On March 25th — in what became Danny Ainge’s penultimate transaction as general manager — the Boston Celtics dealt Jeff Teague and two second-round picks to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Evan Fournier.
At the time, the Celtics were gearing up for a postseason push, and Fournier was amid a career year in Orlando. The Frenchman put up 19.7 points per contest across 26 games as the go-to scorer for a bottom-dwelling Magic squad.
The rationale behind such a move for Boston was apparent, Fournier’s pending free agency notwithstanding. After all, near 20-point scorers are exceedingly hard to come by (even if he didn’t average 20 in Beantown), and the C’s gave up little for his services. Second round picks get passed from team to team like the common cold, and Teague, while admittedly solid in his waning moments as a Celtic, could never quite find his footing in the rotation. Acquiring Fournier was a low-risk, high-reward venture by Boston, and now three months removed from the deal, there’s no question it paid off.
A career 37.9% three-point shooter, Fournier’s ability to space the floor is his defining trait. Fortunately for Boston, he had far and away the best stretch of his career shooting the three during his 16-game regular-season stint in green.
Fournier converted an otherworldly 46% of his treys on 5.9 attempts nightly, an extraordinary combination of high usage and efficiency. His 46% clip ranked in the 98th percentile among all wings, according to Cleaning the Glass. The only two wings in the NBA to outdo Fournier from deep percentage-wise were Joe Harris and Tony Snell.
Though Fournier was nothing short of torrid beyond the arc, his sample size was limited since he logged just 461 regular-season minutes as a Celtic. Hence, take his astounding accuracy (and most stats in this piece) with a grain of salt. Although considering Fournier ended each of his last two seasons in Orlando shooting 40% on threes, there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t hover around that range in an entire season with Boston.
Nonetheless, he was perhaps Boston’s top three-point threat when healthy and one of a select few who could create three-point opportunities off the bounce. A sizable 10% of Fournier’s made threes were unassisted on, good enough for the 53rd percentile. In a league where teams can never have enough snipers, Fournier’s sweet-shooting alone makes him someone Boston should thoughtfully consider retaining.
While a marksman first and foremost, perimeter shooting is just one dimension of Fournier’s offensive toolbox. An oft-overlooked aspect of Fournier’s well-rounded game is his playmaking chops. Apart from Fournier’s maiden season, he has managed to finish no worse than the 65th percentile among positional counterparts in assist percentage, including a borderline-elite 78th percentile with Boston. Not only that, Fournier’s assist-to-usage ratio and turnover percentage — two indicators of a player’s facilitating expertise — were both career-bests at the 88th and 69th percentiles, respectively.
It’s important to note that Fournier isn’t a primary playmaker type who’ll turn heads with fancy no-look dishes. Instead, he makes simple yet effective reads as a ball-handler in both pick-and-roll and drive-and-kick actions. Just because his assists lack flare doesn’t mean they were devoid of value. Opportunistic playmakers like Fournier, who take care of the ball, are outstanding talents to complement franchise cornerstones Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. This notion became apparent in flashes during his brief 2020-21 in Boston.
The sequence below accentuates Fournier’s value as a playmaker better than words possibly could. With rookie Payton Pritchard unable to speed by Cody Zeller off the bounce and mere seconds remaining on the shot clock, he dishes it out to Fournier behind the line. Fournier then turns on the jets for a split second to fake as if he’s heading to the cup, which in turn forces the defense to help one pass away from a wide-open Tatum in the corner. Once the help defender commits, Fournier rifles a bullet to Tatum, who nails the trey just before the timer sounds.
Title contenders in today’s NBA boast lineups with talents who can manufacture scoring chances for themselves and others. The Phoenix Suns have Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, and Cameron Payne. The Atlanta Hawks employ a superstar floor general in Trae Young and assembled self-creating pieces around him in Bogdan Bogdanovic, Louis Williams, Kevin Huerter, and De’Andre Hunter. Fournier is cut from the same cloth as those studs.
Like any human being, Fournier is not without his imperfections. Throughout Boston’s five-game series against the Brooklyn Nets, the opponent’s Big Three of Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant switch-hunted Fournier time and time again. Each of them took turns picking apart the 28-year-old one-on-one from both inside and out, and though Fournier exerted no short amount of effort, he was ultimately helpless in preventing the trio from scoring. Additionally, Fournier couldn’t stay out of foul trouble, as he racked up an average of four fouls per game for the series and ended with an egregious foul percentage of 4.7 (7th percentile). Will opponents continue to successfully switch-hunt Fournier in the playoffs? If so, would this limit Boston’s postseason ceiling? Both questions are worth pondering for Brad Stevens and company as the Celtics soon have to decide whether Fournier is worthy of a lucrative extension.
With all that said, Boston would be hard-pressed to find an affordable replacement in this upcoming free-agent class who could replicate Fournier’s scoring and playmaking production. Unless someone unexpectedly throws the Brinks truck at Fournier, there’s reason to be optimistic he’ll return to Boston.
Losing another great player for nothing is a pill the Celtics shouldn’t want to swallow again, and Fournier made it clear following Game 5’s loss to the Nets that he holds the franchise in high regard. “The Celtics, it’s obviously an A+ type of organization. They really showed it and you know they were really excited to give me [opportunities] and they showed me a lot of love and everybody was extremely positive.”
Here’s to hoping Celtics fans have witnessed only the beginning of Fournier’s tenure in green.