2011-12 Sacramento Kings in Review: Tyreke Evans

Two summers ago, the Kings were touting Tyreke Evans as the franchise savior.  After a season of injury followed by a season of reality, Evans’ future as a King seems murky and uncertain.

Keith Smart made a bold move when he shifted Evans from point guard to small forward.  Really, there was very little he could do but make the change.  The results were mixed as expected, but Evans has a laundry list of items to work on regardless of what position he plays.  After three seasons, it’s a make or break time for one of the team’s cornerstones.

Positives

Like Marcus Thornton, Evans can score.  He can also defend, pass and rebound.  While his numbers were down this season, Evans still finished the season averaging 16.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game as he adjusted to a new position on the offensive end.  Clearly these numbers fall short of the lofty standards he put forth as a rookie, but the team around him is considerably better.

Evans shot 45.3 percent from the field.  That number would be acceptable if it wasn’t so heavily dependent on one area of the floor.  Evans shot 60 percent from the field at the rim where he took an incredible 492 shots, only 46 less attempts around the basket than DeMarcus Cousins.

During the season, Evans, at the urging of his brothers, brought in highly-regarded shooting coach Keith Veney to work on shooting basics.  What we saw after that point in the season was a complete abandonment of the 3-point shot.  Following Veney’s arrival on March 14th, Evans went just 1-for-12 from long range over his final 20 games.  Shockingly, Evans went 2-for-6 from around half court on the season for a robust 33-percent accuracy.  That’s 13 percent better than his overall 3-point shooting stroke.

With Evans’ physique, he has the ability to guard three positions.  At a little over 6-foot-5, with an incredible 6-foot-11.25 wingspan, Evans should be able to guard wings that are considerably taller than him.  He has the length, strength, size and athleticism to be an elite defender and he is in one-on-one situations.

Evans’ 1.33 steals per game were good enough for 10th place amongst NBA point guards and a tie for fifth among small forwards.  But similar to Thornton, the majority of Evans’ steals came in isolation defense, not from effectively playing the passing lanes.

Evans is a good rebounder for a point guard, leading the league from the position at 4.6 rebounds per game.  But as a small forward, he was good enough for just 15th place and over his final 12 games, he averaged just 2.5 rebounds which is completely unacceptable.

Negatives

I feel like this is about to go the way of Jimmer Fredette.

This was supposed to be the year for Tyreke Evans.  It was supposed to be the season that he put the Kings on his back and became a cross between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.  Ok, maybe that is too much of a stretch, but potential was supposed to become production in year three.  The foot was healed.  He spent the elongated off-season working out with Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.  This year was supposed to be his launching pad.

Instead, Evans’ development stagnated.  Plenty of critics will say he regressed, but the stats show otherwise.  They say that he was basically the same player we saw in year one, but that he shot the ball nearly two times less per game and he drew fewer fouls.  A lot less in fact.  If we take the 1.9 less shot attempts (which equates to 1.8 points per game) and his 1.6 fewer attempts from the free throw line, Evans would have averaged 19.9 points per contest, a smidge off the 20.1 points he averaged as a rookie.

Above, we looked at the basic breakdown.  Below, the zones are better defined and shot attempts are added in, which shows us some interesting trends.

As a wing, Evans felt more comfortable with the left side of the court on offense.  He is a heavily right-handed ball handler, so this makes sense.  If you trace an arc from the left elbow, through the top of the key and end at the right side of the rim, you can see where Evans makes his living. Unfortunately, I am not the only person in this world with this information and defending a player who makes his living on one path, isn’t exactly difficult.

What does this say?  It says that Evans is predictable.  It also shows you that he has some work to do.

First and foremost, Evans needs to improve with his left hand.  Nothing is more frustrating than seeing an NBA player rely so heavily on a dominant hand. Evans needs to not only use his left more as an offensive weapon, but he needs to learn how to distribute with both hands if he ever wants to become a competent pick and roll player.

With a big man like Cousins on your side, you need to have a defined two-man game.  If Evans and Cousins can ever develop chemistry, it is easy to see where the duo could dominate.  Unfortunately, Evans is not capable of using a screen effectively at this point in his career and we already discussed the issue with distributing the ball, so the two-man game is left to Cousins and Thornton which is a shame.

This plays into a larger issue with Evans.  He was moved to small forward, partly out of necessity and partly because a 25-percent assist rate just isn’t going to cut it for a winning team.  Evans learned quickly that cutting into the lane to catch Cousins’ passes for lay-ups was too easy.  But, he has no catch-and-shoot game to speak of and his ability to come off screens for a pick-and-pop is non-existent.

Before last season, basketball legend Pete Carril gave an honest assessment of Evans “in-between game”.

Here we are two seasons later and the assessment by a Hall of Fame coach is still spot on.  Evans needs to work hard this off-season at becoming a true offensive weapon.  For comparisons sake, here is a look at his rookie shooting numbers.  While there are some subtle differences, there is a huge gap between the 3-point line and the basket that Evans needs to discover and exploit.

As a playmaker, Evans needs to acknowledge that he is not going to have the ball in his hands enough for a usage rate of plus-25 percent.  He also needs to realize there is a difference between being a guy who gets assists versus a willing passer.  Andre Iguodala sported a usage rate around 18 percent and an assist rate of nearly 24 percent for the Philadelphia 76ers this season.  That should be the new bench mark for Evans.

On defense, Evans has been described in the past as a man waiting for a bus when his man doesn’t have the ball.  He needs to engage and stay engaged for every minute he is on the floor.  The days of falling asleep when your man doesn’t have the ball are over.  If the Kings want to improve as a team, Evans is the lynch pin, regardless of position.

While he has the makings of an elite defender, again like Iguodala, Evans has a player-efficiency rating against of 15.6 as a point guard, 16.3 as a shooting guard and 16.8 as a small forward.  None of those numbers say elite defender.  He needs to take the next step because the excuses are over.  His length and quickness should have him in the top two or three in steals, which equate to easy baskets.  He should be a lock-down defender at either the point or two and a very competent option at the three.

Conclusion

This is a make or break year for Evans (that is if he remains a King).  Geoff Petrie is not going to offer him a long-term deal this summer and that means he is playing for a monstrous pay day.  That also means the Kings might look to cash in on Evans’ enormous potential and spend their money on a more proven asset.

While Evans demonstrated he can hang as a small forward on an interim basis, he becomes a bigger match-up advantage at either the point or shooting guard positions.  The Kings are bent on stabilizing small forward with a shooter, either through trade, draft or free agency.  That means that Evans needs to unseat Isaiah Thomas at the point or Marcus Thornton at shooting guard.  My bet is that if Evans is still around next season, he will start at shooting guard alongside Thomas with Thornton making a run at Sixth Man of the Year.

If Evans is the starting shooting guard, he’d better show up to training camp a changed man.  The list of improvements is long: play better off the ball, shoot better from long distance, develop a mid-range game, play stellar defense and become a willing passer.  It’s a tall order, but with great talent and potential comes great responsibility.  So far, Evans has not proven he can take the type of leap both he and the Kings need to make.

Statistical support provided by Basketball-Reference, 82games.com and NBA.com.


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About: James Ham

James Ham is co-owner and senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".