Fournier Impressing His Teammates
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By John Denton
Oct. 2, 2014
ORLANDO -- Throughout the early stages of the Orlando Magic’s training camp, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic have worked in concert on pick-and-roll plays with somewhat surprising success – surprising at least to the big man in those sets.
Occasionally, Fournier will use Vucevic’s hulking size on the screen to free himself for a layup at the rim. Other times, Fournier will fake rubbing off of Vucevic and cut behind his defender for another good look at the rim. And then there are the moments when Fournier uses the screen, draws the second defender over to him and feeds Orlando’s center for a dunk.
Thursday was just Orlando’s fourth practice of training camp, but Vucevic has already been won over by the flair and creativity in Fournier’s game. There’s always a feeling-out period with new players on a team, but the Magic big man admits to being shocked at just how well-rounded of a game that Fournier possesses.
``I honestly didn’t know that he could play the pick-and-roll so well,’’ Vucevic said. ``But he’s really good at it as far as coming off (the screen) and making the right play whether he shoots or passes. He’s a creative guy who can make the defense commit and make the right play. He’s a good player, he has a good basketball IQ and I’ve been impressed with him.’’
Fournier is in the process of proving himself to his new Magic teammates and the rest of the basketball world following his trade from the Denver Nuggets to Orlando in June. His play surged late in World Cup action over the summer as he help to lift France to a best-ever, third-place finish in the event.
Now, Fournier feels as if he’s ended up in a perfect storm of sorts in Orlando.
With a young and athletic roster in Orlando, the 21-year-old and 6-foot-6 Fournier should blend in perfectly. He’s in a spot where the franchise covets his versatility and creativity – something that wasn’t always the case with the Nuggets. And he’s on a team where he’ll be given the ball and asked to make plays out of pick-and-roll sets – as he’s already done time and again in training camp with the 7-foot Vucevic.
``I’m super excited here,’’ Fournier said. ``I’m happy that (Magic) Coach (Jacque Vaughn) is going to let me handle the ball a little bit more. That’s what I really like to do, and I’m just really thankful.’’
Fournier, a native of suburban Paris, is also really thankful that he has Vucevic on the roster because of the big man’s ability to speak French fluently. Borislav Vucevic played professional basketball for 24 years in Belgium, Switzerland and Yugoslavia, so Nikola learned to speak French during his childhood years. Vucevic is a good passer for a big man, but his ability to speak French with Fournier might go down as his biggest assist of the season.
Fournier took English lessons prior to entering the 2012 NBA Draft, and he fortified his grasp of the language with the help from occasional tutors during his two NBA seasons in Denver. His dressing stall in the Magic locker room is near Vucevic’s and it’s not uncommon for the two of them to converse about basketball or life in French.
``That’s huge for me because I can speak my mother language,’’ said Fournier, who maintains close friendships with other French NBA players such as Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum. ``I think my English is pretty good, but speaking without thinking about what you are saying, you know, it’s just different. And with Nik, we have the same game because we’ve played in Europe and we understand each other.’’
Vaughn went to great lengths to better understand Fournier last month when he traveled to Spain for the World Cup to watch the guard play for France. Fournier struggled early in the tournament, but came on late and had the key pass to Diaw for a 3-pointer that keyed France’s stunning upset of heavily favored Spain.
Vaughn took Fournier to dinner in Spain and the two ultimately spent more time talking about likes and dislikes and life than they did actual Xs and Os.
``I was there enough to not bother him because he was focusing on his National Team, but I was there enough to break bread and welcome him to Orlando,’’ Vaughn joked.
Fournier said the meeting with Vaughn meant so much more to him than simply enjoying some free tapas on the coach’s tab.
``We talked about life in general and what I like to do,’’ Fournier said. ``It felt great to talk to my coach because the first three games (of the World Cup) I didn’t play very well and I missed a lot of shots. It just gave me confidence that even if I don’t play great, the (Magic) coach has my back and he likes me and pushes me. So it was great.’’
Fournier’s two seasons in the NBA so far have varied dramatically. As a rookie playing under veteran coach George Karl, Fournier was used primarily as a ball-handler and a creator in pick-and-roll plays. Last season, with the Nuggets under the direction of rookie head coach Brian Shaw, Fournier was mostly used as a spot-up shooter and he responded to that role by making 89 of 237 3-pointers (37.6 percent).
Fournier showed off some of his dazzling potential in last season’s final month, pumping in 26 points against Houston and 23 points versus Utah. In the April 6 loss to the Rockets, Fournier came off the bench and drilled nine of 16 field goals and six 3-pointers in the 26-point effort.
Fournier made at least three 3-pointers in 11 games last season. The finest game of his NBA career came in February when he torched the Sacramento Kings for 27 points, four 3-pointers, five assists and four rebounds.
In Orlando, he’s extremely happy that he will be back in a role where he will be given the ball and asked to make plays. And because of his versatility, he can play shooting guard when Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton or Luke Ridnour are running the point, or he can direct the offense when needed.
``He’s a basketball player. You feel comfortable with him bringing the basketball up the floor and making decisions in the half-court,’’ Vaughn said. ``He can do multiple things and not only spotting up and shooting. He can create for his teammates.
``I think he has a great sense of shot selection,’’ Vaughn said. ``Throughout our practices, he’s had a mixture of everything whether it was driving to the basket or spotting up and making threes. He’s shown a consistent array of basketball understanding.’’
What makes Fournier the happiest of all is that the Magic thought highly enough of him to trade away Arron Afflalo and put him in spots where he can make plays with the ball in his hands. Riding the momentum from his solid play with the French National Team and the feel-good vibes of being on a young team in Orlando, Fournier believes that he is ready to play the best basketball of his life with the Magic.
``It’s a great feeling and that’s what you want as a player,’’ said Fournier, referring to the knowledge that the Magic have coveted him as a player for years. ``They know more stuff about me than I know. They know my percentages from the free throw line and from in the paint. They know a lot about me and that’s says a lot. I’m just so excited to be here.’’