Knicks’ Evan Fournier has started the new year on a tear

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The New York Knicks have won four of their last five games, primarily thanks to RJ Barrett and three 30+ point performances during that time span.

Since the start of the new year, Barrett has been the team’s primary scorer and leader, but free-agent acquisition Evan Fournier has gone under the radar as a productive member the past two weeks. Fournier started the season struggling in October, but November and December showcased a shell of a player compared to his productive seasons in Boston and Orlando.

Fournier averaged 11.3 points during November and shot 36% from deep and 40.5% from the field. He cracked 20 points just twice in 15 games, and his December wasn’t much better. While he did enjoy a streak of three games where he posted 23, 32, and 22 points apiece, he was largely ineffective averaging 12.7 points.

However, several members of the Knicks have taken a significant step forward in January, including Fournier. The French native is averaging 18.4 points, including a 41 point outing against Boston on January 6 and shooting 52.6% from range. While he had one anomaly against Indiana where he scored zero points over 22 minutes, he bounced back with a lucrative performance against his former team.

With Fournier playing at a high level offensively, it takes a ton of pressure off players like Julius Randle. It has also opened up opportunities for Barrett, as opposing teams are forced to spread their defense out to tame multiple playmakers.

When looking at Fournier‘s advanced statistics, he’s experiencing a few interesting numbers. The majority of his three-point attempts are coming assisted this year, witnessing a drop off of 10% in unassisted three-point field goals made. He hovers at 11.2%. His three-point field goals made assisted is at 88.8%, the highest it’s been since 2013 with Denver.

Another interesting statistic is his free-throw points scored. Only 8.1% of his total points have been via free throws. That is the lowest in his entire career by a significant margin, logging 15% last year with Boston and Orlando. Clearly, the Knicks are asking him to be more of a three-point shooter than driving to the basket picking up fouls along the way. 58.9% of his points are coming from the three-point line, the highest of his career by a massive margin.

Clearly, the analytics department saw him as a shooting threat, and they have finally found a sufficient role for him to start the new year, recording nearly 20 points per game. They desperately needed to extract the maximum value after signing him to a four-year, $73 million contract. It was always going to take time for Fournier to adjust to his new role, but it seems as if he’s finally settling in and developing legitimate chemistry with his teammates.

Knicks News: Fournier shows his value, Barrett earns much-needed confidence boost

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The New York Knicks are coming off a 25 point come-back win against the Boston Celtics on Thursday evening, stringing together two consecutive games after the return of Julius Randle.

Randle will plaster the headlines with his crude remarks after the game, displaying hostility after fans unleashed criticism over the past few weeks as a result of inconsistent performances. However, Randle finished the game with 22 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and two steals. This is his second consecutive game with 20+ points, earning 30 and 16 rebounds against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night.

While the star power forward contributed heavily in the win, it was sharpshooter Evan Fournier who stepped up to the plate and delivered arguably his best performance of the season.

Fournier contributed 41 points and eight rebounds and shot 10 of 14 from the three-point range. He’s been widely unpredictable this season, but his resilience led him to a dominant outing against his former club.

“When you go through a season like that where there’s a lot of inconsistency…you start the day with a fresh attitude,” Fournier said. 
Mental strength is an essential part of being a player in the NBA, shaking off poor performances like Fournier’s evening against Indiana where he scored zero points over 22 minutes, and coming back fresh the next day.
Most would agree that the French native isn’t living up to his four-year, $73 million contract he signed this past off-season, averaging just 13.5 points per game and shooting 38.1% from three-point range. While his conversion rate from deep is slowly climbing, especially after shooting 40% over his last 10 games, they need more consistency from him moving forward, as the offense lacks efficiency when he’s not at the top of his game.
Aside from his incredible game, it was third-year guard RJ Barrett that stepped up and delivered the most crucial basket of the evening, a buzzer-beater with 1.5 seconds left on the clock.

When Barrett was asked if he thought the ball would go in when he heaved up a shot with 1.5 seconds left, he said with confidence: “Of course.”

RJ is another player that has experienced ebbs and flows of production the season, averaging 15.6 points per game over 31.3 minutes. Last season, Barrett set the stage for a hopeful lucrative third season, averaging 17.6 points and shooting 40% of three point range over 34.9 minutes.
RJ has seen a steep drop off in three-point efficiency — 7%. His field-goal percentage has dropped 4%, and his assist numbers are down nearly one pregame. While these regressions could result from strategy change and flow given the new additions on the team, Barrett showcased why the Knicks are so high on his capabilities.
RJ is one of those players that feed off confidence, and hitting this game-winner against Boston should give him a significant boost heading into a second game against the Celtics on Saturday night at the TD Garden.

One Knicks youngster who should be eating into Evan Fournier’s minutes

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At some point, New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau has to give Evan Fournier the Kemba Walker treatment. While it would be incredibly disappointing to bench a player the front office signed to a four-year, $73 million contract after just 32 games played, at the very least, his minutes must be reduced.

Fournier is averaging 29.3 minutes per game this season, in line with his total from last year when he averaged 13 points, 3.1 assists, 1.3 steals and posted a +2.8 +/-. In fact, his offensive rating was better last season, but his defensive rating also showcased more efficiency. This season, Fournier hosts the worst net rating of his entire career at -7.0, with an assist percentage down to 9.3% compared to 17% last year.

Whether it be the players around Fournier or the scheme that Thibodeau is utilizing, he looks like a fraction of the player the Knicks spent big money on this past off-season. After letting Reggie Bullock walk in free agency, it seems as if the Knicks desperately need a 3-and-D player — someone who will post up in the corner and get into advantageous positions to hit shots but also provide adequate defense. Fournier heaves shots off his back foot and off-balance, resulting in wild misses.

The French native has failed to equate his scoring abilities with even average defense. The Knicks may consider using Quentin Grimes in a more prominent role considering his metrics.

Grimes spent the last 10 days on the Covid health and safety protocols list, finally being activated against the Washington Wizards on Thursday night, despite not making an appearance. Grimes is averaging just 3.6 points over 8.5 minutes per game, making 14 appearances this season. However, before he sustained a positive Covid test, he had an electrifying performance against the Milwaukee Bucks on December 12.

Against Milwaukee, Grimes posted 27 points, shooting 53.8% from deep and recording three assists and three steals. His aggressive style of defense is exactly what the Knicks need at the shooting guard position. Fournier’s inconsistent feet and positioning put the team in a state of vulnerability.

Ultimately, the Knicks can’t justify benching Fournier completely, but taking five minutes or so from his about 30 per game could go unnoticed, with Grimes showcasing talented defensive attributes.

Grimes has a defensive rating of 107.8, but his offense has come up short under a small sample size. However, Evan has been wildly inconsistent with his shooting, hitting just 18.2% of his three-point attempts against Washington on Thursday, good for just 2 of 11. That is an unsustainable success rate, and while he has been more efficient over the past week or so, he still shooting 31.3% from deep in the month of December and 36.4% on the season, down 4% from last year.

Do you think that the Knicks should give Grimes some of Fournier’s minutes? Comment here!

Big Mis-Steak! Knicks’ Evan Fournier drained by terrible Texas steak

New York Knicks‘ swingman Evan Fournier did not have his usual lift in his shots. Fournier scored seven points for the second straight game while shooting below 40 percent. Worse, he couldn’t stay in front of Indiana Pacers’ rookie guard Chris Duarte.

Duarte punished Fournier and the Knicks with a game-high 23 points on 9 of 11 shooting. The Knicks tumbled to a 122-102 loss Wednesday night in Indianapolis that quickly eroded their feel-good win in San Antonio the night before.

It turned out it wasn’t just the grueling travel and the short turnaround time bothering Fournier. He was under the weather.

“I thought I was doing better, to be honest for those two games,” Fournier said. “I won’t say the name of the restaurant but I had a terrible steak in San Antonio. I’ve been fighting like I had food poisoning stuff. I can’t move.”

Fournier actually enjoyed his steak. His ordeal started the following day. He tried to play through it but shot only 3 of 8, including an atrocious 1 of 6 from downtown against the Spurs. Good thing RJ Barrett was red-hot. The Knicks won, 121-109, to cover up Fournier’s stinker.

Against Duarte and the Pacers, Fournier felt better. But his performance got worse. He shot 2 for 6 from the field and committed four fouls, a clear sign that he was defending with his hands and not with his feet.

Fournier revealed he couldn’t eat well after his ‘big mis-steak’ in San Antonio.

“I have to get it right [Thursday]. I have a day off [Thursday] to feel better. To be honest, I thought I was playing better and better. You just have to be better physically,” Fournier said. “It’s a shame because the steak was actually very good.”

Fournier’s poor showing on both ends of the floor epitomized the Knicks’ lackluster play.

New York opened the game with a 4-0 lead. But Indiana’s embattled team fought back. Perhaps getting clarity from the management following a meeting centered on the group’s reported shakeup, the Pacers responded with inspired basketball. They staged a 12-0 run and never looked back.

Duarte, who entered the game with a 13.1-point average, scored 14 in the opening quarter. Reported trade chips Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis combined for 10 points. The Pacers led by seven after the first 12 minutes before it swelled to as large as 27 points in the second half.

“I don’t think anybody played good defense tonight. So I think we’re all in the same bag. The execution was just not good enough,” Fournier said.

All nine Knicks players in the rotation had negative plus-minus. Only the third-stringers, sent in during garbage time, yielded positive plus-minus. Fournier sat out the entire fourth quarter for the 12th time under Tom Thibodeau, the most in a single season over his entire career.

“Sometimes if you give in to whatever is ailing you or whatever it might be, in this league, you can find an excuse every night if you want to,” Thibodeau said.

The 29-year old Frenchman pointed to their individual preparation and approach to the game as the key to turning things around. It didn’t help that they were playing on the second night of back-to-back schedule with little turnaround time from Wednesday’s night game in San Antonio.

“It kind of throws you off your routine but we’ve all been there,” Fournier said. “So how do you prepare for a game like that? We knew coming in it was going to be physical because we’ve played them three times already including in the preseason. You have to get ready for that type of game regardless of circumstances. We didn’t do that.”

It has been the Knicks’ conundrum after a rousing 5-1 start to the season. They’ve become consistently inconsistent since then. They’ve never had a win streak since October.

Fournier acknowledged that the team is well aware of their biggest problem.

“We all know what we have to do and yet we keep on being inconsistent. I don’t know. I wish I had the answer,” Fournier said. “The biggest area where we have to get better is execution.”

“You can run a simple play but if you have good timing, if you have good screens, you have good spacing, it changes everything compared to when you’re being a little casual, not executing with full speed and you just wait for the last five seconds of the possession to attack. It’s exactly the same way defensively. When you get into the ball, you get more physical, drive your guy out of the paint, it makes a huge difference.”

But the lack of practice time because of the grueling and cramped schedule has been holding them back from ramping up building early-season chemistry. The Knicks came to Wednesday’s game mentally prepared. But physically, they were not.

“The game plan was pretty simple. We know that they have guys that love to reject the pick and roll. And we can’t let that keep from happening. We know they were gonna push the ball early because of how they play. And we didn’t run back in transition and rebounds,” Fournier said.

The Pacers dictated the tempo from the get-go. They entered the game averaging 12.7 fastbreak points (11th in the NBA). They came away with 26 points in transition, 10 in the opening quarter.

The Knicks froze on defense.

The Pacers crashed the boards (+6 in rebounds) and attacked the rim (+16 points in the paint). They averaged 47.8 points inside the paint (8th in the NBA) in their first 26 games. They had 60 against the Knicks.

The absence of Nerlens Noel, who was a late scratch with a sore lower back, also messed up Knicks rotation. Taj Gibson tried to fill his spot in the starting unit, but Turner abused him. The taller and heftier Indiana center had 22 points on 8 of 13 shooting. Gibson was scoreless in 18 minutes. Mitchell Robinson, who was fabulous in San Antonio, picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter. He never had the same impact after that.

“They have some weapons — they have guys that can score,” Fournier said of the Pacers. “They have bigs that can stretch the floor. To be honest, they just outplayed us physically. They were more physical and we’re more into the game.”

Sabonis (21 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 0 turnovers) outdueled Julius Randle (18 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 turnovers) in the battle of All-Star forwards.

Thibodeau refused to pin the blame on either Fournier or Randle alone.

“It’s not one particular guy. Everyone has to bring energy. You can’t like shortcut anything,” Thibodeau said. “Your offense is timing and spacing. Your defense is your commitment to each other. You’re not going to feel your best every night in this league. That’s part of it. That’s why conditioning is important.”

 

Now the Knicks are back to square one — a mediocre .500 team that has yet to find its solid footing more than a quarter into the season. A string of disappointments always follows one feel-good win.

“The games keep coming. We’ve been a very good road team all year. This is the challenge. We’ll go to Toronto next. Sometimes the schedule is in your favor. Sometimes it’s not. And when it’s not, you still gotta play and you gotta find a way to get it done,” Thibodeau said.

Despite the loss, the Knicks still have a winning record (7-5) on the road. They have a chance to close out their three-game road trip with a win on Friday against the Raptors, who fell to Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night, 110-109.

But it’s easier said than done.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks’ Julius Randle details heated exchange with Evan Fournier after first half collapse

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With the first half coming to an end on Thursday evening against the Chicago Bulls, the New York Knicks stepped off the floor in disarray. After allowing 37 points in the first quarter and 32 points in the second quarter, Knicks’ forward Julius Randle and guard Evan Fournier were seen arguing as they walked off the floor in a heated exchange.

Both players suggested it was a form of communication, and that it benefited the team as a whole, coming out entirely different in the second half, mounting a 21 point comeback despite the loss.

“It looks like we’re arguing,” Randle said. “…. We went to the locker room (to) talk it out. We say regardless, at the end of the day we’ve got each other’s back and we’re in this together. That’s important.

Competitive communication is a positive, and it clearly helped the Knicks score 32 points in the third quarter, holding Chicago to just 20.

“…. You can have differences. You can communicate and talk and say what you see on the court. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to know that we’re riding with each other regardless.

Randle finished the game with 30 points, despite missing several clutch free throws down the stretch and turning the ball over in the most important moment. With fatigue building and a lack of awareness, Randle helped blow a second consecutive game, something the Knicks simply cannot afford to do after fighting their way back in both contests against Brooklyn and Chicago.

However, it is good to see the players showing competitive spirit, as Fournier indicated communication like this needs to happen, as letting things boil can lead to bigger issues.

“I think the key was communicating,” Fournier said afterward. “I would rather have that than not saying anything and hold grudges and stuff. So, stuff like that happens all the time and I’m glad it happened, because we played much better in that third quarter.”

The Knicks one will look ahead to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday afternoon at 1 PM. Denver has lost seven of their last eight games, recently falling to the Orlando Magic, arguably the worst team in basketball.

The Knicks have a fantastic opportunity to bounce back and get back on the win column after falling to .500 on the season.

Evan Fournier relishes first taste of Knicks-Nets rivalry: It felt like a home game

Evan Fournier almost ended up as the hero for the New York Knicks when he sank a game-tying triple with 17 seconds left. But unheralded Brooklyn Nets’ forward James Johnson had other plans.

The Nets drew the first blood in the Battle of New York this season with a gut-wrenching 112-110 win over the Knicks Tuesday night before a sellout crowd of 18,081. It was the largest attendance to a Nets’ home game in franchise history. Thanks, in large part, to the Knicks fans who invaded the Barclays Center in Atlantic Avenue.

“That was my first time playing Brooklyn as a Knick. It was fun. It felt like a home game,” Fournier said after Wednesday’s practice. “The atmosphere was great. It’s too bad we couldn’t get a win.”

It was jarring to watch Kevin Durant and James Harden, two of the league’s superstars, getting booed at their homecourt. But the Knicks fans made it happen, drowning the Nets’ fans at times. Even Julius Randle got MVP chants in his lone trip at the line.

“It was cool,” Fournier said. “We would have won like nobody cares when you lose.”

Fournier said they were all upset they lost a big game. But they were encouraged that it was just a one-possession game against the preseason title favorites.

“So the difference between winning and losing in a lot of games is very, very small. In a lot of games, we were up 15 and blew up leads. So, I think we can be really good and you know, I’m talking about elite, but we have to do it for 48 minutes,” Fournier said. “And when we start doing that, we’re going to take off.”

Inconsistency had been the Knicks’ biggest woe this season. But 20 games into the season, Tom Thibodeau made a drastic change to the lineup, dropping the 6-foot-1 Kemba Walker from the rotation in favor of the 6-foot-6 Alec Burks. After two games, the Knicks look more like last season’s team that grinded out wins with Thibodeau’s signature defense.

They held the Nets to just eight triples on 28.6 percent shooting. But Durant took over down the stretch with 11 points in the final 5:45 of the game. The Nets entered the game averaging 12.9 3s on a 37.5 percent mark. The Knicks perimeter defender is much improved with Burks in the starting lineup. In Burks’ first starting gig, they limited the Hawks to only nine triples on a dreadful 24.3 percent clip.

One of the upsides of the Burks experiment is his size which gave them versatility on switching defense. It threw off Trae Young and the Hawks over the weekend. But the Nets posed a different challenge.

“We didn’t get to switch much really because just the way [Brooklyn] played,” Fournier said. “They played so much isolation and that they don’t really screen so much so it didn’t really have an impact [Tuesday night].”

Their third showdown with the Chicago Bulls this season Thursday night at home will offer a different challenge to the refurbished Knicks’ defense. The Bulls have more weapons offensively than the Nets, with the trio of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic. Add defensive-minded guards Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso to the mix, who can also hurt on offense.

“They give you a different challenge because DeMar is such a unique player. He operates out of the midrange which is a lost art nowadays. Zach is extremely explosive. They’re just a well-built [team],” Fournier said.

“They have Vooch, who is back, that can really stretch the floor as a big. And they play hard. We owe them one and [Thursday’s game] will be interesting. The first two games in Chicago were intense, hard-fought battles and I expect that [on Thursday].”

The Bulls will be without key reserve Coby White, who has entered the health and safety protocols after testing positive for Coronavirus. White had 14 pts, hitting big shots in the fourth quarter, against the Knicks in the Bulls’ 109-103 win last month.

The Bulls and the Knicks enter Thursday night’s showdown with a winning record after at least 20 games for the first time since 2013, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

It will be a defensive slugfest as the Bulls currently sport the fourth-best defensive rating in the league (105.4). On the other hand, the Knicks are starting to regain their defensive identity after the recent change. It’s one of Thibodeau’s primary considerations when he made the bold move to yank a well-respected and accomplished player like Walker. 

Fournier said the chemistry of the starting lineup is fine. Except for a lackadaisical start in the third quarter where they dug a 16-point hole against the Nets, the starters looked more compact and engaged for the most part since the lineup change.

“I thought we started the game well. You know, AB is a really good player. He’s smart. We’re basketball players. We know how to make plays for each other. We’re gonna get a feel for each other and keep growing.”

Burks is an instant hit with the staring lineup recording season-highs in scoring in two consecutive games. Over the last two games he started, Burks is averaging 24.0 points and four triples on a 42/47/73 shooting split along with 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.0 steals.

Perhaps in respect to Walker, whom he shared a bond dating back to last season in Boston, and with just a couple of games in, Fournier deferred giving his judgment on the new makeup of the starting lineup.

“It’s kind of hard to answer because you need to see a bigger sample and get lessons from it. Kemba and Alec are different players. They bring different things to the table,” Fournier said. “So it’s a wait-and-see, really.”

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Knicks’ win over Hawks show Julius Randle can thrive in different role

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The Atlanta Hawks loaded up on New York Knicks star Julius Randle again in their first meeting since their stirring win in last season’s playoffs. But this time, Randle knew better.

His line for the night — eight points on 3 of 14 shots, 11 rebounds, eight coming off the defensive glass, and four assists — didn’t tell the whole story.

Randle had his second straight single-digit scoring. But unlike last year’s first-round exit and last Saturday’s ugly loss to the Phoenix Suns, Randle did a lot of other stuff to impact winning.

Randle crashed the boards, set up good screens, played solid defense on switches, and made good decisions, especially in the second half when the Hawks threw double teams on him.

“When you’re that type of player, you’re going to command a lot of attention and I thought he made a lot of good plays for us. If a team overloads on you, you have to understand that there’s an advantage on the weak side. So we got to trust the pass. I thought he made a number of really good plays,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said.

Randle could have ended up with more assists, but his teammates missed a chunk of the shots he generated. According to NBA.com’s tracking stats, Randle made 39 passes, 18 leading to a shot attempt. Alec Burks and Evan Fournier combined to shoot only 3 of 12 off Randle’s passes while Immanuel Quickley missed both.

RJ Barrett made 2 of 3, but only this shot was credited to Randle as an assist.

Randle was at his best in the third quarter. He complemented Burks’ 15-point explosion with six points on 3 of 6 shooting, grabbed four boards, and issued two assists, including a nifty pass to Jericho Sims. The Knicks avoided the dreaded third quarter of doom and outscored the Hawks, 34-24.

“I think when you play like that, everyone gets into a rhythm. It’s the right way to play,” Thibodeau said.

With Kemba Walker resting and Derrick Rose still nursing an ankle sprain, Randle returned to his last season’s role as a point forward alongside Burks in the starting lineup.

Burks, who is comfortable either on or off the ball, thrived, and it created more synergy in the starting lineup as both RJ Barrett and Fournier also got going offensively.

Burks had a season-high 23 points on 17 shots, seven rebounds, and three assists in his first start this season. Fournier added 20 points on 7 of 13 shooting while Barrett broke out of a 10-game slump with 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting.

“With Julius, even if he’s not scoring a lot, he’s doing so much out there,” Barrett said. “Just having him out there draws the attention of the whole defense. They got to focus on it and make it easier for all of us to play. So when we’re playing like that, hopefully, we can get him some easy buckets as well.”

Burks made 12 passes to Randle, which led to three attempts at the basket. But Randle missed all of them while he only made 1 of 5 off Barrett’s passes.

Despite the Hawks loading up on him, Randle still got some good looks at the basket that didn’t go in.

Four of his nine misses were wide open, with the closest defender from 4 to 6 feet away, according to NBA.com tracking stats. He was 2 for 7 on tight shots or with a defender 2 to 4 feet away and made 1 of 3 very tight shots (the defender is 0-2 feet away).

All three of his made field goals came within 10 feet from the basket. He was 0 for 3 from catch and shoot and missed all four pullups.

But even when his shots were not falling, Randle made his presence felt in a big way. The win in Atlanta showed how deep the Knicks are. But more than that, it also showed that Randle could thrive in a different role.

Forget about being LeBron James lite. A Draymond Green-type of role in a team loaded with gunners is better-suited for Randle. He can set the tone defensively with his versatility, especially on switches, and still be the offensive engine that keeps the Knicks chugging forward with his vision.

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Pressure mounts as shorthanded, out of sync Knicks face soaring Hawks

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The embattled New York Knicks will go into last season’s playoff rematch severely shorthanded against the soaring Atlanta Hawks.

The Knicks will be without Kemba Walker (rest) in the second night of the back-to-back schedule. Walker will join Derrick Rose (sprained right ankle) and Taj Gibson (sore groin) on the sidelines. Nerlens Noel, who limped Friday night in their 118-97 loss to the red-hot Phoenix Suns, could join them as he is listed as questionable to play with a sore right knee.

The Hawks are coming off a 132-100 rout of the Memphis Grizzlies also on Friday night. It was their seventh consecutive win after a 4-9 start.

“You don’t win seven games in a row without playing good basketball and being connected,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said after the game.

It’s a stark contrast to the Knicks’ current temperament.

When Evan Fournier and Walker joined in the offseason, there was an inflated expectation that the Knicks would be better than the team that Hawks tossed in the first round in just five games. But so far, the Knicks’ current 10-9 record suggests otherwise.

The starters had their moments in their last few games, but their inconsistencies have been perplexing even to Tom Thibodeau, whose hallmarks of defense and disciplined play can’t be found in this current team.

“Overall, we didn’t play well. So, it’s on all of us. It’s not on any one particular person so we have to do a lot better,” said Thibodeau of their lackluster performance against the Suns.

Thibodeau sounds like a broken record with this answer.

In the Knicks’ dispiriting loss to the Suns, it was clear that the gap between them and the elite teams in terms of talent and cohesiveness is so wide.

Clearly, there’s something wrong with the Knicks.

Julius Randle only shot eight attempts and finished with a season-low nine points. Randle, the hub of the Knicks’ offense last season, was not in his element despite having no lingering health issues.

“I feel great. My body, legs,” said Randle, who kept his answers to short, one-liners.

In contrast, the Suns’ star Devin Booker torched the Knicks with 32 points and cooked early with 21 first-half points. Randle’s trainer Tyler Relph shared an interesting observation on Booker’s fourth 30-plus point game at the Garden.

“27 shots — got involved early and often… [The Suns] got their best player in great rhythm,” he replied on Twitter.

The Knicks had lost their edge when they entered the season with high expectations. But is it fair to wonder if Thibodeau is also losing grip of this team?

Earlier in their struggles, Randle said the intentions and their hearts are in the right place. But their execution isn’t.

Does Thibodeau’s read and react offense need more structure to sync their staring unit and make everyone happy? Or do the Knicks need a shakeup?

In their second loss to the Eastern Conference’s worst team, Orlando Magic, last Nov. 17, Randle had an interesting postgame interview when he said it felt like a bit of weird out there on the court.

When asked why they had lost last year’s identity under Thibodeau, Randle said he was clueless.

“I don’t know, man. It’s just me being completely honest with you. I have no clue,” Randle said. “Thibs still comes in and does a great job giving us game plans and all that different type of stuff. I really think it’s just the details. Maybe it’s the little things that are hurting us right now.”

Since then, the Knicks remained inconsistent, alternating wins and losses in the next four games.

Fournier, who openly talked about his gripes of not playing in the fourth quarter and the lack of ball movement, was consciously and heavily involved in the offense early in the games to get him going but with mixed results. He had double-digit shot attempts in three of their last four games, averaging 12.3 shots in that span. When Fournier was hot, the Knicks rolled with two wins in their previous four games. But when he’s not, it ended up with losses. 

Against the Suns, Fournier was 4 of 15 after a torrid start. He did not see action in the fourth quarter for the ninth time under Thibodeau. It marked the most fourth-quarter benching in a single season in his career. 

Meanwhile, Walker will miss his second game this season due to rest. The New York native is averaging career-low numbers across the board except for shooting percentages.

Fournier and Walker were brought in to ease Randle’s burden. But it has become a bigger burden for Randle to co-exist with them.

When Randle was asked if there’s extra motivation in facing the Hawks, his answer was short but not sweet.

“No, it’s just another game,” Randle said, “another game on the schedule of 82 (games).”

But it’s not just another game. It’s a critical game for the Knicks as they enter the 20th game with chemistry issues still compounding their injury woes. It’s still early in the season, but as Randle said: “NBA games come fast.”

Thibodeau will be reminded of his remarks after their 12th game of the season.

“You know what they say — when it’s 10 games, you say we need 20. When you get to 20, you say 30. When we get to 30, you say 40, and then before you know it, the season’s over,” said Thibodeau referring to how much time do his starters need to gel. “So, that’s a bunch of bull—t.”

Win or lose, Thibodeau will have another interesting postgame presser for sure.

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Knicks: Has Evan Fournier lived up to his contract expectations early in the season?

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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.

Knicks tease with their ceiling in crucial win over LeBron-less Lakers

Despite the New York Knicks‘ inconsistent play recently, one thing stood out about them for Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel ahead of their Tuesday matchup.

“I think the biggest thing is the volume of threes they’re shooting,” Vogel said before the game. “Obviously, Julius Randle is an elite player. The volume of threes he’s been creating and the space they’re creating for him to attack one-on-one is probably the biggest difference between last year and this year’s team. And Kemba (Walker) and Evan (Fournier), being new additions, have been helping on that.”

Vogel’s thoughts were uncannily prescient. It played out the way he described it as the Knicks starters put together their best performance in a 106-100 win over the LeBron James-less Lakers in front of a soldout crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Julius Randle bullied Anthony Davis underneath for the game’s first basket. Then Fournier got hot outside while Walker and RJ Barrett joined the scoring fray as the Knicks zoomed to a 10-0 start and a 36-20 first-quarter lead.

The quartet scored all but two points in that mesmerizing opening that showed a glimpse of how good the Knicks can be when everything comes together for them. They combined to hit 11 of 18 shots. Nine of them came off assists. All five starters made an assist, with Randle and Walker handing out three each.

Their rampage continued at the onset of the second quarter. The Knicks bench, a picture of consistency and fluidity throughout the team’s rough start, padded the lead to 25.

For 15 glorious minutes, the Garden was Eden. Everybody eats when the Knicks are sharing the ball.

“I think if you have an unselfish team, they’re gonna recognize when someone gets hot or has a good matchup,” Thibodeau said after the game. “The ball always finds energy.”

“We’re doing the right things when we’re pushing the ball, and we’re attacking the rim. Oftentimes, those are the best shots that you can get. You get to drive, and then it’s pass, pass, and then you’re walking into a three so that it gives you good rhythm.”

Fournier walked into rhythm threes and hit 6 of 9. His hot shooting kept him in the game and avoided what could have been a ninth fourth-quarter benching. Fournier led the Knicks with 26 points, his best offensive performance since a career-high-tying 32 points during the season opener against the Boston Celtics.

“I’m trying to — regardless of what’s going on and how we play — I always try to focus on myself, look at myself and try to play the best I can,” Fournier said. “[I’m] trying to be aggressive, trying to take what’s in front of me, and be decisive in everything I do.”

Fournier took shots with no hesitations, unlike in the past when his pump fakes usually led to tough shots.

But as great as the Knicks looked for a one-and-a-half quarter, the ills that plagued them won’t just go away. Their offense got stagnant. Their energy on defense went down with it.

The Lakers came storming back and tied it at 79 on a Carmelo Anthony breakaway slam. With Derrick Rose out with a sprained ankle, Immanuel Quickley rose to the occasion. The second-year guard hit four back-breaking triples in the fourth quarter to seal the deal.

“This game is a perfect example of how we play. We are very capable of playing really, really good basketball, getting big leads,” Fournier said. “Then all of sudden, not so well.”

The Knicks have been consistently inconsistent. They have led by double-digits in 11 games this season. Three of them ended in a horrible loss, blowing a 13-point lead in their first loss to Orlando Magic, a 15-point lead to Toronto Raptors, and a 16-point lead against Charlotte Hornets. Then they nearly squandered double-digit leads in five of their 10 wins, including this one against the Lakers.

“We have to keep playing the same way [whether] up 20, down 15 or tied game,” Fournier said. “For us, I think the key is going to find that balance and that rhythm. We can really be good, man! We just have to trust how we play. And when we have [found] a way to play, just stay with it.”

Randle negated the flu-stricken Anthony Davis’ 20 points. Both forwards shot 7 for 17 from the floor. But Randle dominated the glass with 16 rebounds, 15 coming on the defensive end. Thanks to Randle’s Herculean effort, the Knicks outrebounded the bigger Lakers, 52-50.

The Knicks are rolling when their shots are falling like Tuesday night (15 of 34 from downtown).

Their roller-coaster season continued with another teaser of their ceiling.

Over the last five games, the Knicks’ defense has tightened up, giving up just 99.2 points per game. Despite winning only two of their previous five games, their offense has started to balance out, although in spurts. The common denominator in those two wins is that Fournier got it going while Randle only logged in three assists in two of those three losses. Randle had five assists, tied with Walker, against the Lakers.

The Knicks are 7-3 this season when Randle has at least five assists. Conversely, the Knicks are 1-5 when he only dishes three assists or less.

“Like I said before, [Evan’s] a huge part of our team. I’ll make sure that I establish him and Kemba. And everybody gets comfortable where we’re just going out there playing, and we know what’s going to happen, where our shots are going to come from,” Randle said. “We know that we have each other’s back on the defensive end. That’s what makes the game fun.”

Never mind if James (due to suspension) missed his only visit to the Madison Square Garden this season. Never mind if Davis, who woke up Tuesday with a slight fever, was not 100 percent. It could have been a different story. But what matters for the Knicks is picking up a galvanizing win that they hope can bring momentum as they continue a brutal stretch in their schedule.

They will host the red-hot Phoenix Suns, winners of their last 13 games, on Black Friday.

It will be another tough test for the Knicks’ starters, whose chemistry is starting to build up in recent games. Against the Lakers, the Knicks’ starting unit had 16 of the team’s 23 assists. The next step is building consistency.

“It definitely will develop. This is what, 18 games in? This sh*t takes time, bro,” Randle said. “The good thing about us is we’ve stayed encouraged. We stayed positive. We had highs, we’ve had lows. But once it starts clicking, we’re going to be a really, really good team.”

The Knicks were in the first quarter, just like how Vogel conjured that Lakers’ nightmare.

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