Tyreke Evans, just trying to fit in (Getty Images)
For whatever reason, several of the league's more entertaining players have fallen off in recent years. Be it due to injury, confidence issues, rotation frustrations, a poor fit, or general ennui in a profession that can get tiresome, these players have disappointed of late. For the next few weeks, we're going to take a look at a list of familiar names that haven't produced familiar games over the last few years. Or, at least players that have produced games that we don't want to be in the habit of familiarizing ourselves with.
Today, we're looking at Sacramento Kings swingman Tyreke Evans.
League Pass nutters, all the way back in 2010, knew what was going on. Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans was a special talent, to be sure, but the reason he hit for per game averages of 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists during his rookie year was because the Sacramento Kings gave him every chance to. And the reason we remember that he's one of four rookies (Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James being the others) to pull off that stat line is because the Kings, with nothing else going on that particular season, reminded us of it at every opportunity. The ball was in his hands, he played 37 minutes a night, and he put up numbers for a 25-win team.
Still, things didn't have to fall this far, did they? To go through a miserable, if injury addled, sophomore slump in 2010-11? To appear to have stagnated, at absolute best, last season? After all, even with all those chances and all those qualifiers dragging Evans' accomplishment down, his Player Efficiency Rating during his rookie season was nearly identical to James', at just one year older than LeBron in his rookie season.
To the outsider — unencumbered by leanings spurred on by fandom, understanding of both sides of the statistical argument — Evans' career can't help but be classified as a disappointment three years in. The good thing, three years in, is that there are just as many qualifiers and caveats and hell let's say it excuses as he heads into a pivotal fourth season that we're still able to hold out hope for this guy without being Pollyanna-ish about it.
Of course, we're holding out hope for something we haven't seen yet. We're holding out hope for a mixture of the Tyreke Evans that we saw in his rookie year, and the pleaded-for Tyreke Evans that can use his significant potential and gifts to utilize his skills efficiently within a team context.
First, the excuses. Systematically, Evans was doomed to level off. The man was given carte blanche in high school and in college at Memphis (playing all three perimeter positions along the way), allowed to gun at will and dish when he saw fit; not particularly selfish, just ill-equipped to contribute without the ball in his hands. That carried over in Sacramento as former Kings coach Paul Westphal saw a potential star he could cling to should the inevitable lottery team coaching shift hit yet again. Not unlike a desperate college or high school coach, thinking recruit-first and postseason wisdom secondly, Westphal allowed Evans to continue unabated. The results speak for themselves. Kevin Loughery, Stan Albeck, and Paul Silas pushed their respective stars during their rookie year and beyond. Westphal's hole was too deep to dig out of.
On top of that, Evans was clearly struggling with an ankle injury in his second season, and never really got on track. Then the lockout year hit, nobody was ready, and the in-house move that sent Westphal home while promoting Keith Smart as the new Kings coach didn't appear to do a whole heck of a lot; even after Smart moved him to small forward. Evans recovered, relative to his second season, but showed little of the promise he tempted us with in his rookie year.
Again, we're not discussing a return to that rookie style of play; because ball domination from a wing position rarely wins championships — even Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have learned this. We're talking about a well-forged alloy that includes those sorts of numbers, put up in a system that allows for smart utilization of Evans' all-around attributes.
The shot selection, though, is miserable. Jumper after jumper, going to his right, forcing things that shouldn't even be considered much less followed through upon. This is a sportswriter gimmick, but this is pickup-style basketball: I'm not going to play with or see these guys again after we win this game to 21, I haven't touched the ball for a few possessions, so I'm going to launch no matter what the next time I find it in my hands.
The problem is that Evans is going to play with these guys again, that we're going to see him two nights later at 10:30 Eastern, and that the Kings would like to turn all these highly regarded lottery picks (plus Jimmer Fredette; burn) into a postseason appearance.
How does that fit in with the team's personnel choices? The team brought in point guard Aaron Brooks during the offseason, a player that rarely creates for others, and suffers through the same lapses that Evans does. Grabbing Thomas Robinson in this year's draft was a nice move, because he'll work without the ball, but the fear remains that Evans' old tricks may never turn. Harsh words for a player only entering his fourth year, but considering the environment (retread coach, no real point guard, half a decade of playing this way on a prominent level), how high can we legitimately place expectations?
On pure talent alone, Evans should be expected to vie for All-Star berths even with Kobe Bryant still roaming the landscape. That's not going to happen any time soon, not with all the kinks yet to be worked out and DeMarcus Cousins rightfully needing the ball. Sacramento can't trade Evans, not with his value so low and teams likely to pounce on him as a restricted free agent next summer. And last we checked, Steve Nash was a Laker, and Phil Jackson was in Montana. Easy looks and gestalt theory won't be showing up in the California capital any time soon.
It appears as if the onus is on Evans. He's made mistakes before, but he knows what's up … right? Turn 23, turn the whole thing around? Maybe work a give and go? Maybe make it so not every score has to come either from his right hand or off of one of his assists? Perhaps look at another 6-5 Sacto legend, in Mitch Richmond, that used footwork and touch (and, at times, a well-placed rear-wheeled bump to the defender) to pile up the points and respect?
A lot would have to take place, and all of it (sadly) would end up being quite surprising. The in-house guy, Keith Smart, would have to take an outsider's tone. And Evans would have to significantly reverse things. It's a tall, though do-able, order.
We'd love to see it. And Sacramento Kings fans, after seven years of nonsense, deserve as much. Tyreke Evans' potential, after just as many years between his amateur and professional turn, does as well.
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