At various times throughout the 2012-13 regular season, usually during garbage time in blowout games, rookie guard Evan Fournier offered us some occasional glimpses of his abilities and potential. But it wasn’t until Mar. 29, after Ty Lawson had joined Danilo Gallinari on the injured list, that Fournier was given his first meaningful opportunity to make an impact.
And did he ever..
His career high 19 points in 21 minutes, his feisty defense, and a confident poise that went well beyond his young age were a revelation to Nuggets fans who hadn’t yet been given the chance to see him fully showcase his talent. In the following game against the Utah Jazz he scored 18, and two games later against the Houston Rockets 17 points, all at very efficient percentages. The message over this four game stretch was loud and clear:
Evan Fournier is the real deal, and he’s only going to get better.
In this latest installment of the Roundball Mining Company Film Room, I have set out to make nothing less than the definitive video chronicle of Fournier’s coming out party using clips from the three games cited above. As such, the video is longer than the usual Film Room fare. But Fournier’s breakout merits an in-depth analysis of the defensiive and offensive prowess of the Frenchman who has become many Nuggets fans’ new favorite player.
As a final note before we dive in, it should be pointed out that the purpose of this scouting report is to examine Fournier’s skill, aptitude and potentiality, or in other words to focus on his positives with an eye to upside. There will likely come a time for us to look more critically at some weaknesses and things he could do better, but that is outside the scope of this project.
So without further ado, the video, with analysis below:
The last bullet point there is probably Fournier’s greatest strength as a defender. I said above that he plays beyond his years, and nowhere is that more apparent than in his defensive awareness. He has a great sense of where to force his assignment to go, and where to prevent him from going. He knows where the help defense will be, and how to channel his man straight into its clutches. And he does a good job of communicating with his teammates to ensure they’re all on the same page. The maturity he displays in handling his defensive responsibilities is a testament not only to the quality of player he is, but also to the value of the experience he got as a professional baller in France.
Solid defensive fundamentals
It’s often said that simply putting in effort is a big part of playing good defense. Andre Miller has gotten a lot of criticism here at RMC for not trying hard enough defensively (see Matt’s analysis here), and the difference in defensive energy when Fournier comes in for him drives the point home further. The rookie is busting his tail pretty much every minute he’s out there, fighting through screens, chasing his assignment around the court, not quite as frenetic as Corey Brewer, but active the whole way.
But it’s not just that he works hard. He’s on a very fast learning curve, and understands the Nuggets’ fairly complicated defensive system very well for a player with his limited experience. He clearly went into Denver with solid defensive fundamentals already tucked under his belt, and his awareness not only of his own responsibilities but also how they fit into the larger context of the team defense is very impressive. Though he does have his lapses, with more time and experience he has the potential to be one of the league’s better defending guards.
Fournier has the fourth highest steal percentage on the Nuggets, edging out Lawson and Chandler, themselves no slouches in the pickpocket department. (Interesting side note: Anthony Randolph is second, trailing only Brewer. Andre Iguodala is third.) As you can see, effort once again comes into play as a good amount of Fournier’s steals result from chasing down the ball handler. But he also has good length and a knack for reading and anticipating the offense, which puts him in a good position to disrupt plays and pick off passing lanes.
Fournier’s transition defense may be one of the most valuable aspects of his game. He has the speed and will to get back fast enough to break up some fast breaks, shaving potential points off the opponent’s total. And with his court vision and playmaking skills, when the transition defense forces a turnover, he’s able to facilitate scoring plays the other way.
I haven’t mentioned the playoffs thus far, but against the Golden State Warriors in particular, this aspect of his game could really be a boon for the Nuggets. The Warriors absolutely love to shoot quick 3-pointers in transition – it’s their bread and butter – and denying them too many easy, high value shot attempts could be the difference between a win or loss, and by extension, the series.
Driving and finishing
Driving and getting to the line
At the risk of being a bit too repetitive I included a ton of Fournier drives in the video because, well, that’s just how he rolls. As Scott Hastings and Chris Marlowe like to point out, he goes north and south, not east and west. It’s almost as if the basket is a bathtub drain or gravity well. The most natural path Fournier can follow leads him directly to the rim.
It’s this aspect of his game that has already earned him comparisons with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker (in strictly stylistic terms – no grandiose claims are being made here… yet). Layups and free throws resulting from drives comprise the source of the bulk of his scoring.
Of course, it turns out that Masai Ujiri knew exactly what he was doing when he drafted Fournier. His skill set is a perfect match for Denver’s dribble-drive-motion offense, with his ability to penetrate and get to the line, or make the good pass if he gets cut off. And those skills are combined with an utterly fearless, confident mentality. When he sees an opportunity to take it to the rim, there is no hesitation. It’s on.
In the few games he’s played a big role in so far, there have been few opposing defenders he hasn’t been able to beat off the dribble. And once he’s got that step on his man, there’s a high probability he’ll either get to the rim and score, or the defense will have to foul him to prevent that from happening. Quickness, ball handling and some Euro-stepping craftiness combine in drives that consistently slice through the paint, and if the defense allows him to get to the rim, he knows how to finish.
Solid offensive fundamentals
Decision making may be the most important area of improvement in Fournier’s game this season. Early on, he could get himself into trouble at times with some errant passing and poor shot selection (especially forcing up contested 3-pointers). We can see little of that now, which is an additional exhibit in the case for his high basketball IQ. He’s not without his flaws, but these days he makes very few of the brand of mistakes that would draw Karl’s ire.
One of the most enjoyable and interesting aspects of making this video was focusing on Fournier’s movement off the ball. When he is not the primary ball handler, more often than not he’ll drift down to the right corner. If the pass doesn’t come to him quickly, he’ll run the baseline (or more accurately, out of bounds behind the baseline), looking to open up a play by getting behind the defense. It’s an effective strategy, and using it he gets himself open for a good amount of easy shots at or near the basket.
Initiating plays in half court sets is an aspect of his game I’d like to see Fournier develop more. It’s because this part of his playmaking is somewhat limited, I presume, that Karl has Iguodala run the point even when Fournier’s on the floor ostensibly as the 1. But that’s a discussion for another time.
For now, the two areas of passing where Fournier is very proficient are (you guessed it) off dribble penetration and in transition. The former will become increasingly important as opponents start elevating his importance on their scouting reports and make a more concerted effort to cut off his drives. But the good news is that he has already displayed a great deal of competence in finding the open man when he draws in the defense in the paint.
In transition, playmaking is all about quick decision making, court vision and accuracy. And Fournier has the complete package. Next season, when he gets the regular rotation spot he has earned by now, and with it more experience playing alongside Denver’s best transition players, it’s a safe bet that we will see him initiating some pretty special transition plays. In fact, we already have.
Range and form
When Fournier was originally drafted, his shooting percentages from his time in the French League were worrisome. But once again, Ujiri is smarter than… well, apparently everyone. His selection finished the regular season as Denver’s second best 3-point shooter (.407) after Wilson Chandler (.413). Anecdotal evidence from shootarounds has Nuggets announcers and beat reporters convinced that his long range shot is legit. And his shooting form, while perhaps not having that Ray Allen elegance (though whose does?) is solid, well-balanced, and he gets good lift on his jumpers.
In the regular season, 78.6 percent of Fournier’s 3-pointers were assisted, which basically amounts to four out of five of his threes coming off catch-and-shoots. The great thing about this, when combined with the fact that he doesn’t hesitate on his drives, is that he hardly ever slows down the offense. When he gets the ball at the arc, it’s go time, one way or the other. And one need look no further than his 40 percent 3-point percentage and 70 percent at-rim percentage for confirmation that even though he’s making quick decisions, it’s usually the correct decision.
The only thing to add here which hasn’t already been addressed above (after all, many of these categories overlap each other in reality) is Fournier’s speed in getting up the court. He’s not the fastest guy on the team, but when Lawson’s in the mix that’s not a diss. He runs the floor well, but perhaps more importantly than that he has great timing, and gets off to a quick start (this applies to the defensive end as well). His compatibility with a team built on speed is, yet again, more evidence that Ujiri didn’t just draft Fournier for a reason, but for all the right reasons.
In closing, I think it’s safe to say that Nuggets Nation has a lot to be excited about when it comes to Evan Fournier. The impact he’s already made, the contributions he may make this postseason, and what now appears to be an extraordinarily bright future ahead of him.
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