Make no mistake about it: Evan Fournier does not like sitting in the fourth quarter.
Fournier, who was supposed to be the team’s premier offseason acquisition, has been on the bench for four straight fourth quarters heading into Saturday’s game against the Houston Rockets. The way he sees it, that’s a coaching decision and it’s up to him to play well enough to force his way back on the court.
"I don’t need to be finessed. I don’t need to be soft-talked," Fournier said after practice on Friday. "I’m not an old player but a veteran. It’s OK. My feeling won’t get hurt. I want the team to play well. I want to play well. When I don’t, I have to do better. I always try to look at myself first and how I can do things to get better and be out there.
"I’m not saying I’m happy being on the bench, no. That’s not what I’m saying. I know what I’m capable of and I know what I can do to help this team win. Because ultimately, that’s all we want to do. We all want to win."
Fournier was seen as a significant upgrade from Reggie Bullock in the starting lineup at the start of the season. The thought was he had both the talent and the experience to take some of the scoring burden off Julius Randle.
In the season opener, Fournier scored a career-high 32 points as the Knicks beat the Boston Celtics in double overtime. Since then, however, he has yet to score more than 18 points and is averaging 12.2 in 28.3 minutes per game. In the last four games, he is averaging only 4.8 points in 22.5 minutes per game, shooting 8-for-26 from the field and 3-for-14 from three-point range.
It’s clear that it is taking Fournier a while to develop the kind of chemistry that Randle had with Bullock.
"In fairness to everyone involved, I think after 15 games last season, no one was saying that Julius and Reggie had great chemistry," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It’s something that evolved over the course of the season. So I think it’s something you have to give a chance to work out."
Derrick Rose said every player goes through his own process when joining a new team and figuring out where he fits in best. He said it took him a little while in his first stint with the Knicks when he found himself the third option behind Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.
"It’s going to take some time," he said. "We’re not worried about that. Evan, he’s a shooter. He’s a great playmaker. He can put the ball on the floor. I think we just gotta put the emphasis on just getting plays where Evan can get an open look so he can get his groove going."
Fournier said he has to get used to the fact that he’s not going to play a guaranteed 32 minutes a night, as he did for teams in the past. He realizes that to play at the end of a game, he’s going to have to give it all he's got at the beginning.
"The situation I’m in right now is that I don’t know how many minutes I’m going to play," Fournier said. "I have to have the mindset of, if I’m going to play 20 minutes, then just come out of the game with extreme energy. Being alert, being ultra-aggressive. And trying to have an impact. Because historically, I’ve been really good in fourth quarters, actually. And now that I’m not playing in fourth quarters, I have to bring something early on."
Notes & quotes: Nerlens Noel, who has missed four games with a sore knee, practiced fully and is probable for the Rockets game. Taj Gibson (ankle) is doubtful.