Following their first playoff berth in eight seasons, the New York Knicks decided to build on their foundational groundwork this summer by investing in key players on their roster and tacking on more talent over free agency.
After they resigned point guard Derrick Rose to a three-year, $43 million-dollar deal and granted Julius Randle a contract extension of $117 million over the next four years, the Knicks also acquired point guard Kemba Walker to a two-year deal worth $17.9 million.
However, the biggest and most volatile acquisition the Knicks pulled off over the summer, was the sign-and-trade deal they made with the Boston Celtics for shooting guard Evan Fournier. Coming off an impressive Olympic performance with the French national team over the summer, the Knicks decided to pay Fournier the big bucks, signing him to a four-year deal worth $78 million dollars.
Until Randle’s contract extension kicks in next season, Fournier is currently the highest paid Knick on the roster, a reality that hasn’t been matched just yet by the performance level he’s managed to produce this season.
In 18 games, Fournier is averaging 12.8 points per game on 41.7% shooting from the field to go along with 2.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists. Mind you, he’s also averaging 28.9 minutes per game and is shooting just 37.9% from 3-PT range, tying his career average. Considering Fournier’s strengths are more offensively oriented, particularly with his ability to score from the perimeter and penetrate inside, his slow start is not a good sign for the Knicks and has become a growing concern.
Over the course of November, Fournier is only averaging 10.5 points per game on 40.7% shooting from the field with a low 32.3% average from behind the arc. Although it’s still early in the season along with the fact that he’s on a well-balanced scoring team, Fournier has fallen well below his contract expectations and has struggled to find his groove with the Knicks. Despite putting together a great performance against the Lakers this past Tuesday where he dropped 26 points, this was only the second time Fournier put up 20 points or more this season.
Outside of his shortcomings and inconsistencies offensively, Fournier’s defensive woes haven’t helped his case. At the forefront of this issue, is the reality that Fournier is a flat-footed defender. Because he doesn’t stay on the balls of his feet, Fournier’s movement is clumsy, slow, and lacks agility, all too often resulting in his opponents taking easy advantage of isolation matchups against him.
In addition, Fournier has also struggled playing around screens, frequently getting stuck going over the top rather than working underneath in order to allow himself to get a hand up against his opponents. As a result, he’s become a defensive liability and has been a significant contributor towards the perimeter woes the Knicks have struggled with.
Aside from the drop in his game throughout the month of November, the greatest factor that magnifies the extremity of this issue is the company of players Fournier is a part of in terms of contractual value.
If you look at the current list of the NBA’s highest paid players, Fournier currently makes the same if not more money than Bulls shooting guard Zach Lavine, Pacers power forward Domantas Sabonis, and Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, all of which were All Stars last year. From numbers to career credentials, Fournier doesn’t nearly match the talent level of any of these three players, and as a matter of fact, has never been selected to an All Star game (yet somehow, he’s making roughly the same amount as they are).
Despite the semi-hot start to his season in October, Fournier has really come up short with the expectations of his new contract. Although it’s his first season with the Knicks and we’re less than 20 games in, this is certainly not what the Knicks paid for and his continuous shortcomings have become a large thorn in the side of their starting lineup.
In short, Fournier has failed to live up to his role so far since arriving in New York and has proven to be a costly investment the Knicks might regret. And if he doesn’t turn around his slump soon, it would come to no surprise if the Knicks removed him from the starting rotation indefinitely.