Sacramento Kings hope Reggie Evans’ high energy is contagious
Reggie Evans is a player you hate to play against, but love to have if he’s on your team. Though he’s never averaged six points per game, Evans has crafted a stable niche for himself in the league. During his 12-year career, he’s become known for his stellar rebounding, relentless motor and unique ability to get under opponents’ skin.
“(I remember) playing against him during my career, and he always seemed to be a pest,” said Kings assistant coach Corliss Williamson, whose final five seasons in the league coincided with Evans’ first five. “I hated playing against him because you know you had to work every possession, but having a chance to have him on our team and to be a part of this organization, he’s the type of player that you want on there.”
Evans has built his career on a reputation based around energy and effort. Playing in his first contest since being acquired at the trade deadline, Evans showed against the Houston Rockets that his approach to the game never changes, no matter the circumstances. With the Rockets leading the Kings by 23 points and under 4:30 to go, Evans battled for a loose ball with the intensity one would expect in a closely contested game. The effort quickly paid dividends, as the Kings kept possession and Ben McLemore eventually converted a 3-point basket.
“You gotta keep on fighting,” said the 33-year-old veteran. “A lot of people paved the way for us – Bill Russells and all them guys – to make it a lot easier for us now, so why not go hard every second on the court? It’s a beautiful game. It’s a beautiful opportunity, so you want to make the best of it.”
Kings Coach Michael Malone has had nothing but praise for Evans since the veteran’s arrival in Sacramento. He hopes Evans’ never-say-die spirit and constant hustle rub off on some of his teammates.
“He plays great defense and he has great activity,” said Malone after Monday’s win over the Pelicans. “My hope is that it becomes contagious. I hope that guys like Reggie, Ray McCallum, and Quincy Acy become contagious to some of the guys in our starting lineup. That’s who we need to be.”
Acy, who also considers Aaron Gray one of the team’s hustle players, noted after Tuesday’s practice that Evans’ style of play has already become “very contagious.”
“It sets the tone of what we need to win,” Acy said. “Because you look at last night (against New Orleans) – we won because we outworked them and we out-hustled them.”
Undrafted out of the University of Iowa in 2002, Evans spent three and a half seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics before becoming something of a journeyman, never spending more than two full seasons with any other team. After acquiring him in a deadline deal from the Brooklyn Nets, the Kings represent the 6-foot-8 forward’s fourth team in five years.
“I was kind of surprised knowing that they wanted me and stuff like that,” Evans told reporters after playing in his first home game last Tuesday. “It’s always a pleasure when somebody wants you, so you never can be too upset about that. It was a great feeling.”
The Kings are a young team with a young core, something that Evans noticed immediately. Before his arrival, Carl Landry (30), Aaron Gray (29), and Travis Outlaw (29) were the old guys on the team. Evans knows that there’s plenty to still teach this young group of players.
“(They’re) young, very young, still gotta learn the game” the 33-year-old veteran said of his overall impression of the Kings after his first two games. “The whole preparation for the game, the whole practice, in the weight room, film sessions and stuff like that. That’s it. Just very, very young.”
Evans’ first home game, the blowout loss to the Rockets, also gave him a close-up view of what can happen when DeMarcus Cousins loses his composure. It’s been well-documented that one more technical for Boogie will result in an automatic one-game suspension, but one game of a losing season is nowhere near as important as the talented 23-year-old’s long-term growth.
The Kings have long needed a player willing and also capable of counseling Cousins on his quick emotional trigger. It appears that Evans is willing to take on that challenge. What kind of impact can a grizzled vet like Evans have on Cousins, as the latter attempts to improve his relationships with officials?
“I got here just now, so we’re gonna have to work on that and just be able to keep your cool and whenever they make calls and stuff like that, you gotta keep a level head,” Evans said of Cousins. “But (I want to) just talk to him and get a good relationship with the referees and they’ll work with you and stuff like that.”
Besides a potential role as mentor, Evans brings a vast knowledge of defensive principles to the Kings. For a team that’s struggled to play together on that side of the floor, his experience can only help the Kings’ cause.
“(He’s been) teaching different ways to help each other out, have faith in each other when it comes to weak-side defense,” said Jason Thompson.
As effective leaders are known to do, Evans leads by example. Quincy Acy noted his beard brother taking extra shots after last Wednesday’s practice. But Evans is also vocal, according to the second-year forward.
“He talks to us on the bench, pulls us to the side,” Acy said of Evans. “He’s been around the block a minute, so he’s played against a lot of the players that’s already in the league and he tells us their tendencies and stuff.”
Although Evans acknowledges he can help the Kings’ young players, he believes they can help him, too. Evans thinks there are things he can take away from playing with such a green group.
“Hopefully a lot of things can rub off on a lot of these young guys, and I also have to learn from these young guys,” Evans said. “They can challenge me, too.”
Given the Kings’ personnel, as well as Evans’ track record, Malone and his staff don’t expect much offense from Evans. Ironically, Evans has scored double-digits in two straight games, something he had only done once earlier this season. He’s also notched eight or more points in four of his last five games, while shooting 60 percent from the field. While such offensive output likely isn’t sustainable for Evans, the effort, motor and tenacity won’t be going away anytime soon.
“We’ve all watched Reggie for years. I don’t care where he’s playing or who he is playing with,” said Malone. “He’s going to bring great effort every minute that he is on the floor. He makes things happen out there.”
It’s far too early to adequately measure Evans’ impact on the team. The Kings have gone 3-3 since Evans began playing, but consider the teams they’ve played. Four of their opponents – the Nuggets, Lakers, Pelicans and Bucks – came in struggling mightily, they lost to a mediocre Minnesota team and they were blown out by a hot contender in the Rockets.
Despite the small sample size and the less than impressive slate of opponents, Sacramento’s rebounding numbers since Evans’ arrival have been great. Over the Kings’ past six games, they trail only the Bulls and Rockets in rebounding percentage (54.3 percent).
After the current seven-game road trip, there should be a much better sense of Evans’ impact on the Kings’ success. With the win in Milwaukee, the Kings moved to 9-20 on the road. They’ll play six more games in a span of 10 days.
That’s a whole lot of travel on the chilly East Coast, especially for a young, inexperienced team. With Reggie Evans’ presence, however, the team brings more than a decade of NBA experience, on and off the court, to each one of its road destinations.