Not much was known about 19-year-old Evan Fournier after he was selected in the first round, but it was apparent after watching some Adidas camp YouTube videos that he was a fluid scorer and playmaker. In contrast, much was known about Baylor forward Quincy Miller, because he was compared to Kevin Durant while both were in high school, even though he took a step back in college after a torn ACL.
It was perfect, because these two would get the proper time to develop and then be ready to star when called upon! The Nuggets didn’t need either to immediately make an impact to win games. So, they could use the veteran coach, and put them under the wing of skill players that included Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, and All-Star Andre Iguodala.
Masai Ujiri (Who I still have a man crush on even though he’s in Toronto) not only set this Nuggets team up to win now, but he was putting pieces together that would sustain a contending team for years to come. The Nuggets were becoming a flagship franchise in the NBA.
Then, ALL OF THE SUDDEN the future for the entire franchise was in question. All hell broke loose after the Nuggets choked a series away against the Golden State Warriors, because the team lost their GM, head coach, and All-Star forward. Brian Shaw was hired as head coach, and the Nuggets were going to need some sort of contribution from their two sophomores Miller and Fournier if they were to continue the 10-season streak of making the playoffs. UH OH.
Fournier got a little floor time his rookie season, averaging 11 minutes a game, but the 20-year-old couldn’t even DRINK YET, so how was he going to play a significant role on a playoff team?
Similarly, Quincy Miller spent much of the 2012-13 season rehabbing his ACL, and only appeared in seven games. which means he’s probably not ready to play like Kevin Durant. I remember thinking if the Nuggets needed these two to win, then the 2013-14 season is doomed.
Luckily, I was wrong. Coach Brian Shaw was able to see enough talent from the duo that they have remained on the floor despite the recent rotation cut (a couple injuries helped as well). Both of the (now) 21-year-olds have played significant roles in the Nuggets hitting a stride so far in January and winning six of their last seven games.
Evan Fournier is averaging 12.6 points in 22 minutes on a 55 percent 3-point shooting percentage over the last seven. He has provided a much-needed shooter to keep the pace once Randy Foye hits the bench, and honestly the kid is just fun to watch. He’s got a foreign flare that I haven’t seen on the Nuggets in my lifetime. In Denver’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, he had 19 points in 18 minutes – shooting a smooth and efficient 4-for-7 from three.
Quincy Miller was able to START three games when Wilson Chandler got hurt in January, and he has shown the raw skill that brings excitement for the future. In the three starts he averaged 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds a game. He looked fantastic in the blowout win against the Orlando Magic, recording his first career double-double: 16 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.
I’m not the only one that noticed – Coach Shaw has remained high on both the talented youngsters in his short time with the Nuggets. He recently said Fournier is “taking advantage” of the increased minutes. Shaw also compared Miller to All-Star Paul George in training camp: “When I got to Indiana, I didn’t know very much about Paul George. Once I got there and I started working with him, I was like, ‘Wow, this guy could really be good if he puts in the work.’ (Miller) reminds me of that situation.”
There is no doubt that watching Quincy Miller and Evan Fournier improve night over night will be a highlight in a season where the Nuggets will be fighting for a playoff spot.
Even though neither are close to playing at Paul George’s level, and the minutes are likely to decrease as the Nuggets get healthier, it’s both important and refreshing to see Fournier and Miller use their playing time to start a path to becoming big time NBA players. Even if that playing time came a little sooner than we all thought on draft night 2012.