Evan Fournier must run the point for the Nuggets’ Summer League team

“I can play point guard sometimes to help the team, because I like to have the ball in my hands. But I’m a shooting guard.”
Evan Fournier

NBA Summer League games don’t mean a whole hell of a lot in terms of evaluating what kind of player production and efficiency to expect in real NBA games. They’re notoriously unreliable at predicting regular season performance.

To boot, the 2009 Summer League leaders were Anthony Randolph with 26.8 points per game, Joey Dorsey with 14.8 rebounds per game, and Marcus Williams with 8.2 assists per game. In the 2009-10 season, they went on to respectively score 11.6 ppg (.443 FG%), 2.9 rpg, and 2.6 apg. Or in other words, if you wish to peer into the future of the NBA, the Summer League is a really crappy crystal ball.

That said, that’s not really what teams are primarily using it for anyhow. It’s primarily a tool for coaches and front offices to refine their understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their developing young players, many of whom are playing against (low tier) NBA talent for their first times. Secondarily, for teams with end-of-the-bench roster spots to fill, it’s an opportunity to find some pine fodder, stash it in the D-League and perhaps get lucky by taking a flier on a guy who looks like he has a little upside.

When it’s all said and done, however, what happens in the Summer League has very little predictive power or impact on what happens in the games that really matter.

That said, the teams still do want to win. It’s good for instilling confidence in their young players. For rookies joining fairly well stacked rosters, it’s a chance to shine in the bright lights for a moment before getting buried in the bottom of the depth chart. And for the coaching staffs it’s a first opportunity to feel out the chemistry of different player combinations.

So in those aspects, it’s good to see individual players and the team as a whole perform well. This is a point I’m happy to concede to @Smooth_Operatah, who I was having a disagreement with earlier today on twitter (he puts much more weight on the importance of the Summer League than I do). It’s not that these games are completely irrelevant – if they were, why bother playing them at all? But their utility is very specific, and narrow in scope.

Which brings me to my point.

Backup point guard Julyan Stone did not play in the Nuggets’ first Summer League game versus the Golden State Warriors, apparently due to a hip injury which required surgery (see Hoopshype and Roundball Mining Company). This is bad news for the Nuggets in general as they’ve been grooming Stone for a year as a potential future backup to Ty Lawson.

More immediately (though less importantly), it’s bad news for their Summer League team. If you watched this first game, you won’t need the box score to understand how desperately this squad was missing someone to run the offense, which was pretty much a chaotic free-for-all characterized most notably by really poor shot selection.

But the numbers do drive the point home.

As a team, the Nuggets had 11 assists and 29 turnovers. That’s a disastrous 0.38 assist to turnover ratio. Even more troubling is the fact that Kenneth Faried, with a whopping 3 dimes, was the team’s assist leader. Yes, among Denver’s guards, Jordan Hamilton and Derwin Kitchen found their way to two dimes apiece,while Demonte Harper and Evan Fournier managed just one each.

Now again, I certainly do not want to overstate the importance of a single Summer League game, which in the bigger picture is relatively insignificant. Everything that happens in these games has got to be taken with large doses of salt grains. The players have little experience working together as a unit, the coaches obviously have no time to implement anything even remotely resembling a coherent system, the level of competition is extremely inconsistent, most players are not at their peak conditioning – and the list of reasons why this all matters little goes on and on.

But now there are two things that do matter for Denver: Stone’s injury, and Fournier’s contract.

After it was widely speculated that the Nuggets would stash Fournier in France for a season due mainly to limited roster space, they signed him to what Chris Dempsey reports is likely a 3-year, $3.5 million deal, making it a near-certainty that he will not only remain with the team in Denver, but that even if he spends time in the D-League, he will likely be on call to jump into action in the case of injury.

And Stone’s injury may well accelerate that process. Few details have been released about his condition, but given the recovery time required for hip surgery, as well as Denver’s roster crunch, it seems quite likely that he’ll at least be inactive for the start of the 2012-13 season, if not cut from the team altogether before then.

Ty Lawson has already shown some propensity to injury. And although Andre Miller has been one of the most injury-free players in NBA history, the fact that he’s now 36 years old may well prevent him from sustaining such good fortune. And in the event either one of those two goes down, if Stone is either unavailable for duty or off the team, it appears that Evan Fournier may be the closest remaining player Denver will have to a backup point guard.

“I can play point guard sometimes to help the team.”

Fournier’s words. And if he ever wanted the opportunity to back them up with action, the time is now for him to try and walk the walk.

I wouldn’t want to put too much pressure on him, or try to force him into playing too far outside his natural comfort zone. He’s only 19 years old, and it’s important for him to develop at his own pace.

But he does seem to have a “I’m ready to take on the world” type of character. And the Keystone Cops confusion of the Nuggets offense is obviously in dire need of a floor general to run the point, direct traffic, and create better shots for the players.

So the remaining Summer League games seem to me to be a somewhat ideal chance to make lemonade out of lemons. No matter what happens in the future, Stone is out for now and the team needs a PG. On top of that, if the front office genuinely believes Fournier is part of the team’s future, that future most likely includes spending at least some time at the 1.

So I hope they put this idea on wheels and test it out a little bit over the next few games. Who knows, maybe it will pan out, maybe not. But if Fournier can even show that he has the mere potential to run the point effectively, it will not only ease concern about the end results of Stone’s injury, but on the PR front it should also go a long way in making the selection of Fournier with the 20th pick appear much more sensible in the eyes of many fans.

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