Fournier Being Left Off France’s National Team Seems Wrong

The French national basketball team’s 12-man roster for the 2016 Olympics – that’s taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this August – was revealed this week. One very noticeable name was lacking that from that list…recently re-signed Orlando Magic wing player Evan Fournier.

Evan Fournier was the NBA’s highest-scoring Frenchman in the ’15-’16 campaign at 15.4 points per contest. Not Nicolas Batum (14.9 ppg). Not Tony Parker (11.9 ppg).

Every French media outlet recognizes the 23-year-old Fournier as the future leader of the national team. At 13 years old, he was in a TV commercial with Boris Diaw. Nando de Colo is already taking responsibilities away from the aging Tony Parker. Nic Batum is still in his prime, but it’s Fournier who brings the scoring versatility and the charisma that fans get attracted to.

Fournier played huge roles in France’s bronze medals at the 2014 FIBA World Cup as well as the 2015 EuroBasket tournaments.

Why is Evan Fournier not making the trip to Rio de Janeiro? French folks are still speculating.

The uproar from people in regards to Evan’s exclusion was so loud that the leaders of France basketball had to respond. The explanation coming from coach Vincent Collet and the basketball federation is basically they didn’t want to unbalance the chemistry of a French squad that won their Olympic Qualifying Tournament in the Philippines earlier this July which punched their ticket to Brazil for August’s quest for an Olympic medal.

If the ‘don’t break the continuity’ argument is being made, then why include Rudy Gobert? He was out nursing an ankle injury apparently during that entire OQT. But he wasn’t a free agent like Fournier. 90% of the time you don’t see a high-profile NBA free agent – which is what Evan was – wear their national team’s jersey until that deal is signed and active. Insurance is typically the largest factor.

Evan signed his 5-year, reported $85 million contract on July 7th to remain with the Magic franchise. On the day that Fournier had his press conference, right at the end, Evan in his own words said that he would be playing for France if they qualified for the Olympics. There is zero doubt in his demeanor. He was planning on playing. Which makes his exclusion by the coaching staff and the basketball decision makers all the worse. France would defeat Turkey on July 9th, and then Canada on July 10th to win that OQT.

I understand why the 35-year-old Florent Pietrus is there despite his physical skills diminishing. No offence to the 27-year-old Antoine Diot and the 29-year-old Charles Kahudi, but Fournier deserves one of those 12 roster spots over those guys. Vincent Collet is the coach of Strasbourg in the French league. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that Diot played under Collet from 2013 to 2015.

Because of the controversy, I can’t ignore Collet’s obvious disdain after the 2014 FIBA World Cup concluded for what he referred to as an ‘arrogance’ that Fournier supposedly possessed while on the basketball court. But that’s Evan, supremely confident. Evan is never a liability for his country. He can score from anywhere, and his passion can hardly be matched. That reaction from Collet though has always been in the back of my mind. Maybe I was waiting for a moment like this, where Evan is obviously getting screwed in this situation.

There are Magic fans relieved that Fournier won’t be playing next month. ‘He’ll be more rested for the Magic season’. ‘No need to worry about Zika’. ‘Brazil isn’t safe’. Those statements can’t be ignored, but people saying those things don’t understand the amount of pride most international players have when it comes to national team duty. Plus, teams get sheltered during the Olympics. They’re not nearly as at risk of danger hitting them as the many tourists that will be there. That’s beside the point.

Playing for your national team doesn’t pay the bills. But playing in the NBA is still a job – yes, an extremely well paying job – and many times the fun one experiences from being around fellow national teammates and battling on a court in front of those intense crowd atmospheres while trying to claim hardware for your country is severely lacking when they return to their NBA occupations.

There will be 12 teams competing for gold, silver, and bronze in Rio. Team USA will once again be the overwhelming favorite to take the top prize. In my opinion, France is the only team that can beat them. Maybe Spain. Serbia and Croatia are another tier below them. France would have a much better chance at gold if Fournier was on the squad too. Evan, at a minimum, would be the fourth-best player on that roster. And yet, he doesn’t crack the top-12. That’s wrong.

Mario Hezonja (Croatia) will be the only current Magic player representation at the Olympics. Evan Fournier should certainly be another. Unfortunately, he’s not.

Fournier & France Win FIBA World Cup Bronze Medal

In his first showing with the French men’s senior national basketball team, the Orlando Magic’s Evan Fournier has won a bronze medal at the FIBA World Cup having defeated Lithaunia 95-93 on Saturday in the 3rd Place Game. It was a thrilling rematch of the 2013 EuroBasket Final that transformed into a free throw duel at the finish. France follows up gold at last year’s EuroBasket with their first ever medal at the FIBA World Cup. Nicolas Batum led France with 27 points while Jonas Valanciunas led his Lithuanian side with 25 points. Fournier would only play 16 minutes – sitting out the entire fourth period – as he finished with 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist on 0-for-4 shooting (0-of-1 on 3s). As with many of Evan’s games in Spain, Fournier’s impact is larger than the statistics indicate.

Below is details of the contest.

 

Lithuania may have had an extra day of rest than France, but it was Lithuania’s first time playing in Madrid having been in Barcelona for their previous knockout games. Fournier checked in with France up 7-5 at the 5:29 mark. Evan missed his first attempt, a 3-pointer from the left side. Fournier Vdid a decent job of guarding former Duke Blue Devil Martynas Pocius. Evan would drive up the middle for a nice lefty dish down to Antoine Diot for an easy baseline bucket. A Nicolas Batum 3-pointer to beat the buzzer put France up 22-19 after one period. No signs of French fatigue considering their Semifinals match occurred 18 hours prior to tip-off of this 3rd Place Game.

Evan would sit to begin the second period but checked back in at the 4:23 mark of the first half with the French up 34-32 as Batum and Joffrey Lauvergne were performing fantastically. Fournier would force Pocius into fouling him on a right to left drive into the paint. The 6’6″ guard would make both free throws. It was intriguing seeing massive centers Jonas Valanciunas and Rudy Gobert take up an enormous amount of space around the rim with their physicality.

Fournier would sit with 1:24 until halftime having tallied 4 points on 1-for-2 shooting with a rebound and an assist in 8 minutes. Or so I thought. FIBA would take Evan’s field goal make away and award it to Gobert for a questionable putback. The French led 43-42 at the break. Lithuania’s 22-13 rebounding advantage is what kept the contest close. They had more offensive rebounds (12) than France had defensive (11). Valanciunas led his side with 12 points while Batum (13 points) and Lauvergne (11 points) paced France.

Evan checked in at the 8-minute mark with the French down 47-46 as Lithuania was making their perimeter shots. Gobert picked a bad time in the tourney to struggle on both ends of the court. Lithuania began to bury the French with numerous 3-pointers while fatigue started setting in for France and their offense stalled. Evan did a nice job of penetrating the paint and earning free throws. In transition, Evan would get up a tough righty banking floater over two Lithuanians which allowed Florent Pietrus to fly in and get the putback finish. Evan ended the third period with a difficult buzzer beating one-footed turnaround jumper off an offensive rebound that didn’t fall. France trailed 71-64 entering the last ten-minute session. Lithuania were 5-for-7 on 3-pointers in the third period.

Fournier opened the fourth quarter on the bench, and never reentered the contest. Coach Collet preferred an Antoine Diot and Florent Pietrus wing rotation off the bench. Thanks to some NBA-like plays from Batum and Diaw, France took a 77-75 lead with 4:34 remaining. Great comeback for Les Bleus. Valanciunas wouldn’t give in though as he’d score five straight points as he had his way with Gobert, Lauvergne, and Diaw. France again held the advantage, 82-80 with 1:27 left, after Diaw completed a ridiculous shake that Hakeem Olajuwon would have loved. Lithuania was dominating the boards in the first 3 periods, only to give up the result by letting France out-rebound them when it mattered most in crunch time.

The French would prevail in the end after Valanciunas missed several attempts at the rim followed by yet another impressive Diaw drive and basket. It was all part of a 9-0 French run. All that was left was converting on free throws (which Thomas Heurtel almost blew) and playing adequate enough defense. Lithuania actually got within 1 before French decided not to choke the contest away. All with Evan and his benched teammates looking beyond nervous. It was a lengthy amount of free throws for both squads in that last minute of play that took about 20 minutes to complete. Congratulations on your first FIBA World Cup medal, Evan and France.

Click above for Fournier’s tourney stats. Even though Evan didn’t personally have the best conclusion to his tournament, we know Fournier had a massive role in getting the French to this accomplishment. In 9 games, Fournier averaged 6.9 ppg, 1.3 rpg, and 1.2 apg on 38.5 FG%, 68.2 FT%, and 24.1 3PT% at 15 minutes per contest. The 6.9 points per game were the 5th-highest on the roster. As has been documented numerous times, Evan managed to have a great tournament despite struggling with his 3-point shot (7-for-29) as Nicolas Batum’s SG backup. Fournier’s best games would come against Iran in the last Group A game, Croatia in the Round of 16, and against Serbia in the Semifinals.

Evan’s defense was a revelation of great habits that the Magic coaching staff can certainly utilize as well as his floor spacing and court vision versatility. I expect Fournier’s role under Coach Vincent Collet to grow heading into EuroBasket 2015, a tournament in which France hosts the final round. I would expect guys like Tony Parker and Joakim Noah to participate. Evan will head back to Orlando and rest up for 2 weeks before Magic training camp begins. This international experience should give the 6’6″ wing an abundance of confidence. Evan will have his opportunity to be the Magic’s starting shooting guard come Opening Night.

Adam Papageorgiou is Owner/Editor of MBO and Founder of Orlando Magic Greek