• The Hennigan Plan, Part Three: Evan Fournier, Prototype

    I am one of the few people outside of Florida — for the moment — who enthusiastically believes that General Manager Rob Hennigan is crafting a perennial playoff contender in Orlando. In my first post examining his ways of team building, I looked back at the Dwight Howard trade; in the second installment, I looked at the very specific type of big man that Hennigan has acquired, post-Dwight. This time, I’ll look at the skill set provided by Evan Fournier, who became a member of the Magic this summer.

    Much like the Dwight Howard trade two years previous, Orlando’s trade for Fournier on Draft Night only sent so many catcalls of derision in Hennigan’s direction: in exchange for Fournier (and 2014 second-round pick Roy Devyn Marble), the Magic sent valued shooting guard Arron Afflalo back to Denver. Whether you look at simple measures, like points per game, or advanced metrics, like PER or Win Shares, the trade seems to make absolutely no sense for Orlando.

    When the trade was announced I, too, was startled by the apparent disparity on either side of the trade. Afflalo is the type of selfless and versatile player who can be an asset to any team — whether as a leader on a rebuilding squad like Orlando, or as perhaps as a bench scorer on a championship-caliber team. The Magic, to my mind, could only have given up such significant value if they also thought they were getting significant value in return. That is: the Orlando Magic specifically targeted Fournier.

    Fournier hardly seems like an asset that would command so much value in the trade market. His averages in his first two NBA years, both with the Denver Nuggets: 16.9 MPG / 7.4 MPG / 2.1 RPG / 1.4 APG / 11.1 PER. ESPN’s Adjusted Plus-Minus stat wasn’t a huge fan of his 2013-14 performance, either, ranking him the 149th-best player in the league, near uninspiring rotation players like Kyle Singler, Samuel Dalembert, or Jared Dudley.

    I don’t think that the Magic wanted to acquire Fournier on the basis of any analytics. Rather, I think that they watched Fournier and emerged very impressed with his preternatural ability to make the correct basketball decision, with or without the ball, on just about every play. Fournier’s game is well-rounded and team-oriented, he thrives when set in motion, and as a 6’6″ shooting guard, he fits in well with Orlando’s swelling ranks of lengthy wings.

    I would be surprised if Fournier ever averaged 15 points per game over an NBA season. Likewise, I would be surprised if he averaged 30 or more minutes a game over an NBA season. But these are hallow milestones compared to helping one’s team play with flow, vision, and selflessness, and this is what Fournier has already done, and will continue to do as a member of the Magic.

    Last year in Denver, Fournier was most definitely not helped by the shifty hodgepodge of players surrounding him in Denver, with the rotation never consistently set due to trades and injury. Fournier’s effectiveness — although maybe not his stats — will expand when he is surrounded by players who play with similar vision, ingenuity, and movement. This is exactly the type of roster that Orlando already has, populated with opportunistic cutters and cerebral thinkers. Fournier is being put in a position to succeed here. This is a long-term solution.

    Fournier reads the court excellently and takes full advantage of any lapses in the defense. Thanks to his excellent 3-point shooting (38.1% so far in the NBA), in Denver he started all offensive sets on the perimeter. His defenders, perhaps quite used to defending “3-and-D” type players, would lose focus and help, which Fournier would respond to with a precise cut for lay-ups.

    Here’s Fournier burning none other than Dwyane Wade with this exact move. As the set begins, Wade’s attention on Fournier is already pretty loose:

    FournierCut2-compressed

    Once Wade totally turns his head to ball-watch — notice that Wade’s actual position has hardly changed, Fournier is watching where Wade’s eyes go — Fournier is off. Because the Nuggets are using J.J. Hickson on the perimeter as a screener, that means that Miami’s center, Chris Andersen, is out on the perimeter too. The key is wide open for Fournier:

    FournierCut2.2

    Lawson hits the speeding Fournier with a short pass, and it’s a simple lay-up (and in a two-for-one situation as well).

    FournierCut2.3

    Here’s Fournier doing the exact same thing against — gasp – the Spurs, catching his countryman Boris Diaw ballwatching. Again, Fournier waits for the precise time that Diaw’s gaze wanders away. It’s quite the shrewd move:

    FournierCut1-compressed

    FournierCut1-compressed (1)

    FournierCut1-compressed (2)

    FournierCut1-compressed (3)

    Fournier is also an expert at reading screens — with or without the ball — and using the disruptive event of the screen to read the defender’s counter-action, and then immediately countering that action. As he drives through the key, Fournier usually makes the right decision when it comes to passing to an open teammate, or, if there are no openings, taking the shot himself.

    This is not to idealize Fournier as a basketball player. He certainly has his weaknesses — namely, fading into the background of games on last year’s disjointed Nuggets team. Fournier is not the type of talent that shines on an individual basis. Another large area of improvement is his short-range shooting. According to basketball-reference.com, Fournier shot an appalling 33.3% on shots that were taken from 3-10 feet of the basket. I think the reason for this is that Fournier has below-average strength for an NBA player: many of his drives would end with a fading-away, circus lay-up, perhaps even from outside the key, instead of a strong finish at the rim.

    Then again, Fournier is far from the only player on the Magic to have low shooting percentages, as was unanimously pointed out when Hennigan drafted two low-accuracy shooters in Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton in the 2014 Draft. (At the very least, Hennigan is zigging when so many teams are zagging towards a 3-point-dependent offense.) Fournier is only 21. His career is just starting.

    (Photo Credit: David Bernardeau)

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