The NBA trade deadline is less than a week away, and with PJ Tucker and Trevor Ariza (two potential Sixers targets) already dealt to fellow East contenders, we can expect more dominoes to fall in the coming days. The Sixers continue to sit atop the conference, but with Brooklyn finally catching them for a share of that first-place lead (both at 28-13) there’s a strong feeling around the league that Daryl Morey will be aggressive in upgrading the roster to shore up the team’s status as a contender.
Opinion runs the gamut on just how far Morey needs to go to make the Sixers a true Finals threat—from adding small bench pieces to a legitimate starter-level player—but most pundits agree they need to add something. A few weeks ago I argued strongly in favor of trading for a real “fourth piece” to amplify the team’s end-of-game talent: “Two-way players with dynamic offensive skillsets are the name of the game in the NBA playoffs, and no amount of role pieces, 3-and-D wings, stretch bigs, or backup ball-handlers can substitute for that value when it matters most.”
The fact remains that top-end talent matters in the NBA more than any other league, and history tells us that depth (beyond the
starting final 5) doesn’t matter in the least. Embiid, Ben, and Tobias are a strong ‘big three’ for the playoffs, but just beyond that the Sixers are a major question mark. I’ve never heard of a Finals champion ending games with a Shake Milton or Seth Curry, and neither should be playing big minutes on the wing for a championship-caliber team (to me, that’s just obvious).
Morey needs to add one more legitimate piece to this roster: a player with two-way value and the ability to threaten a defense in multiple ways (pull-up/movement shooting, ability to create space off the dribble, attack the basket/finish around the rim, create for others, etc…) somewhere in between Tobias and Danny Green in terms of skillset and value.
That’s where Evan Fournier comes in
Despite not being a brand name in the NBA, Fournier is quietly one of the league’s most consistently productive (and dynamic) offensive players. He can shoot off-ball, off the bounce, get to/finish around the rim, and create for others—exactly what the doctor ordered. At 6’7” his size is impressive for his skill-level, and while he’s not an overly impactful defender, he’s versatile enough to handle 1-3 (from primary ball handlers/slashers up to taller wings).
The Sixers notably lack players who can shoot off the dribble, and while part of that is by design—catch-and-shoot threats fit better around Embiid and Ben—they should actively look to add someone who can do both. Looking at Fournier’s perimeter shooting data, he certainly qualifies as that.
Fournier would instantly be the team’s biggest pull-up shooting threat both by volume and percentage (by a wide margin, too). Having someone with this sort of ability adds another late-game option to pair with Tobias and Embiid possessions—both of whom do most of their damage at the rim and in the mid-range. As you see from the percentages, Fournier is also efficient shooting off-ball/off-catch, both in standstill and off-screen opportunities.
Perimeter shooting is only half of the equation when it comes to Fournier’s scoring/self-creation ability, as he’s equally adept at getting to and finishing around the rim (with playmaking chops to boot).
The Frenchmen is a real threat to get in the lane both with the ball or coming off-screen, and considering the lack of dynamic offense from Curry, Green, and the vanilla finishing/playmaking ability of Shake, Fournier instantly becomes the third go-to scoring option behind Tobias and Embiid.
If the Sixers are looking for another ball-handler/playmaker, Fournier satisfies that. A real pick-and-roll threat? A little more off-ball shooting/spacing? A wing with size? Fournier satisfies all of that. Whatever marginal offensive needs you may think the Sixers have, Fournier would cover all of them in one swoop.
What about defense?
Fournier’s offensive skillset is his calling card, but most fans would be surprised to learn that he’s been somewhat underrated defensively throughout his career.
From a versatility perspective, Fournier checks the boxes. Considering his size (6’7”) and general athleticism it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s asked to defend a multitude of positions (1 through 3) and responsibilities (on-ball vs penetrating guards, bigger wings, off-ball on movement shooters).
While he’s not exactly a high-level defender from an impact perspective, he’s historically been asked to guard one of the opponents top offensive weapons (as you can see from the above data, and the fact that he ranks in the 96th percentile in matchup difficulty). Pair that with the aforementioned versatility and Fournier is clearly someone with value to a Sixers defense.
This is a discussion for another piece, but one very real concern with the Sixers roster is lack of perimeter defense, specifically at the point-of-attack (players who guard primary ball-handlers, slashers) and they’ve had to miscast Danny Green in that role as a result of this. Below is a list of the role each player currently registers (as determined by the matchup data detailed above).
For reference, here’s the breakdown from last season:
Danny Green registering at PoA for the first time in his career at the age of 33 is malfeasance; and the fact that Ben (ideally a wing stopper) registers at PoA also speaks to the fact that the team doesn’t have a two-way point defender on the entire roster (Thybulle won’t stay on the floor in the playoffs, for anyone inclined to factor him into the playoff rotation).
Insert Fournier, who (again) isn’t some elite ball stopper, but he’s absolutely a better option at the point of attack than Danny Green is, and his presence allows the team to be more strategic with their use of Ben Simmons.
From the context of a potential Brooklyn matchup, Fournier’s size gives him the ability to hang on James Harden more so than anyone on the roster—in the event that we don’t add a bigger perimeter defender I’m not sure what the team plans to do in the a playoff matchup with the Nets. All I know is Fournier gives them a palatable option that they don’t currently have.
Dynamic offensive skillset? Check. Two-way value? Check. Fournier would clearly be the “fourth piece” that I desperately described as the Sixers need if they truly want to contend for the Finals, as he provides the sort of talent/skill-level that’s required to hang on the floor at the end of games in the NBA playoffs.
Would he potentially be the reason the Sixers win the Finals? Of course not, but he could very well be a prerequisite piece that allows them to compete for it. If they can’t make the clear home run move (it doesn’t look like one is available) then don’t be fooled into thinking we can’t “move the needle” with pieces who aren’t brand names in the league.
At $17 million his salary can be matched without giving up a rotation piece, and while his expiring contract may cause pause for some, it’s also what makes him affordable for no more than a late-first rounder. We’ve heard in recent weeks that Orlando is more willing to move Fournier than they are Vucevic or Terrence Ross, and I would be shocked if Daryl Morey hasn’t already inquired about the underrated Frenchmen.
*all data courtesy of BBall Index
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