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Evan Fournier’s off ball impact makes him a perfect fit in Celtics offense

Evan Fournier doesn’t create shots for himself with the ball like the Jays do. Instead, he creates opportunities off the ball to make their lives easier.

NBA: Miami Heat at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Fournier is the perfect fit next to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on offense, as well as a great target for the team’s other playmakers. Fournier can score from anywhere and in bursts without demanding the ball as much as Boston’s core players, which is the exact type of piece they needed. Making a move in the middle of such a weird season has been a little awkward, so we kind of have to pray for him to re-sign to get the most out of him.

If the Celtics are going to optimize their isolation-heavy style of offense that I can’t stand, then the best case scenario is adding players who will take the initiative to inject life into it. This is why Fournier’s been able to fit in so easily as he catches his breath from catching COVID. He scores in a variety of ways, but the off-ball movement is what I’m most excited for.

I’ve said this before, but Fournier is basically what we talked up Aaron Nesmith to be, although Nesmith’s recent play has created more of a unique offensive identity for himself as pure chaos and, to my surprise, excellent rebounding.

There isn’t much going on here except for a really well-timed cut. Fournier could easily stay behind the three-point line and wait for a pass, but taking the guaranteed layup is obviously the better play here, and he recognizes that. I don’t know if there’s data to prove this, but I’m entirely certain that starting the game with an easy bucket increases the likelihood that jump shots taken later in the game will go in. Call it karma, call it confidence, but I’d say Fournier’s 11-for-16 shooting against Miami supports my non-scientific theory.

Later, Fournier creates an opportunity for himself with a pretty clever slide from the corner to where Smart has a better angle to get him the ball:

If Fournier doesn’t move at all, Smart has to throw a higher-arcing pass over the defense. The spot he slides to gives Smart a perfect angle to sling it over with plenty of time to get the shot off. We also see Tristan Thompson sealing off Trevor Ariza as the pass is thrown, slowing him down just enough to make his contest attempt too late to be effective.

The common criticism these days is that the team lacks energy and purpose. Fournier said after the loss to the Heat, “when you fix things just by being more aggressive and turning it up, it just shows a lack of physicality in my opinion.” But what do these things mean? What is an offensive identity supposed to be? There’s no wrong answer, but having every player involved in the offense as much as possible is mine.

Jayson Tatum dumps an entry pass to Marcus Smart. Smart looks for passing angles. Tristan Thompson seals off a defender while Evan Fournier takes advantage of the opportunity. Four players involved in one possession makes for good basketball.

The Celtics, as you know, don’t do this much. I don’t know exactly how they can consistently run more plays like the ones above, but my very basic solution is this: more Fournier means a more established identity. And by extension, more Aaron Nesmith would bring the same thing if he can keep playing the way he has. Neither of them are a plus on defense, and that’s been a pretty big issue, but if the Celtics can at least smooth out their issues on one end, the problems on the other might fix themselves a little bit.

If the stars align, we’ll soon see Fournier play with Boston’s full roster in games that matter. Right now, he’s probably getting more opportunity in Jaylen Brown’s absence, which is fine, but the real test is seeing if they get back to playing like the Celtics of two or three years ago — winning by getting the most out of their role players.

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