Nov 26, 2014 11:10 AM EST
When the Orlando Magic traded Arron Afflalo for Evan Fournier, it looked like one of the most lopsided deals of the offseason. Afflalo was Orlando’s leading scorer last season, averaging 18 points a game on 46% shooting and just missing out on his first All-Star berth. Fournier, in contrast, was a second-year player still trying to find his way in the NBA, averaging only 20 minutes a game in Denver. Most NBA fans probably couldn’t pick him out of a line-up.
Fournier didn’t come into the league with much publicity. He was kind of lost in the shuffle in the run-up to the 2012 NBA Draft, which featured five shooting guards - Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters, Terrence Ross, Austin Rivers and Jeremy Lamb - who were taken ahead of him. As a 19-year-old in France, he put up good but not great numbers for his pro team and he didn’t have the type of out of this world athleticism that would garner a huge buzz in the months before the draft.
Like many young guys drafted towards the end of the first round, Fournier didn’t walk into a situation where he could rack up a lot of stats early in his career. He was taken at No. 2o overall by the Nuggets, who went on to win 57 games in Fournier’s rookie season. He was the low man on the totem pole, playing behind Andre Iguodala, Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari on the wings. As a rookie, Fournier played in only 38 games.
Things changed for him a bit in his second season, as turnover at every level of Denver’s organization opened up more opportunities for playing time. With Iguodala gone and Gallinari out all season with a knee injury, Fournier moved into the rotation full-time, playing in 76 games. However, because he was coming off the bench, his per-game numbers weren’t huge - 8 points, 3 rebounds and 1.5 assists a game on 42% shooting - and he didn’t attract much notice.
There were way too many other things going on with the Nuggets, who face-planted spectacularly after firing George Karl, going from from a No. 3 seed to falling out of the playoffs entirely. As Brian Shaw quickly found out, you don’t want to be the guy whose replacing the legend. He walked into an almost impossible situation, given a mandate to change a very successful team without a lot of the personnel that had made them successful in the first place.
Unlike most first-time coaches in the NBA, who are given rebuilding teams without much expectations, Shaw was expected to win big. As a result, he leaned on veteran guards like Randy Foye, Aaron Brooks and Nate Robinson, guys he knew he could trust to carry out assignments. He may also have been scarred by benching Andre Miller, which created a huge rift in the team when the 15-year veteran refused to accept a smaller role and demanded a trade.
From the outside, it was hard to get a read on Fournier. He had proven he could stick in the NBA, but he was still waiting for the chance to dominate the ball and show teams what he could do. So while the Nuggets weren’t looking to deal a young player with upside, they couldn’t pass up the chance to acquire Afflalo, a proven veteran who was still in the prime of his career. Afflalo had enough skins on the wall that no one could complain if he was the starter.
Nevertheless, there was still a lot to like about the second-year player. For starters, he was still only 22, the same age as college seniors like Doug McDermott. Instead of spending the last two seasons playing against much inferior competition in the NCAA, Fournier essentially had a two-year internship in Denver, where he got the chance to learn from some of the best wing players in the NBA as well as one of the most respected coaches in the league in Karl.
More importantly, whenever he got the chance to play, he played well. As a 20-year old rookie, Fournier’s per-36 minute numbers were eye-popping - 17 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists on 49% shooting. They slipped in his second season, which you would expect from a guy getting more minutes on a significantly worse team, but they were still impressive for a guy his age - 15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists on 42% shooting. This is a guy who needed more minutes.
When you combine his production with physical tools, Fournier was one of the more intriguing young players in the league. At 6’7 200 with a 6’8 wingspan, he had the size to switch between either wing position and even slide down to playing as a small-ball PF in certain situations. And while he wasn’t an elite athlete, he had the skill to make up for it. Fournier had a complete offensive game, with the ability to shoot, put the ball on the floor and find the open man.
In that respect, Fournier was a lot like Tobias Harris, another promising young player whom Orlando scooped off another team’s bench. After coming into the league as a 19-year-old, Harris spent his first 1.5 seasons in the league playing behind a bunch of veterans on a Milwaukee team trying to contend. As a result, when the Magic were shopping JJ Redick around at the 2013 trade deadline, the Bucks had no problem moving an unproven youngster like Harris along.
As soon as he got consistent playing time in Orlando, Harris exploded onto the NBA scene. He went from 11 minutes with the Bucks to 36 minutes with the Magic, averaging 17 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists on 46% shooting. Milwaukee, meanwhile, lost Redick for almost nothing, shipping him away to the LA Clippers for a few second-round picks in a sign-and-trade. The same things could happen to the Nuggets, as Afflalo is a free agent at the end of the season.
Harris and Fournier, meanwhile, have thrived in Orlando. While their recent high lottery picks - Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon - have been in and out of the line-up with injuries, the Magic have been able to count on Harris and Fournier, both of whom are averaging around 35 minutes a night. Even with all their injuries, Orlando has been surprisingly competitive this season, with a 6-9 record that includes many close losses in the fourth quarter.
Their two starting wings have been a huge factor in that, as Harris is averaging 19 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists on 47% shooting while Fournier is averaging 17 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists on 48% shooting. They have both benefitted from the driving lanes created by Channing Frye’s presence at the PF position, as well as the opportunities in the offense opened up by the departure of Afflalo and the injury to Oladipo, Orlando’s two main scorers last season.
The surprising play of Harris and Fournier has already created a good problem for the Magic front office, which spent three Top 4 picks on perimeter players in the last two seasons. Gordon, Oladipo and Elfrid Payton all have a lot of potential, but it’s not going to be easy for them to unseat the two under-23 starters ahead of them. Fournier, in particular, is such a good shooter - 47% from 3 this season - there’s no reason to move him to the bench anytime soon.
If you look at it, there isn’t all that much that separates him from Oladipo, despite the vast differences in the amount of publicity they have received. Oladipo is the more athletic of the two and projects as a better defensive player, but Fournier is bigger and a much better shooter. And while Oladipo has received a lot more opportunities to play with the ball in his hands, Fournier is just as good a playmaker, with a superior assist-to-turnover ratio.
If Fournier had spent three seasons at Indiana playing next to Cody Zeller, he would be pretty well regarded too. Instead, because he came to the NBA as quickly as he could and wound up on a team full of veterans, he spent his age 20-21 seasons as a practically anonymous young player, learning from the bench. It’s far too soon to make any judgments about Orlando’s recent draft picks, but the front office clearly knows how to spot talent once it is in the NBA.
Before they came to Orlando, guys like Fournier, Harris and Nik Vucevic all represented free money laying on the ground, waiting to be picked up. The same thing happened to a lesser extent in Phoenix, where an aggressive young front office grabbed Eric Bledsoe and Miles Plumlee for pennies on the dollar. There are a lot of good young players in the NBA waiting for a chance to play. The Afflalo/Fournier trade was a heist alright, but not for the Nuggets.
Oct 15, 2014 10:26 AM EDT
Our series on candidates for internal improvement on every team in the NBA continues with the Northwest Division, which doesn’t feature markets that have traditionally attracted big-name free agents. In recent years, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams and Kevin Love have all departed the division on less than friendly terms. As a result, almost every team in the Northwest has committed itself to building through the draft, with varying levels of success.
The Oklahoma City Thunder represent the gold standard for that model. Not only have they built an elite team almost entirely through homegrown products, they have remained committed to the draft even as they contend for titles. The Thunder have seven different guys on their rookie deals and their ability to take the final step in the playoffs will depend in large part on how well those players can grow into bigger roles over the course of the season.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Utah Jazz, who have six recent lottery picks on their roster but appear no closer to getting out of the basement in the Western Conference. Some have seen their games stagnate as they move into bigger roles while others have struggled to find a role that allows them to maximize their skill-set. Dante Exum might be the future, but he is still a 19-year-old who played high school basketball in Australia last season.
Somewhere in the middle are the Portland Trail Blazers, who shot up the standings last season with a starting line-up better than the sum of its parts and the Denver Nuggets, who are still looking for an identity after dumping George Karl and falling out of the playoffs. The Minnesota Timberwolves, who are in the very beginning of a new rebuilding plan, can only hope that their path looks more like Oklahoma City than Utah in the next few years.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: Steven Adams
The scariest part about where the Thunder go from here is how much room they still have to improve. Over the last three seasons, they’ve been one of the best teams in the NBA while giving Kendrick Perkins 20-25 minutes a game. He has some value as a post defender and a guy who quarterbacks the defense, but imagine if they had a guy with more size and athleticism than Perkins back there who was not a complete non-entity on the offensive end?
Even if Adams never develops a post game, his ability to catch and finish around the rim makes him an upgrade over Perkins. He shot 50% from the field as a rookie, a number Perkins hasn’t matched since his time in Boston. He probably won’t start for another season, but as he improves on both sides of the ball and earns more playing time, the Thunder will be even better than they are now. Where will they be when Adams is at 30-35 minutes a night?
- Portland Trail Blazers: Will Barton
After two seasons on the fringes of the rotation in Portland, Barton could be poised for a breakout year in his third year in the NBA. With Mo Williams gone, there’s room in the rotation for a guard to assume a bigger role on the second unit, which has been one of the biggest weaknesses for the Trail Blazers over the last few seasons. Portland has three young guards on their bench - Barton, CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe - and one of them needs to step up.
The key for Barton is his outside shot, which improved between his first and second seasons in the league. If he can consistently knock down the 3, his ability to get to the rim and find the open man will give him a leg up on the other two, who are more pure shooters. This is a big year for Barton - if he can’t crack the rotation, he’s probably not long for Portland, as few NBA teams keep second round picks on the end of their bench for four seasons.
- Denver Nuggets: Kenneth Faried
No player had a better summer than Faried, who followed a breakout performance in the World Cup with a $50 million contract extension. The move signals Denver’s commitment to Faried as they try to move forward in the post Karl era. Faried is the only under-25 player slated to have much of a role on the Nuggets roster this season, so their ability to move up the Western hierarchy will depend in large part on how much room he has left to grow.
The key question with Faried is how to build a team around him - is he better off with a shot-blocking center who can protect him on defense or a stretch 4 who can open up the floor for him? Coach K solved the dilemma by pairing him with Anthony Davis, but guys with his skill-set do not grow on trees. If Faried can improve as a perimeter shooter and a defensive player, he will give Brian Shaw more options in terms of how he deploys his frontcourt.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: Gorgui Dieng
After being glued to the bench for most of his rookie season, Dieng exploded in the final few months, taking advantage of an injury to Nik Pekovic to establish himself as a legitimate NBA center. Not only was he a nightly double-double threat, he displayed a skill-set that has been in short supply in Minnesota in recent years - a shot-blocking center who could anchor a defense while also providing quality play on the offensive end of the floor.
With Pekovic likely to be the featured option in a post Kevin Love universe, it’s unclear how many minutes will be there for Dieng. Can he operate as a power forward in a Twin Towers configuration or will he be be siloed into a role as a backup center? One of the big questions for Flip Saunders is whether he can figure out a way to use Pekovic and Dieng together or whether he would be better off flipping one of his C’s to improve the rest of the roster.
- Utah Jazz: Trey Burke
There are a lot of guys who could be featured here, as there a number of talented young players in Utah who haven’t quite figured out who they are in the NBA. None will be more important to the team’s success this season than Burke, the second-year PG who will have to shoulder a huge burden on the offensive side of the ball. Not only will he need to figure out how to score more efficiently, he will have to be able to create easy shots for everyone else too.
As a rookie, Burke shot 38% from the field, struggling with the size and speed of the NBA game. At 6’0 190, he is one of the smallest PG’s in the NBA and he will need to use every bit of his offensive creativity to survive against the longer and bigger defenders he will face on a nightly basis. The key for him is becoming a knock-down shooter - a guy his size will have a hard time surviving in the lane and he has to take advantage of any opening he can create.
May 21, 2014 6:20 PM EDT
The problem with most mock drafts, especially early in the draft process, is the butterfly effect. If just one team in the lottery makes a surprise selection, it causes a chain reaction up and down the board that renders a lot of the previous speculation useless. At this point, I think it’s more useful to look at what each team in the lottery needs and what will be going into their decision-making process. With that in mind, here’s a quick sketch of one way it could go.
1) Cleveland Cavaliers - Joel Embiid
This is from David Griffin’s interview with ESPN last night - “I think we need to get a better fit for our roster. We’ve got an awful lot of talent and we just need to find the pieces that can serve as a conduit to make it gel.” That screams Embiid to me. When you have Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, the last thing you need is another perimeter player who needs the ball. That core needs interior defense and post scoring, which are Embiid’s two strengths.
2) Milwaukee Bucks - Jabari Parker
If Cleveland takes Embiid, some combination of Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum go in the next three picks. It’s hard to go wrong with any of them and when you have multiple elite prospects on the board, you have to look at how they fit with the players already on your roster. In other words, which one makes the most sense playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo? I want an explosive scorer who can stretch the floor next to him, which would be Parker.
3) Philadelphia 76ers - Andrew Wiggins
This would be a great fit for Wiggins, a guy who is more comfortable in transition than playing in the half court at this stage of his career. The one thing I wonder about with Wiggins and the 76ers is that he’s not the pick if you are going by advanced statistics. Here’s the PER of lottery picks from Kansas in the last two seasons - 28.2 (Embiid), 23.2 (Ben McLemore), 21.4 (Wiggins). He’s a guy you take based off the eye test and projecting future ability, not the data.
4) Orlando Magic - Dante Exum
Orlando will be happy to take whoever falls to them, but Exum is the best fit with the players on their roster. At 6’6 195 with a 6’9 wingspan, he’s a big guard who can run point, which would allow him to cross-switch with Victor Oladipo in the backcourt. Taking Exum would free up Oladipo to hound smaller guards on defense and hunt for his own shot on offense. In a best-case scenario, those two would become Orlando’s version of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
5) Utah Jazz - Aaron Gordon
If the draft plays out this way, Utah at No. 5 would be one of the big swing picks in the lottery, as they would have first choice on a run of power forwards. Most people have Noah Vonleh and Julius Randle rated ahead of Gordon, but if they take one of those guys, they would have to go back to the two-post system they went away from this season. Gordon is going to be an incredible pick-and-roll player and he would allow them to play 4-out with Derrick Favors at the 5.
6) Boston Celtics - Noah Vonleh
In this scenario, Boston would have their pick of two fairly similar PF’s in Vonleh and Randle, which could be one of the more interesting debates in this draft. If you are going with the stats and collegiate success, you have to look at Randle, who averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds on 50% shooting and lead Kentucky to the national title game. If you are looking at it from a tools perspective, Vonleh is the better outside shooter and he has much longer arms.
7) Los Angeles Lakers - Julius Randle
I hate to say this about a guy from Dallas, but Randle is the guy I would not want in the Top 7-8 picks. He will put up a lot of stats, but he doesn’t project as a great shooter or a great defensive player and I want my PF to do one of those two things. Given the amount of shots and minutes that could be up for grabs in the Lakers frontcourt, Randle would have a real shot at Rookie of the Year, but I don’t think his ceiling is as high as a lot of these other guys.
8) Sacramento Kings - Marcus Smart
Smart is one of the wild cards in the lottery - there’s a pretty high range of where he could go. It’s hard to see him sneaking into the Top 5 and if he doesn’t go to either the Lakers the Kings, the teams picking after them don’t really need a PG. Smart offers a lot of line-up versatility, as he can play as a SG next to Isaiah Thomas or a PG next to Ben McLemore, but the Kings are an interior defender away from being a solid team, so I wonder if they would reach here.
9) Charlotte Hornets - Nik Stauskas
This seems like the first spot where Doug McDermott could come off the board. Charlotte desperately needs outside shooting and they have the personnel to hide McDermott on defense. However, if they are committed to Cody Zeller at the 4 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at the 3, Stauskas would be the more logical pick. He’s just as good a shooter as McDermott and he’s a much better passer who has the ability to run the pick-and-roll and create shots for others.
10) Philadelphia 76ers - Doug McDermott
Philadelphia could go in a number of different directions, depending on who they take at No. 3. McDermott, for example, would make a lot more sense next to Wiggins than Parker. Wiggins can defend multiple positions and McDermott can’t defend any while McDermott’s shooting ability would open up the floor for Wiggins and Carter-Williams to attack the rim. I prefer players with more two-way ability, but he could score a lot of points walking into transition 3’s in Philly.
11) Denver Nuggets - Jusuf Nurkic
If Brian Shaw wants to run more offense out of the low post, Nurkic makes a lot of sense. At 6’11 280 with a 7’2 wingspan, Nurkic is a 19-year old who is already big enough to score over most NBA centers. He comes into the league with a pretty solid post game and he moves well for a player with his mammoth size. He’s not getting up and down the court particularly fast, so taking him would represent a complete turning of the page from George Karl’s small ball style.
12) Orlando Magic - Adreian Payne
If the Magic go with a perimeter player at No. 4, they will probably want to look at a front-court player at No. 12. Nik Vucevic is entrenched at center, but he isn’t much of a shot-blocker, so that’s a huge need in terms of how they are going to build their roster. I’m surprised at how far Payne is sliding in some of these mocks. He is a legitimate stretch 4 with elite athletic ability who has the ability to play interior defense and rebound - that’s exactly what Orlando needs.
13) Minnesota Timberwolves - Gary Harris
Minnesota was a perfect example of the problems with fielding a line-up of one-way players. Nik Pekovic, Kevin Love and Kevin Martin are all poor defenders, while Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer are both poor outside shooters. The result was a group that was worse than the sum of its parts. Harris doesn’t have the upside of a guy like LaVine, but he’s a safer pick who will instantly make the Wolves a better team on both sides of the ball.
14) Phoenix Suns - Zach LaVine
I’m going to put the Suns as the floor for LaVine. They have three first-round picks in this draft, so they will be willing to roll the dice on a guy with as much pure ability as anyone on the board. He didn’t do much in his one season at UCLA, but he’s a 6’5 180 with a 6’8 wingspan, he can jump out of the gym, he has unlimited range on his jumper and he can handle the ball like a PG. LaVine has a chance to be a special player in the type of uptempo system the Suns run.
Feb 21, 2014
The Western Conference is highly competitive this season, but that didn't carry over to a deadline in which Steve Blake was the most important acquisition after the Rockets were unable to cash in their Omer Asik chip.
Oct 29, 2013
The following 30 questions are the biggest issues facing each NBA front office as the 13-14 regular season begins.
Aug 16, 2013
Great drafts for the Rockets, 76ers, Nets, Warriors, Hawks and Grizzlies headline this complete rundown of the 2013 offseason.
Jul 01, 2013
With the 2013 NBA offseason underway, here is a primer on what all 30 teams are facing.
Jun 28, 2013
Breaking down all 30 teams by category of how they fared in the often surprising, never disappointing 2013 NBA Draft.
May 20, 2013
One fun component of the Amnesty rule is that we know exactly which players are eligible for it and that number can only decrease over time since the players had to have been under contract with the same team before the new CBA.
Apr 20, 2013
The Nuggets do not have the personnel to exploit the Warriors’ defensive weakness and in fact could be victimized by it, which could mean this series becomes the one where the underdog wins.
Feb 21, 2013
The Kings, Knicks, Rockets, Thunder and Cavaliers have been the most active teams at the deadline over the past decade, while the Spurs, Pistons, Heat, Lakers and Pacers have made the fewest deals.
Jan 31, 2013
Win-win trades that also make sense financially will become even more rare in the NBA's post-lockout era. Here are trades for the Lakers, Mavericks, Hawks, Blazers, Celtics, Nuggets and Spurs that make sense for all parties.
Nov 01, 2012
While the drop-off from the Heat to the rest of the Eastern Conference is severe, the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder have quick company in the second and third tiers.
Aug 19, 2012
The Nuggets, Lakers, Heat, 76ers and Nets were amongst the teams with great offseasons, while the Bucks, Magic, Suns, Knicks, Cavaliers and Bulls were in the bad column. Here's how all 30 teams have fared in the 2012 offseason.
Aug 13, 2012
The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?
Jul 04, 2012
The centers of the 2008 Draft class figure prominently in the 2012 free agency and comprise six of the 30 starters at the game’s most valuable position.
Jun 28, 2012
Center represents the position of greatest need for nearly half the NBA, while power forward isn't the top priority for a single team.
Jun 27, 2012
Polling the Green Room candidates to determine who they think will be the second best player of the class, the rise of skinny guys, a new Harrison Barnes and which team workout was the toughest.
May 09, 2012
JaVale McGee's combination of offensive efficiency and defensive dominance for the Nuggets is almost comparable to what Tyson Chandler is doing with New York.
Apr 27, 2012
The first round begins this weekend, when eight best-of-seven series featuring sixteen teams commence. There’s no way to watch all of the games, so here’s a viewer’s guide for the ones to watch and the ones to skip:
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