For the second straight November, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau already has dropped a significant veteran from his starting lineup.
Evan Fournier was replaced by second-year shooting guard Quentin Grimes in Friday night’s starting five in Philadelphia, scoring just two points in a season-low 14 minutes off the bench in the Knicks’ 106-104 comeback victory over the 76ers.
The 30-year-old Fournier had started in all 80 of his appearances with the Knicks last season, and the first seven games this year ahead of Friday’s benching. Former All-Star point guard Kemba Walker similarly was replaced in the starting unit with Alec Burks in late November of last season.
“It is what it is. I’m in Year 11. So I know a lot of things can happen,” Fournier said after Friday’s win. “We see it every year. Last year with Kemba. So I’m going to do the best with what I have, try to impact winning and be a good teammate. That’s all you can ask for. Just do my best. Be a pro and take it from there…By doing your job.
“Nothing really changes for the approach of the game. You have the same approach. You have to do the best with what’s given. That’s it.”
Fournier, who set a franchise record last season with 241 made 3-pointers, said Thibodeau informed him of the switch Friday morning. The Frenchman had registered three points on 1-for-6 shooting in 19 minutes in the Knicks’ previous game, a home loss to the Hawks on Wednesday.
“He doesn’t need to explain himself. He made a decision,” Fournier said of Thibodeau. “We’re a team and have to move forward.”
Appearing in just his second game after missing the first six due to foot soreness, Grimes didn’t make a significant impact on Friday’s stat sheet with two points (both on free throws) and a minus-20 rating in 15 minutes of action.
Cam Reddish, who’d been seeing steady rotation minutes with the second unit while Grimes was sidelined, notably played ahead of Grimes and Fournier down the stretch of Friday’s win.
Reddish hit all four of his field-goal attempts and finished with 11 points in 15 minutes overall. That included the final 6:42 of the fourth quarter as the Knicks went with a small lineup featuring both Julius Randle and Obi Topping and overcame a 10-point deficit to halt their three-game skid.
After evening their record to 4-4 with their first road win of the season, the Knicks were slated to play the second end of back-to-back games Saturday night against the Celtics at the Garden. Asked Friday if he planned to stick with Grimes as a starter, Thibodeau replied, “We’ll see. We’ll see how everything [goes]. There’s nothing set in stone. It’ll be game-by-game, get a look at different guys.”
With Grimes and Reddish both seeing backcourt time, veteran guard Derrick Rose logged just seven scoreless minutes in Friday’s win.
Fournier indicated his biggest adjustment with the second unit will be lining up more as a small forward instead of shooting guard, with those three players and Immanuel Quickley also vying for minutes.
“That’s what I’m going to have to figure out with a little bit more time. So I can’t tell you right now,” Fournier said about his changing role. “Obviously playing with different players. I’ll most likely play the 3 now instead of the 2. So it’s definitely going to be a few things…I’m going to be in different spots and I’m going to be against bigger guys.”
The 6-foot-7 Fournier is guaranteed $18 million this season and another $18.9 million next year, with the Knicks also controlling a $19 million team option for 2024-25.
“I thought we were doing OK [as a starting unit]. The problem wasn’t starting the game at all compared to last year. Honestly I thought we were doing well,” Fournier added. “But QG is back healthy. I think [Thibodeau] wanted to give him an opportunity.”