimes
4. Davion Mitchell
5. Dalano Banton
Leaderboards Tool: https://t.co/JKt6Rp2O7i pic.twitter.com/xw8yvl2BC9
That’s not to to say Fournier was never active on the defensive end, but it seemed like Grimes had a knack for plays like in the clip below. This kind of energy is not only contagious but can often erase the mistakes of teammates which is huge considering the fact that Barrett, Brunson and Randle all struggle defensively at times.
I want to make sure Quentin Grimes gets his appreciation today.— Ersin Demir (@EDemirNBA) October 17, 2021
His very promising defense is providing the whole package. I like his active hands and the help defense for RJ at the post.
When rookies defend like this with the game on the line. That says a lot on what's coming! pic.twitter.com/F1sZzUmXjP
While Grimes may never turn into a superstar, he makes winning plays on both sides of the ball and is the exact type of 3-and-D player that every good team wants right now. His skillset should be perfect to play alongside the core starters, and will give the Knicks more defense without losing much shooting.
It may take a strong summer league showing from Grimes to convince Thibodeau, who we already know is hesitant on giving the keys to young players and a front office that is still responsible for paying Fournier $18 million next season. But inserting Grimes into the starting lineup is for sure a move that improves the team now and for the future.