Knicks benching Kemba Walker should be message to Evan Fournier

As a summer assignment, the Knicks were busy bringing the dog days of August to life. They threw a party on the Garden floor to celebrate the two newcomers who would change everything, Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, free agents hired at a cost approaching $100 million.

They shared a stage and were given equal billing, but it was clear that Walker, the homecoming New Yorker, was the solo guest of honor. He fielded most of the questions from the reporters seated before him as Knicks president Leon Rose, GM Scott Perry and coach Tom Thibodeau looked on and smiled and nodded in agreement to his responses.

“I think we’re going to be really good,” Walker said with conviction. “My ability to get in the lane, hopefully I can draw multiple defenders and just get rid of the ball, trust in my teammates. I know this guy right here [Fournier] is going to light it up for sure. He’s going to shoot the crap out of the ball.”

It sounded like a plan, a good one. The Knicks needed to add offense for a playoff run after their first-round flameout against Atlanta and, if nothing else, the new point guard and shooting guard specialized in offense.

“Me and Evan, we are two very, very unselfish guys,” Walker added. “We’re just going to get the ball moving, find the right shot, play some defense, try to get some stops. … I think we’re going to jell super well.”

Thibodeau and everybody who cared about his team had to like what they heard. How cool would it be if the Knicks developed into a serious Eastern Conference contender with a beloved four-time All-Star and NCAA champ from the Bronx projects and a Harlem high school quarterbacking the way?

evan fournier, kemba walker, new york knicks, tom thibodeau

Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier sit on the Knicks bench during their loss to the Suns.

Jason Szenes

As it turned out, Thibodeau needed only 20 games to determine that dream scenario wasn’t plausible at all. He announced on the eve of Tuesday night’s game against the Nets in Brooklyn that Walker was no longer a first-stringer, and wouldn’t be a second-stringer, either. “We want to take a look at something different,” Thibodeau said.

Something different than Walker.

As much as the dramatic move threw light on what the 31-year-old point guard is, or isn’t, it also focused more attention on Fournier, who represents $78 million of that two-man investment. The Knicks are committed to him for four years, twice as long as they’re committed to Walker, and if they are to realize their goal of competing for a title in that time, Fournier has to be a better, more consistent player than he’s been.

Not that he didn’t have his moments entering this game with Brooklyn, the team that knocked out his Celtics in last season’s first round. Fournier opened the season by dropping 32 points on Boston in a wild double-overtime victory. In three of his previous five games, he’d scored 19 against Houston, 26 against the Lakers and 20 against the Hawks in what was a stirring road victory.

But in between the reminders of why the Knicks brought in Fournier in the first place, the 6-foot-7 Frenchman also showed why Knicks fans didn’t exactly throw themselves a parade over his signing. He has largely been a defensive liability, especially when measured against the man he replaced, Reggie Bullock, and his shooting hasn’t gone as advertised.

evan fournier, kemba walker, new york knicks, tom thibodeau

Knicks brass welcome Kemba Walker and Even Fournier to the team in August.

Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

After 15 games, Fournier conceded that fans had “seen my best and worst already.” After 20 games, he was shooting a career-worst 41.4 percent from the floor and he was averaging 13.1 points per game, a good four to six points lower than his best years in Orlando. Fournier was also averaging only 1.8 assists — his worst output since being dealt from Denver to the Magic in 2014 — and his player efficiency rating was 12.59, leaving him outside the top 200 players in the league.

That’s not good.

After he agreed to join the Knicks over the summer, Fournier said, “I enjoy pressure. I enjoy the spotlight. They had a good season and they had a really good spot open. I thought I could help. God, it’s freaking New York. You want to be part of something big, you want to have pressure, you want to be a guy that competes every night.”

Now Fournier has to walk that talk more often than he has. The Knicks signed him, Thibodeau said Tuesday night, because “the shooting is something that we desperately needed, and we wanted to add to our team just to open up the floor more.”

Fournier needs to shoot the ball more consistently, and he needs to play at a high enough level over the first three quarters to force his coach to actually play him in the fourth. Thibodeau just put everyone on notice by sending Walker to the bench, including the guy who shared that Garden stage with the point guard back in August, when optimism was a lot easier to come by.

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