Essay: Where Can Tyreke Evans Fit In?
As long as he plays for the Sacramento Kings, Tyreke Evans will be an overlooked waste of basketball talent. His repute as a lane-slashing positive impact has fallen so drastically in the last three seasons that the one-time formality of Sacramento inking him to a second contract has dwindled from “obvious,” to the strong possibility that whoever owns the team six months from now won’t be signing his pay checks.
Evans is a talented, supremely athletic guard who tricked us all into thinking he was Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose before Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose launched themselves into the sport’s stratosphere. While he routinely gets to the rim with similar ease, Evans’ ability to elevate his teammate’s level of play (ie passing the basketball) has managed to get worse instead of better.
Making matters worse, his jump shot hasn’t improved like any “successful” guard’s should. (In fact, his shot is gross beyond the point of debilitating weakness; his form—incorrectly—leads us to believe little to no work has ever gone into making it better.)
Evans isn’t good enough to force success wherever he goes, playing in whatever system under whatever coach, surrounded by a random assembly of teammates. In no way is this an indictment on him. It’s a statement that applies to just about everybody in the league not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant. If the players around him aren’t a good fit, and the game plan isn’t conducive, problems will arise.
Looking at some of Sacramento’s three-man units this season, the Kings score 6.7 more points per 100 possessions when John Salmons is grouped with DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson instead of Evans, an interesting stat that might be meaningless but could be attributed to those two big guys clogging the paint whenever Sacramento has the ball.
Awful news for Evans, whose primary strength is getting to the basket. (With the Kings looking to build around Cousins, Thompson, and rookie forward Thomas Robinson, driving lanes could be few and far between in the years ahead.)
One of the ways Kings head coach Keith Smart has tried getting Evans involved in the offense is as a pick-and-roll initiator (they make up 16.2% of all his offensive possessions, per Synergy.) While we know slashing is something very few players do better, running a pick-and-roll is something very few could dream of doing worse.
Unlike his faulty jump shot—an area he could eventually improve if he stopped unnecessarily falling back every time he attempts one—Evans’ inability to read defenses in his fourth season is an alarming sign. No surprises here, but when he initiates a pick-and-roll he turns the ball over a quarter of the time.
(In his rookie season, one out of every five times Evans ended a possession it was handling a pick-and-roll. He turned it over 10% less of the time.)
The jump shot and inability to make others better can and should be pinned on Evans. But not all the causes for concern are his fault. Some of his poor play can be attributed to Kings’ management, a group that decided to overload the team’s backcourt in recent years by throwing Jimmer Fredette, Isaiah Thomas, Aaron Brooks, and Marcus Thornton into a blender.
(Also, in his sophomore season, Evans was plagued by plantar fasciitis, a pain so severe he once compared it to getting stabbed in the foot.)
Since then, the Kings have drafted several gifted players, only to extract their talent like the world’s worst chef using a sledgehammer to crack an egg. The whole thing is a mess.
Remember Evans’ rookie season? When his all-around impressiveness produced numbers comparable to Michael Jordan and LeBron James? Right now his PER, true shooting percentage, and rebounding percentage are all better than they were then. But his minutes, points, assists, and rebounds per game are down. (He’s second on the team in points, field goal percentage, and assists, third in rebounds and usage percentage, and second in PER.)
From 3-23 feet, Evans is shooting 26.2%, per Hoopdata. He’s making 38.3% of his threes, but has only attempted 47 all season; a sign that he understands just how insulting his impersonation of a deep threat can be.
A good chunk of his baskets come in transition, where he drools in his sleep over taking defensive rebounds rim to rim. But just as many are in the half-court, with Evans beating his man off the dribble and forcing action into the lane.
One way to look at him is as a shooting guard who can’t shoot and a point guard who can’t pass. Another is as a 23-year-old restricted free agent who has SERIOUS potential if placed in a different environment.
The fact that Evans could fit in on so many teams is indicative of two things: 1) The Sacramento Kings are THAT toxic, 2) Approximately 75% of the league could use an upgrade at the shooting guard position. Here are several roles and situations that would mask Evans’ various weaknesses, while simultaneously bringing out all the good he has to offer.
Eventual elite perimeter defender
We’ll start with defense, an area rarely discussed when it comes to Tyreke Evans. But why is that? His synergy numbers in isolation have been up and down this season, but just watch him defend a ball-handler on the perimeter and you’ll immediately find yourself feeling sympathy for the offense.
Evans is an absolute menace when placed on an island, and he might be the most underrated one-on-one perimeter defender in the league. He’s disciplined, has lightning quick arms, and feet smart enough to recover on the few fakes that trick his brain.
His work defending pick-and-rolls could be a lot better, but a lot of that can be explained by Sacramento’s lack of communication/comprehension of a definitive game plan. (Often, Evans will switch without his teammate knowing, and vice versa, either leaving his man wide open, or the screener free to roll or pop behind the three-point line.)
Inserting him in the starting lineup of a team looking to either establish or reinforce a defense-first mentality (possibly alongside a starting point guard who struggles on the ball) would be perfect. Think of Tony Allen, except with game-changing offensive ability.
Possible suitors: Philadelphia, Detroit, Portland, Cleveland, Memphis
Athletic punch off the bench
This is Jamal Crawford with the Los Angeles Clippers or J.R. Smith with the New York Knicks—two players considered for this season’s All-Star game by several former players who earn a living offering their opinions on television.
Evans can’t spread the floor like either of those two, but overall he’s pretty good at putting the ball in the hoop. In league history, there have been 26 guards age 23 or younger who’ve averaged at least 15 points and 4.6 free-throw attempts per game with a true shooting percentage of 55.2%. Evans is one of them.
Put him on a pseudo-contender’s bench and unleash him as a change of pace scoring weapon. It could be the difference for that team between falling in the first or second round, and making a more legitimate run at the NBA championship. Defense is a constant, but scoring the basketball while the starters are resting is an important factor for every team in every playoff series.
Possible suitors: San Antonio, Indiana, Boston
Offensive focal point, surrounded by veterans and a really good coach (aka O.J. Mayo 2.0)
O.J. Mayo 2.0 is in the sub-header because that’s exactly what Evans can be. If Mayo leaves Dallas next season (he has a $4 million player option that he likely exercises) Evans could slide right in and position himself as a slightly more athletic clone. He can’t shoot like Mayo, but he can score in a variety of other ways while holding his own on the defensive end. If (this is a huge “if”) that jump shot eventually comes around, he’s an All-Star.
Generally speaking, if Evans is surrounded by a stable of veterans, has ownership that cares/knows what it’s doing, has no pressure of becoming the regular number one option, and is under the guide of a well-respected coach, it’d be difficult to imagine Evans not finding success—especially beside an effective star already there, always taking the brunt of the defensive’s focus and relinquishing just enough offensive responsibility to balance it all out.
Possible suitors: Dallas, Minnesota, Utah
Guy who gets to rim
The easiest, most desired shot in basketball is, and will always be, a layup. Tyreke Evans averages 6.5 shots at the rim per game, more than any other guard in basketball not named James Harden. He makes four, more than Carmelo Anthony, Zach Randolph, Russell Westbrook, Joakim Noah, and Dwyane Wade.
He either gets there off the dribble, in transition, or (a newer wrinkle) off a well-timed cut to the rim. Here he is, making it look easy. First off the dribble, then in transition.
It’s a skill that’s too important to be ignored, and the potential suitors in this category either struggle making shots in the restricted area, or getting there in the first place.
Possible suitors: Brooklyn, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, Indiana
Finding a new home for Tyreke Evans is entirely dependent on the assumption that Sacramento won’t be interested in matching any offer sheets this summer. To date, they’ve shown no indication of him being a major cog in their future plans.
Despite his numerous flaws, Evans is quietly putting together a respectable bounce back season, but his role as is doesn’t foster consistent success. He’s young, and remains as talented as he is overlooked. The sooner he changes scenery, the better for everybody. All he needs is the right fit.