Evan Fournier proving he’s worth his price tag for Knicks after slow start to season

Evan Fournier white uni shoots three over Pistons' Cade Cunningham

Evan Fournier white uni shoots three over Pistons’ Cade Cunningham

Other than Julius Randle’s extension, the Knicks made no bigger signing this past offseason than inking Evan Fournier, a veteran scoring wing, to a four-year, $78 million contract. As their highest-paid incomer, signed to bring a jolt of scoring to the starting five, Fournier was going to be under the microscope as one of Leon Rose’s early key additions.

After a standout home opener, Fournier struggled to find his footing on both ends as the Knicks’ losing began. Although the team’s fortunes have yet to turn, Fournier is more closely resembling the player fans hoped he would be in recent months. So what’s changed for the Frenchman, and what does this mean for his future in New York?

The Fournier contract was generally considered an inoffensive overpay in hopes he could bring the Knicks a dynamism on offense they lacked last season. Fournier was a capable shooter: 37.9 percent from three on his career in a multitude of ways. He could score off and on the ball, was able to work the pick-and-roll and get buckets from mid-range, short floater range or occasionally at the rim.

Upon joining New York, much of what made Fournier attractive to the front office disappeared. He was hitting threes, just at a middling rate. He looked uncomfortable beyond 1-2 dribbles and within two-point range.

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Between the Knicks 6-1 start and mid-December, Fournier averaged 10.5 points per game on a .495 effective field goal percentage, well below career levels. This didn’t all fall on him, as being thrust into a new and different role takes adjusting. He did show signs, heating up anytime they faced the Celtics, to the point where 38 games into the year, a fifth of his points had been scored in three games against Boston.

Maybe it was those big time performances on national television or some other factor, but as we approached the new year Fournier rediscovered why the Knicks valued him over other wings in the free agent pool.

In his last 30 games, Fournier is averaging 16.7 points on 40.9 percent shooting from deep, taking close to nine treys a night. His effective field goal percentage returned to his career average, and he’s been much more of a presence inside the arc and defensively at times.

Ignoring the early part of the season, it’s safe to say the Knicks have gotten roughly what they paid for. When engaged, Fournier is a worker defensively and can create turnovers with his scrappiness.

New York Knicks guard Evan Fournier (13) reacts after hitting a three point shot against the Boston Celtics during the second overtime at Madison Square Garden.

New York Knicks guard Evan Fournier (13) reacts after hitting a three point shot against the Boston Celtics during the second overtime at Madison Square Garden.

His game-to-game scoring outputs may fluctuate, but he’s shooting the ball super well on average, and has scored over 20 in about a quarter of his games. Three 30-point games and one 40-point outburst is nothing to sneeze at either.

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Not only did Fournier find his form as of late, but did so alongside an improved Randle and a newly-dominant RJ Barrett. With all the issues revolving the Knicks’ starting lineup, this trio appears to have found some way to coexist.

The three-man lineup is performing at an average rate offensively, defensively and collectively since mid-December, which doesn’t sound like it warrants major applause but is leaps and bounds ahead of how New York has performed. Throw in a real, reliable point guard and who knows what could happen.

If Fournier has truly settled in a third option role behind New York’s two lefties, happy to primarily get his 15+ via catch-and-shoot, transition and set-created threes, with some driving, pick-and-rolls and bigger step-up nights sprinkled in, just under $20 million a year is workable. This is true whether the Knicks plan on keeping him and this core together or not.

Fournier’s deal gets more attractive as the months turn into years, as it’ll only be another two guaranteed as of this offseason and just one a season from then. If changes need to be made, he looks more like an asset to a team now compared to the liability he was in November.

Should the Knicks want to keep him around, they can afford paying a third or fourth guy this much so long as Barrett remains a top option, given he’s still on his rookie deal. They’d be smart to play Fournier more with bench units to maximize his production.

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Whatever direction the Knicks go, it’s clear this underwhelming season had a host of causes and offseason acquisitions can’t be so easily judged on half-seasons. Fournier has played his way into potentially being a real fit with Randle and Barrett, or a tradeable piece if need be.

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