It’s that time of year already. That time where we revisit the 2009 NBA Draft that yielded Tyreke Evans for the Sacramento Kings, their first Rookie of the Year winner, instead of Ricky Rubio, the flashy Spanish point guard that finally landed in Minnesota last season.
While we would love to rehash the decision to draft Evans over Rubio, it remains a moot point. Rubio showed flashes of brilliance in his first and only NBA season last year, but he has played a total of 41 games. That total will remain stationary for much of this season as Rubio rehabs his surgically repaired left knee.
Due to Rubio staying overseas for two extra years and last season’s injury, he has played roughly 20 percent the amount of games Evans has at the NBA level. All of the fanfare aside, Rubio is years behind Evans in development if such things can be quantified.
So once again, we are left only to talk of Evans and where he is as a player and maybe even where he is going.
His 2009 classmates lined up to receive their extensions Wednesday night – James Harden ($80 million, five years), Ty Lawson ($48 million, four years), Stephen Curry ($44 million, four years), Jrue Holiday ($41 million, four years), DeMar DeRozan ($40 million, four years), heck, even Taj Gibson ($38 million, four years) got paid. Evans meanwhile played 39 minutes of spectacular ball for the Kings.
Evans will have an opportunity that few of his classmates have. He can either stay at the level of play he represented over the last two seasons and accept the $40-50 million his numbers warrant. Or he can raise that level of play and earn that coveted max-money deal – be it from the Kings or elsewhere. He is a restricted free agent, so his mobility on the market is limited to what the Kings will or won’t match.
It’s a gamble for all involved, but if game No. 1 was any indication, Evans seems ready for the challenge. The Kings know about his ability to score and they hope he continues to refine his offensive game. But more than that, the Kings need Evans to improve as an all-around player and that begins on defense, where he will be asked to guard two and sometimes three different positions on a given night.
“I thought defensively, he had a tough job trying to guard a guy like Rip Hamilton, a veteran who moves constantly,” Keith Smart told the media scrum following Wednesday night’s opener in Chicago.
The Kings coach added: “We ask this young man to do a lot and I think overall (the) effort he gave there was really, really good.”
Really, really good is an understatement. Evans stuck to Hamilton like glue and he teamed up with small forward James Johnson to completely shutdown Luol Deng, who finished with just seven points on three-for-13 shooting.
Evans was efficient on the offensive end, leading the Kings with 21 points on eight-for-13 shooting, adding eight rebounds and three assists as well. This is the type of performance that, if repeated, will lead Evans back to the top of the 2009 draft heap. It is also the type of performance that more often than not, will lead a team to victory.
The Kings have been waiting three seasons for Evans to put it together. For one night in Chicago, he did just that. Evans is now 81 games away from proving that he’s a franchise-type player the Kings thought they had after his rookie season.