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Mile High Sports

Nuggets could have their Manu in first-round pick

Perplexed. That was the overwhelming feeling when the Denver Nuggets drafted a teenage Frenchman with the 20th overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Prior to Thursday, few people had heard of Evan Fournier and even less had projected the Nuggets selecting him. This pick has been universally scoffed at by most people in Denver, but before we write Fournier’s career off as a failure, let’s consider what the Nuggets could have in the raw 19-year-old guard.

As the quick pace of the shortened NBA season progressed, glaring holes emerged for the Nuggets. George Karl’s squad looked anemic on offense more than not. The overriding cause? The lack of players with the ability to create their own shot. Inside and out, the Nuggets, as a team, relied on structured basketball to create looks at the rim.

Calling team basketball a weakness may seem like an odd assertion, but as we saw in the NBA Finals, every team must have players able and willing to take games over – such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Talents such as these not only benefit a team concept by opening the floor, but when things go awry, they can create on their own.

It’s no secret that the Nuggets lack top-end talent. This is was what the Nuggets went after at No. 20, and they landed a raw talent that can come off the bench and take over a game.

Projecting Fournier’s ceiling to the likes of James or Durant is silly, but it isn’t out of the question he can have a Manu Ginobili type of career.

There are few players who have haunted the Nuggets like Ginobili. His style of play, big shots and clutch performances have made him a hated player by those loyal to the powder blue. Quite the opposite is true for those who root for the San Antonio Spurs.

People love to hate Ginobili when he is an opponent, but they love him when he is on their side. Fans and organizations covet players with his work ethic on and off the court.

Fournier needs to model his career after Ginobili’s – a sixth man who can enter games and swing the momentum. Comparing a 19-year-old Frenchman, who has never played a minute in the NBA, to player who has helped led his team to three NBA championships, as well as been awarded Sixth Man of the Year and Rookie of the Year honors, may seem lofty. That is until you take a deeper look.

The “sharp shooter” that the Nuggets drafted seems anything but. Last season playing in France, Fournier shot 52.2 percent from the field; that’s acceptable. But he was only 27.7 percent from behind the arc; that’s extremely unimpressive. And he was a meager 75.4 percent from the free throw line; that’s troubling. These numbers don’t bode well for long-term success against the best players in the world until put into perspective.

Ginobili isn’t the much more than an average shooter either – his career NBA numbers aren’t breath taking: .453 FG%,  .373 3P%, and .835 FT% – but his game isn’t built around lights-out shooting.

His numbers are easily overlookable when coupled with his ability to create for himself and others, and impact a game on both sides of the floor. Ginobili’s defense is just as important as his offense. He is a complete player basketball player.

If Fournier wants to build a successful career in the NBA, he’ll need to develop a similar skill set. He needs to diversify into a player whose impact goes beyond that of a sharp shooter, and Fournier is on the right road.

Ginobili’s path from Argentine to the NBA went through Europe. The aging Spurs guard cut his teeth in the Italian professional ranks. Fournier is and must continue to do the same France. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. A foreign guard of similar size and ability has been down this road before. Fournier needs to follow in his footsteps.

When the Nuggets entered last Thursdays draft, there was a ton of excitement. Rumors swirled about trades and projections as the hottest executive in the league prepared for his second draft.

When the progress ended, the only thing that remained was bewilderment. Fournier is young and raw (and European; insert joke). But if he develops as the Nuggets believe he can, they’ll have the Ginobili they’ve always wanted. Look to San Antonio and their Argentinean to see what the Nuggets could have in their young Frenchman.

May he turn out a failure? Yes, but he also has the ability to be a key cog on a championship team.

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