When Evan Fournier's name was announced as Denver's 20th pick of the 2012 NBA draft, many in Nuggets Nation were baffled as the shooting guard from France wasn't a household name. Even though he appeared in 38 games for the Nuggets last season and shot over 40.7 percent from three point land, not many people around the league took notice either.
"I knew absolutely nothing about him at all," said Brian Shaw about Fournier. "Being in the Eastern Conference the last two years, I wasn't very familiar with him at all."
Surely a division rival at the same position would be familiar with Fournier and know a bit about him.
"Not much," said Randy Foye (formerly of the Utah Jazz). "I think the first couple of times we played against Denver he didn't play. He played, I think, the last game [against us], he didn't score much, but you could tell he was a pretty smart player."
It's hard to blame Foye for not recalling a game back on April 3rd, 2013 in Utah, but Nuggets fans likely remember it well. Perhaps Foye should have paid attention to a March 29th game the Nuggets played against the Nets where Fournier scored 19 points (a career high at the time) to help the Nuggets get a much needed win. Because Fournier, in Denver's next game, put up 18 points against Foye on 7-9 shooting (1-2 from deep and 3-3 free throws) to help the Nuggets get a huge 113-96 win on the road against the Jazz in their final meeting, while holding Foye to just 7 points on 2-9 shooting. Before that, in three games against Utah, Fournier played just 24 minutes and scored 9 total points.
Both Shaw and Foye are taking notice of "Frenchie" or "Air France" (as his teammates call him) now.
"One thing I didn't know that I know now? I didn't know he could shoot the ball as well as he can," said Foye. "He's an extremely hard worker and a really smart player."
"I've been pleasantly surprised," said Shaw. "[Fournier] has good size - I like size at the guard position, he's versatile - he can play the one, two, and the three. It's apparent that he's starting to become more comfortable in what we're trying to get out of him out there on the floor. We want him to gain confidence as we go along; we want to try to put him in position to succeed. He's going to be important to our team at the backup two position for now, but ultimately we want him to challenge to be the starting two guard for us."
After practice is over, Fournier can usually be found dragging out the perfect-shot machine and launching three pointers, or working on moving jumpers and free throws with Andre Miller and whatever assistant is available to shag balls, or doing dribbling drills with coach Chris Farr where Fournier dribbles a basketball in one hand and a racquetball in the other, or involved in three-point shooting contests with a slew of players.
One thing that Foye is trying to teach Fournier is how to be a consistent player. Whenever you talk to NBA veterans they all seem to circle around the same topic: consistency. It's difficult to play 82 games the right way, but players must figure it out.
"I try to let him know, every single day until it's over, until that last buzzer rings in June, it's every single day. You have to work, you have to bring it," said Foye. "You can't have a streak or a span of five or ten games or two or three good games; you have to be able to do it on a nightly basis."
Fournier figures to play a lot more this season as Foye's backup. He'll have to fight for minutes with Nate Robinson and likely Andre Miller, too. One area he must improve on, like most of his teammates, is on the defensive end.
"He has a good understanding of how the game is supposed to be played," said Shaw. "I think where he can take the biggest steps, the biggest strides, is on the defensive end - especially playing against guards that are more athletic or a lot quicker than him. His tendency is to drop his hands and use his hands instead of slide his feet and it gets him in foul trouble. And that's what, sometimes, keeps his minutes down is because he's his own worst enemy when it comes to defending without fouling."
Fournier's work ethic is his strong suit and his coach could have trouble keeping him off the court if he can stay out of foul trouble.
"I still have to find my position with all the new players, but I feel good," said Fournier. "I know I've got to be aggressive all the time."
Evan will likely be asked to be a play-maker this season with the ball in his hands. He also moves so well without the ball that the new offense could cater to his skill-set, even more-so than last season.
"The more we are going to play inside," said Fournier. "The more we are going to have wide open shots [on the perimeter]."
And the perimeter is a place where Fournier is quite comfortable. Coming to the Nuggets, it was thought he didn't have great range as he shot under 30-percent overseas from the outside. Fournier quieted those thoughts as he hit 22-54 threes last season. He should get a lot more shots up this year with his increased role. His per-36 numbers indicate that he is a 17.0 points per game player, but in reality he'll have a successful season if he can be a consistent threat off the bench and push Foye for minutes.
In a season where the Nuggets will be looking to prove their worth, Fournier will be following suit.
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