Tyreke Evans was supposed to be the guy that would resurrect basketball in Sacramento and save the Kings franchise. In his rookie season back in 2009-2010 he joined LeBron James, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan as the only players to ever average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in their rookie seasons. Evans was well on his way to becoming the next superstar in the NBA but lack of a jump shot, instability at the coaching position and lack of player development ultimately hurt him over the course of his 4 seasons in Sacramento.
Fast forward to this season and Evans found himself a new home in New Orleans where he agreed to come off the bench for a Pelicans team which has a plethora of talent to offer. Tyreke would soon find himself playing with the likes of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis. It was most definitely an upgrade in talent for Evans who was just in a horrible situation with the Kings. Monty Williams has been the head coach in New Orleans since 2010 so the stability and not having to play in 3 different systems in 4 seasons like he did in Sacramento will benefit Tyreke over the long haul.
This season has been one of finding a stable role and producing for Tyreke Evans. Never in his NBA career has he ever had to worry about not starting because he’s usually one of the best players on his team, so minutes were never hard to come by for the Memphis Tiger. This season he has played in a career low 28.1 minutes per game and its definitely been an adjustment for the Chester, Pennsylvania native. His field goal attempts have seen a slight uptick this season (12.4) compared to last season (11.8) so it’s clear that he is trying to get his shot more off the bench and give the Pelicans some scoring punch. The increase in shots would probably have to do with him playing more small forward this year then he ever has in his career so he has to play that point forward role more now then he ever did in Sacramento where he played more of an off-guard role in his 3 seasons after he won rookie of the year.
Last night as I flipped through the channels and looked for a good game to watch on NBA league pass I settled in and watched the 2nd half of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans. I watched to check and see if Melvin Ely was playing as he just got called up from the D-League, I wanted to see how he was doing. While I waited for Melvin to check in it was Tyreke Evans who was the best player on the floor doing just about anything he wanted on the floor versus OKC. Slashing, dashing and smashing the defense was what Evans was doing finding his teammates in the corner for wide open 3-pointers. He had one of those games that reminds of you of just how talented the man is.
The result of what I would watch in the 2nd half was arguably the greatest performance in the career of Tyreke Evans. He finished the night with a career high 41 points along with 9 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 blocks on 14-26 shooting. It was the type night where you ask yourself “How come Tyreke Evans is playing like this more consistently”. He had a few plays throughout the course of the game where he isolated one on one with Kevin Durant and he made some strong finishes and had success against one of the leagues elite players. “I felt like nobody could guard me out there, I seen gaps and I was finishing strong. Coach did a great job of letting me operate out of the pick and roll” said Evans following his career night. In your 5th season you are what your are in this league but given the circumstances he had to deal with in Sacaramento as well as the improving talent in New Orleans I have reason to believe that Tyreke Evans can still in some way, shape or form can still become a star in this league and here is why.
Like I alluded to earlier Tyreke has played more minutes at the small forward position then he ever has at any point in his basketball career. To be more specific he has played 70% of his minutes this year at small forward which is nearly double of his previous high of 38% of minutes at the small forward back in 2011-2012. He has played the role of point forward off the bench and has had more opportunity to settle in and make plays for his teammates than he ever did over his previous 3 seasons following his rookie of the year campaign. He was playing primarily as a shooting guard over the last 3 seasons and for Evans that just won’t work because he is a playmaker and needs the ball in his hands if you want to maximize his abilities and I firmly believe that this season he is on the right track to performing like one of better players in this league.
A look at Tyreke’s stats this year won’t make you jump out of your seat as he is averaging 14.3 points, 5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and has a player efficiency rating of 18.20. Thats a cool little stat line for him but further examination proves that this is the best year he has had since his rookie season. If we look at points generated by assists which is all the points scored for which a player is awarded an assist we will see how Reke is playing better this year. In 2009-2010 when Evans won rookie of the year his points generated by assists were 960 points, this season off the bench with a career low in minutes Tyreke Evans has generated 813 points by assists which is the highest since his rookie season. He has also drawn 138 personal fouls this season which is also the highest since his rookie season where he drew 209 fouls. Last but not least with 37 And-1’s this season that is also the highest since his rookie campaign when he had 49 And-1’s. So as we can see Tyreke taking on more of that point forward role which is beneficial to his confidence and ability to consistently make plays for his teammates which is a luxury he hasn’t had since his rookie year when he played 10% of his minutes at point guard and 19% at small forward. This season has allowed him to be in pick and roll situations the most since his rookie season and that s where Tyreke does his damage, not off the ball.
Next season when the Pelicans improve the roster and make a few moves that could include Tyreke Evans starting at small forward next season. Pelicans starting small forward Al-Farouq Aminu will be a free agent this off-season after his 1-year $3.7 million deal expires. If the Pelicans choose not to resign him then that will allow Tyreke Evans to slide in and become the teams starting small forward next season. It all makes sense, if Tyreke has been playing the bulk of his minutes at the 3 this year and the teams starting small forward hasn’t produced and has an expiring contract then it has to mean that Evans will be the long-term answer for New Orleans at small forward. Evans has 3 years left on his deal with the team and I could see him starting along side with Anthony Davis and the rest of the guys in the starting lineup next season. Surely the Pelicans can find some forwards in this draft but you would still have to get them accustom to the speed at the NBA level and wouldn’t want to hinder their development by throwing them right into the fire. So whether or not Tyreke Evans is starting next year remains to be seen but if he does I think its very possible that he can have a great year and elevate his play on a consistent basis.
Everyone expected this guy to come right into the league at age 20 and become a superstar, not everybody is LeBron James some guys take longer to come into their own in the league and I believe that to be the case with Tyreke Evans. The Pelicans have a deep team that has been depleted and decimated with injuries all year long, if healthy next year I think we will see an exciting team capable of making the playoffs. Tyreke doesn’t need to be a starter to become a star in this league, he can be a star the way guys like Jamal Crawford have been for years. He can become a great 6th man of the bench or if he does start he can show the world that what happened when he was a 20-year old rookie was no fluke and be a focal point in the 1st playoff appearance in New Orleans Pelicans history next season.