Evan Fournier struggling to find role on Brian Shaw's team

Doug Pensinger

Once the heir apparent at the shooting guard position for the Nuggets, Evan Fournier has become lost in Brian Shaw's rotation. Will Fournier find a way to produce meaningful contributions even as his minutes decline?

Where is Evan Fournier?

After playing 21 minutes in a 122-111 loss at the Houston Rockets on November 16th, Fournier's minutes on the court have steadily declined. In the last five games leading up to the contest against the Nets at the Barclay's Center on December 3rd, he had played an average of just 5.4 minutes and has gone 0-6 from the floor, scored 1 point, contributed 2 rebounds, dished 1 assist and committed 2 fouls. Much of his playing time has been subsumed by Randy Foye and Nate Robinson, who have both played very well and filled the role of an outside shooter so desperately needed by the team.

Under George Karl, Evan Fournier first showed that he was capable of blossoming into a special player in a home win over the Brooklyn Nets (natch). In that contest back on March 29th, Evan shot 6-9 from the floor in 20 minutes, hit all 6 free throw attempts and filched 2 steals. He ended up with 19 points, and Nuggets nation began to believe that "Le Cap" might well be on his way to becoming a valuable asset at the off-guard spot. His wiry frame and quick and crafty play endeared him to many Nuggets fans immediately, and Fournier showed that his silky jumper could be a big weapon in the future:

Although he had several other excellent games the remainder of the year - including a career high 24 point effort in a home win over the Blazers - the 20 year old (at the time) was exposed in the playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. After an 11 point effort in Denver's first home win, Evan scored just 8 points in his final three games. It was clear that despite showing flashes of brilliance, he was intimidated by the intense pressure of the NBA playoffs. It was great seasoning for Fournier, who will likely continue to mature into a solid rotation player, but it also showed that he wasn't quite ready for the game at the highest level.

With the rough early start to the season (and after getting a wrist tattoo in the offseason), some called for Fournier to start over Foye, believing that the struggling Nuggets might be sparked by an infusion of Fournier's youthful energy. Yet the resilient Nuggets have bounced back, rattling off seven straight wins while Foye and Robinson have played incredibly well. Meanwhile, Fournier's minutes have declined even as he's gone into a shooting slump. In fact, he's gone 1-10 from the floor since Denver's home win over Dallas on November 23rd. At this point, the only player playing fewer minutes each game than him is Quincy Miller. There's simply too much depth as the Nuggets continue their good play for him to see the floor for significant minutes.

Last night, Evan Fournier was inserted early in the 4th quarter against the Cavaliers to try and spark a sluggish Nuggets offense. With Anderson Varejao and Anthony Bennett flopping all over the court, though, Fournier was again unable to get into a rhythm, and in just 5 minutes turned the ball over and committed a foul. As his time diminishes further, it's simply impossible to truly evaluate how well Fournier is truly playing. I would love to see more from the kid, but Shaw keeping him off the court right now is probably the right decision.

It's easy to look at Fournier's season so far as a big disappointment. I know that I had some wild expectation that his good play might move Foye to the bench, but even then I was wary of anointing Fournier too early in his young career. He still struggles with the sheer physicality of the modern NBA, and his body language has reflected his frustration at an inability to impact the court in the way he desires, especially after being relatively dominant with Poitiers in France. He's wavered between showing the ability to make driving dunks in the lane and swish contested threes and fumbling the ball off his hip and lobbing turnaround airballs. He's also shooting an alarmingly low 59% from the free throw line, 12% lower than his career average 71%, reflecting a troubled mind trying to gain its focus. He is still a project.

Yet even with his struggles of late, there's more good than bad. He is just 21 years old, and could easily be averaging 20 minutes a game as a sixth man - if not a starter - on many other teams. With time on the floor, Fournier has proven that he can produce. Even if he doesn't see the floor as often as some may like this season, Nuggets fans should be mindful to count their blessings and remember that their team is simply playing too well for a still very young Fournier to do much more than watch - and learn.

And maybe hit the weight room.

Check out highlights from Evan Fournier's career night against the Blazers earlier this year ...


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