INDIANAPOLIS — Evan Fournier, the Knicks guard earning $18 million this season, found a very urban and economical way to work.
“I just take my scooter,” he says.
The commute from Fournier’s home to Madison Square Garden is only six minutes via electric scooter, which eliminates the traffic roulette of Midtown.
If the 6-7 Fournier is recognized scooting on the street, he doesn’t realize. Headphones tune out the people and bustle.
The only issue was parking at MSG, where Knicks players tend to arrive with fancier modes of transportation.
“It took security a little bit of time to realize, ‘Ok, this is a player,’” Fournier says.
Off the court or in the bike lane, Fournier is clearly very comfortable in New York City with his wife, son and dog. It reminds him of home in Paris, where the 29-year-old also gets around on a scooter.
Adjusting to basketball was a little more difficult. As the Knicks’ biggest signing of the 2021 summer, Fournier, along with Kemba Walker, was supposed to elevate the offense after the team’s surprising run to the East’s fourth seed.
Instead, the Knicks regressed. Walker was cut from the rotation and sent home. Fournier was lost.
“I was struggling to find myself as a player,” he said. “I was like, ‘How can I help the team?’ I’m struggling to really find my role within the team to start the season.
“That’s why I was so inconsistent. Because I was thinking about the offense and stuff, I played bad defense to start the year. That’s honestly a big mistake to make.”
Fournier eventually discovered his role on the perimeter. He set the franchise record for 3-pointers in a season, eclipsing John Starks’ mark from 27 years prior. Only three NBA players — Steph Curry, Buddy Hield and Fred VanVleet — hit more treys last season than Fournier. His defense picked up and the Knicks finished strong, although short of the play-in tournament.
The front office then nearly made a hard pivot to Donovan Mitchell with a trade that would’ve likely sent Fournier elsewhere. As those talks were underway — with Knicks executives Brock Aller and Gersson Rosas among the negotiators — Fournier was distracted by the Eurobasket tournament.
His team, France, lost the Sept. 18 final to Spain, with Fournier finishing the tournament as the French’s leading scorer. The silver medal was harder to swallow than the Olympics defeat last year to the U.S.
“If [Kevin Durant’s] not there for Team USA, we’re gold medalists. We gave absolutely everything we had and you gotta live with it. It’s basketball,” Fournier said. “This time it just felt like we didn’t play our best, and that’s the most frustrating part. So yeah, it’s like a dream that’s all of a sudden, it’s gone. It was very hard. Actually being here, coming back to America, was actually harder mentally than physically. Because you gotta go past that.”
With the Mitchell trade negotiations fried, Fournier returned to New York City amid speculation that his starting spot was lost to Quentin Grimes.
The logic was easy to follow: Grimes is better defensively, which seems important for balancing the backcourt next to offensive-minded Jalen Brunson. But Thibodeau gave the spot to Fournier with kudos.
“You tend to overlook he was elite shooting 3-pointers last year, I think he was fourth in 3-pointers made, 10th or 9th in transition 3-pointers made, and he started slowly,” Thibodeau said. “I just think it’s a really good weapon to have. It is a different look with Quentin, but you need everybody. We’ll see how it unfolds. Evan has always read the game pretty well.”
In many ways, the criticism of Fournier last season was unfair. He mostly played to the standards of his career, even exceeding them in the final three months. Other Knicks, namely Julius Randle, fell off. A couple were injured.
But Fournier’s hefty contract (four years, $78 million) adds pounds to the pressure and expectations. At least externally.
Fournier, however, says they’re non-factors toward his play. He has dealt with higher anxiety playing for France.
“There’s actually more pressure playing international, playing for your country,” Fournier says. It’s not 82 games. If you’re in the quarterfinal, the semifinal, if you lose, you’re going home. And I feel like you’re definitely playing for more than yourself. You’re playing for your family, your whole country, so many things. And you’re playing with guys you’ve been with since kids. I don’t like the word pressure but there’s stronger feelings”.
In New York, the ‘feelings’ of home are felt in the big-city setting as Fournier gets increasingly comfortable in the blue uniform.
He’s taken to life in the scooter lane.
“I feel like I was at home since Day 1 because it has the same energy. New York and Paris,” Fournier said.