The Sacramento Kings believe they have a super star on their hands. They believe it so much that they did not even contemplate chasing the handful of all-star level players that have come available over the last two summers. They believe they have a building block that will only rise and in doing so, take the Kings with him to stardom. They are still waiting and as game after game passes in this shortened season, the questions about Tyreke Evans get louder and louder.
It really wasn’t fair. The Kings thought they had caught lightning in a bottle when they drafted Evans out of Memphis with the fourth pick, in the 2009 draft. It took only a handful of games to see that Evans had the potential for greatness and the Kings built one marketing campaign around him after another. Maybe the pressure was too great. Maybe the league has just figured him out. Either way, Evans’ road to stardom has slowed, maybe even taken the scenic route.
We aren’t looking to pin a tag on Evans. Last season was a struggle. Injuries robbed Evans of his explosive speed and his ability to get to the rim like he had done as a rookie. You can excuse a lackluster, injury-plagued season for a lackluster team. But what is going on this season?
Something is still wrong. Coach Westphal was the first to pay the price for the Kings struggles. Certainly Westphal had faults. For one, Westphal did not believe that all players should be handled with the same approach. While DeMarcus Cousins constantly received what can only be deemed tough love, Evans was instead nurtured, maybe even coddled. Neither approach seemed to have the desired effect.
When Coach Smart took over, Evans instantly flourished. Over Smart’s first five games as coach of the Kings, Evans averaged 25.4 points, six rebounds and nearly five assists. The Kings went 2-3 over that stretch, but Evans looked like the player Kings fans had become accustomed to during his rookie season.
And then back to square one.
Coming into Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, Evans had scored just 11 points per game over his previous seven contests. During that stretch, Evans shot a dreadful 32% from the field. Sure, he still averaged six rebounds and 5.4 assists over that stretch, but his team was just 2-5 and struggling mightily on the offensive end.
“I’m trying to get him, as a point guard, to get his teammates involved,” Coach Smart said earlier this week. “When your point guard is averaging 25, there’s going to be a problem with your team. I’m not trying to take numbers away from him, but when his numbers are that high, your team is not going to flow that well.”
The question is right there. It is the question that has been asked and answered thousands of times over the last two and a half seasons. Coach Westphal always said he didn’t like the label “point guard,” that Evans was just a guard. Coach Smart has chosen to call him a point guard and seems confident he can mold him into a player that fits into that box.
Whether he’s a point guard or not, when is Tyreke Evans going to arrive? Did it happen on Saturday night against the Utah Jazz? Can he build off of one performance and elevate his game on multiple levels?
The third year guard scored a season high 30 points, dished out nine assists and grabbed six rebounds. He was incredible, explosive, balanced … we could keep going. There was something different, maybe even something Evans can build upon.
“He’s right on schedule with trying to develop his game to the next level,” Smart said. “He’s proven that he can score 25 or more in a game in the NBA, but where has that gotten the team and gotten him. I think he wants to see the other side now and that’s where we’re trying to go with him.”
This Kings team might need Tyreke Evans to score 25 a night and they also might might need him to average nine assists a game as well. Is there a way for Evans to accomplish both?
That is the $84 million question (the approximate size of the extension Evans is playing for). Can Evans learn to play with DeMarcus Cousin, Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette? More than learning to play with, can Evans be the guy who takes this group of diverse players and makes them into a unit?
That is really the question here, isn’t it?
Evans can score 25 a night if the team is winning. He can average nine assists, if the team is winning. He can be an all-star, an all NBA player, maybe even an MVP, if his team is winning. Until then, everything else is irrelevant.
So while we talk about what position he plays or what style of game he should play or why he is struggling, the only thing we should be talking about is whether or not Evans is the player that can lead his team to victory. Scoring or passing, defending or rebounding, Evans is the guy who needs to find a way each and every night to make his team better than their opponent. If he can do this, the sky is the limit. Until then, the Kings will continue to struggle and Evans will be just a player on a bad team.