Evan Fournier FIBA World Cup Preview
Orlando Magic fans craving basketball have been granted a gift. For the next 2 weeks they can watch their own Evan Fournier participate for France in the FIBA World Cup. The tournament – which is more important than the Olympics – has 24 countries competing from August 30th through September 14th in Spain. The last World Cup – then called the World Championships – occurred in Turkey in 2010 and was won by the U.S. with Kevin Durant taking home the MVP honor. Because Team USA is the main draw again this year, we Americans are very fortunate that all 63 FIBA World Cup matches will be shown online at ESPN3.com with a large portion of the contests – including all Team USA games – being televised on ESPN, ESPN 2, and NBA TV. So get your DVRs ready if you can’t watch live during the late morning or afternoon.
France isn’t the same squad that won EuroBasket last year in Slovenia. Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Kevin Seraphin, Alexis Ajinca, and Nando De Colo all are not on Coach Vincent Collet’s roster this year either due to injury or because the players did not make themselves available to join the national team. The French still have a competitive roster as they’ll lean heavily on current NBAers like Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, Rudy Gobert, Ian Mahinmi, and Fournier. Also, don’t discount the importance of Mickael Gelabale, Florent Pietrus, Joffrey Lauvergne, Thomas Heurtel, and Antoine Diot. The French will most likely utilize a 10 or 11-man rotation with all of the above players being used.
The French can still win a podium spot, but Batum is going to have to be one of the tournament’s top scorers while Diaw is going to have to put up close to triple-double stat lines. Batum and Fournier have been having some fun throughout their time together this offseason that included ‘selfie vengeance’. Ideally, it would be outstanding if the two played together on the wing positions as much as possible.
Below we’ll see how Evan did in preparation for the tourney as well as break down France’s World Cup schedule.
Evan Fournier Blue-White Exhibition Tour Results and Recaps
July 30th: DNP – Groin – Won 79-57 over Belgium
August 8th: 2 points, 2 rebounds, 1-for-5 shooting in 12 minutes – Won 81-71 over Croatia
August 9th: 10 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 block, 1 steal, 3-for-7 shooting in 14 minutes – Won 81-73 over Greece
August 10th: 11 points, 2 rebounds, 4-for-6 shooting in 16 minutes – Lost 79-69 against Serbia
August 15th: 6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block, 2-for-5 shooting in 12 minutes – Won 75-68 over the Philippines
August 16th: 3 points, 1 rebound, 1-for-3 on 3-pointers in 15 minutes – Lost 63-56 against Ukraine
August 17th: 9 points, 3 rebounds, 3-for-6 shooting in 17 minutes – Lost 76-74 against Australia
August 23rd: 3 points, 1-for-3 shooting in 6 minutes – Won 74-69 over Finland
August 24th: 3 points, 1 rebound, 1-for-5 shooting in 16 minutes – Won 73-50 over Australia
There are 40 minutes in a FIBA game. In the exhibition games, Evan was mainly being used as an off-ball scoring threat to spread the court for others. He was always coming off the bench. I maintain that Fournier is best when he has the ball in his hands able to create for himself and others. That didn’t happen, which led to long stretches in contests where Evan barely touched the ball. He was never utilized in late-game scenarios when the team needed 3-point shooting. With that in mind, Fournier was 8-for-22 on 3-pointers (36.4%) during the exhibition tour. He averaged 5.9 ppg at around 13.5 minutes per game. Not bad, but we can expect better from the 21-year-old in his first senior men’s national team action. It’s all about if he’ll get the minutes he deserves. Look for Evan to play mostly backup shooting guard behind Batum.
So let’s look at France’s championship hopes. There are 24 teams participating. 4 groups. 6 teams in each group. Top 4 teams in each group progress to the 16-team knockout stage. Let’s just say it would be an embarrassment if France didn’t at least make it to the Round of 16. France is in Group A along with Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Serbia, and Spain. It’s probably the toughest group of the tourney, but the French should finish somewhere in that top four without much difficulty. All tip-off times listed below are Eastern Standard Time. Remember, all games can be seen on the ESPN 3 website. Every Group A game takes place in Granada, Spain.
Saturday August 30th v. Brazil 12:00 p.m. (NBA TV)
This is a large test out of the gate. On paper, Brazil appears scary with their three NBA big men in Tiago Splitter, Nene, and Anderson Varejao. Another familiar name that’s in the backcourt is Leandro Barbosa. Other than point guard Marcelinho Huertas, Brazil isn’t fantastic at the guard or forward spots. Lack of depth will be a problem as they progress through the tourney. Still, they’ve had decent results in friendlies leading up to this contest. They split a series with Argentina, beat Mexico and Slovenia, and lost to the U.S. by seventeen in Chicago on August 16th.
France needs to find a way to keep the Brazilian frontcourt in check with Gobert, Mahinmi, Lauvergne, and Diaw while capitalizing on what ought to be an advantage in the backcourt. Can France make enough outside shots to counter Brazil’s points in the paint? Can France out-run Brazil for easy transition points? If the French lose, they’re looking more at the third or fourth seed in the group. It also means that Brazil can compete for a podium spot. I’m just so accustomed to Brazil not meeting expectations that they’ll find a way to blow it again. Brazil hasn’t won a World Cup medal since they took bronze in 1978, and they haven’t won a tournament since taking gold in the 2009 FIBA Americas tourney.
Sunday August 31st v. Serbia 9:30 a.m. (NBA TV)
Speaking of underachieving, Serbia has not done well in recent years. The last medal they won was silver at the 2009 EuroBasket in Poland. The main standouts are point guard Milos Teodosic, center Nenad Krstic, and Nemanja Bjelica with young guys Miroslav Raduljica and Bogdan Bogdanovic ushering in a new era in Serbian basketball. Raduljica will have extra motivation after the Bucks traded him away. Bogdanovic was drafted 27th overall in June by the Phoenix Suns. Legendary coach Dusan Ivkovic was departed the squad over a year ago and Sasha Djordjevic is still trying to fill his predecessor’s shoes.
If France goes into this game following a Brazil loss, the pressure will be immense to get a victory. This is where Batum and Diaw will need to assert themselves early and often against an inconsistent Serbian bunch that went 7-3 in preparation matches. Serbia defeated Greece, a Bosnia-Herzegovina side that just qualified for next year’s EuroBasket, Canada, Argentina, and Croatia. They also beat the French 79-69 on August 10th in the French town of Pau. Diaw didn’t play in that game but neither did Teodosic and Krstic. Friendly results don’t mean much though since coaching staffs hide so many plays and sets that they’ll truly run in real competition. Whoever has the better 3-point shooting outing should take this one.
Monday September 1st v. Egypt 12:00 p.m.
Probably their easiest opponent. It’s convenient since this will be France’s 3rd consecutive contest in as many days. If France enters this game 0-2, this will be quite the reprieve for them. Egypt isn’t good. Can’t sugar coat it. Apparently they even lost to an Iran ‘B’ team in a preparation friendly. This should be a blow out victory for France and I’d like to see Fournier get a lot of court time.
Wednesday September 3rd v. Spain 4:00 p.m.
Why this game isn’t on NBA TV, I have no idea. USA plays the Dominican Republic at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN 2 on this day. When looking at all of the groups and the matchups, this France-Spain meeting ranks in the top 3 as far as potential entertainment value games go. This is a rematch of the 2013 EuroBasket Semifinal in which France prevailed in overtime, which caused Spain to settle for bronze.
Spain are the tournament hosts, they should be undefeated entering this contest. Spain didn’t lose an exhibition contest either. Both teams will have had a day off to prepare for one another. I would be shocked if France take this game. If Spain doesn’t pummel France inside with Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka, then they’ll just rain in 3-pointers with Juan Carlos Navarro, Jose Calderon, and Rudy Fernandez. I think is the best Spain team ever. Better than the gold medal squads at EuroBasket 2009 and 2011 as well as the 2006 World Cup team that manhandled Greece in the Final.
Thomas Heurtel and Antoine Diot are basically France’s two point guards. They have to deal with Ricky Rubio, Calderon, and Sergio Rodriguez. Good luck with that. I haven’t even mentioned Sergio Llull, Victor Claver, or Felipe Reyes as other Spaniard player options. The hosts are ridiculously stacked at all positions, something France is not. Batum and Diaw are going to have to post Herculean performances for France to have a chance. If France can somehow win, they have to be in discussion for a medal. If Fournier can have a decent showing, Magic fans should be very encouraged about what he can provide in Orlando.
Thursday September 4th v. Iran 12:00 p.m.
If for some reason France has not locked up a top four seed, then defeating Iran will be a simple enough path towards progressing to the Round of 16. I’m hoping this contest ends up being meaningless and that Fournier gets a lot of playing time. Iran is no slouch, they won gold in last year’s Asia Championship to get here. Hamed Haddadi and Arsalan Kazemi are their most recognizable players. With that said, Iran were defeated last week by Slovenia, Lithuania, and got clobbered by 40 points against Brazil. Iran should finish 5th in this group, and there’s no shame in that with Spain, Serbia, Brazil, and France being better than them. Still, that’s why they play the games. Finland was the EuroBasket surprise last year, why not Iran this year?
After the group round concludes we get into the knockout stage. We should expect France to be in the Round of 16. Without knowing specific seeds, I’ll guess right now that France doesn’t advance past the Quarterfinals because of anticipated rebounding problems.
UPDATE: 8/28/14 – 5:32 p.m.
Ian Mahinmi has departed the French national team due to a left shoulder injury that initially gave him problems in the NBA playoffs. The Indiana Pacers center is being replaced by Kim Tillie. That means Rudy Gobert will be the starting center as their frontcourt just got much thinner.