We always assume that players want to be the next [insert NBA great here].
Michael Jordan was the next Julius Erving. LeBron James was supposed to be the next Jordan then the next Magic Johnson and then the next Oscar Robertson. Carmelo Anthony was going to be the next Bernard King. Kobe Bryant was obviously going to be the next Anti-Christ.
Whatever the comparison has been, it’s always been the next someone. We never assume that anybody wants to be the first Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, or Vernon Maxwell. So we immediately try to find a comparison for Tyreke Evans. I, myself, have compared him to a mixture of Gerald Wallace and Ron Artest. Others have compared him to LeBron James and Derek Rose. But none of those comparisons are completely accurate.
With Tyreke Evans, the closest player we’ve seen with his size trying to come into this league and play point guard is Boris Diaw. When Boris came stateside, he was a 6’8”, 200 lbs point guard trying to find a place for his (at times) awkward game. However, Evans is about three inches shorter, 20 lbs heavier and a much more aggressive player than Diaw has ever been.
People really want to compare him to LeBron James because of the size comparisons and because both guys can be bulls at Pamplona when attacking the paint. Unfortunately, the two things that greatly set LeBron James from Reke are James’ athleticism and passing ability. You simply can’t compare Tyreke to LeBron because Tyreke is not a gifted passer. He’s barely a marginal passer who just happens to have the ball in his hands so much that people have dubbed him an oversized point guard. We forget that when LBJ entered the league, he had been consumed with highlight dunks, Hummers, magazine covers, and making plays for his teammates. He was unselfish to a fault until he finally adjusted his game to be selfish and yet still be a playmaker.
That isn’t to say that Evans is selfish by any means. He’s just never been asked to distribute to his teammates as much. He doesn’t really have that internal reminder ticking constantly, showing him the passing lane to find the shooter on the perimeter or the cutter on the weak side. In high school, he was bigger, tougher, more athletic, and better than everybody on the court, every game. He averaged 29 points and six assists per game in his senior year at American Christian High School. He was a scoring point guard then and went to Memphis to continue that style.
He even stated when he made his decision to attend Memphis that the reason he chose the Tigers over Villanova was because of John Calipari’s offense. What is John Calipari’s offense, you ask? It’s everything that you saw Evans do this summer. Memphis employed the “Dribble-Drive” offense under Calipari and it proved to work wonders for Derek Rose and Evans. Evans was never asked to run a motion offense or play off of backdoor picks. His job was attack the basket, get by his man, and get to the hoop. Sounds simple enough but you have to remember that this kind of play creates a one-on-one war and rarely manufactures pure point guard.
Now what’s the point of all this? I think the point is the comparisons to guys like LeBron James and Ron Artest are a little unfounded and lazy (yes, I just called myself lazy). In all actuality, we’ve never seen a guy like Evans. After watching him over the course of 151 minutes this summer, it’s safe to say that he’s not the next anything; he’s the first Tyreke Evans.
Overall, his play as a point guard was a mixed bag of emotions. There were times when he attacked the basket, sucked the help defenders in and did a wonderful job of keeping a dump-down pass to Jason Thompson high so he could go straight to the basket with it for the score. But there were also plenty of basic passes to players on the wing that were too low for a clean catch, which resulted in unforced turnovers. We all reveled in his ability to get to the basket and either finish or find his way to the free throw line. But we also cringed when he took enough outside jumpers that it dropped his overall field goal percentage for the Las Vegas Summer League to 40.3% on 13.4 field goal attempts per game.
His ability to score and score at the NBA level was proved, even though it was never really questioned. But for a team with a promising and proven shooting guard, the question with Evans was “why take him if you need a point guard and everyone thinks he isn’t a point guard?” The answer? He was presumably the best player available and when you have a 17-win roster, you should be trying to get the best players and figure out positions later. Evans finished 10th in the VSL in scoring at 19.2 points per but was clearly less aggressive on offense in the final two games of the summer.
His rebounding numbers and performance were a pleasant surprise for a team that prays to be tougher inside as they rebuild. Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson are solid rebounders at their respective positions and Andres Nocioni and Donte Greene have the potential to be respectable in that aspect of the game as well. But adding a point guard to the mix who can crash the defensive boards, turn around, and begin the fast break makes every part of the Kings attack that much more dangerous.
As for his defense, it was very encouraging, especially for this Kings team who hasn’t had a decent defensive point guard in more than a decade. They’ve been constantly trying to hide guys like Jason Williams and Mike Bibby with the Doug Christie’s of the world as the only means to stopping ball penetration from the top of the key. However, with Evans that doesn’t look to be an issue anymore. Despite his giant stature for the point guard position, he’s quick enough and a smart enough defender to cut off angles of his opponent heading to the basket. When his opponent does start to beat him to the spot with foot speed, he knows how to reposition his body to cut off penetration. This is something that Kings fans will fall in love with.
The only real criticism of his defense that I can come up with is that he doesn’t do a great job of closing out on shooters. He isn’t bad at it; he just isn’t lightening quick either. There were times when you definitely wanted him to force guys like Brandon Jennings to shoot long-range jumpers but he needs to be a bit better at baiting those guys into the shots, while at the same time making them a little more contested.
Overall, we know what the Kings have with Tyreke Evans. He’s a dynamic scorer who will create loads of matchup problems for opposing teams. He’s simply too big for small guards to defend (especially when they put him in the post, which I know we’ll see more of) and he’s too quick for many of the bigger guards to stay in front of. He’s a solid defender who could be one of the best in the NBA and he’ll always be a threat for triple-doubles with his rebounding ability and the amount of scorers he’ll be surrounded with.
But will he mesh well with guys like Kevin Martin?
Will he have to curb his game and comfortable style in order to make sure that Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson get enough touches in the post to keep them happy and motivated?
Will he ever be a great point guard or will he just be a great guard (sounds to be nitpicking but it will matter in his maturation process with Kevin Martin by his side)?
Those are questions we have to wait for the regular season to answer. But we know now what the Kings have with the fourth selection in the 2009 NBA Draft.
They don’t need the next anybody; they have the first Tyreke Evans.