Sixth Man Rankings: Now a Starter, Tyreke Evans Looks Like a Star

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Tyreke EvansWhen the Pelicans gave Tyreke Evans a four-year, $44 million dollar offer sheet last summer, fans and analysts alike were skeptical of whether Evans had earned that deal.

After several years of franchise turmoil in Sacramento, Evans’ morale was at an all time low. The former Rookie of the Year had regressed from a prolific star in the making to a streaky enigma on one of the league’s worst teams. Committing near-max money to Evans looked like a gross miscalculation by a New Orleans organization that felt an irrational urgency to become contenders by 2014.

The initial plan was to utilize Evans’ skill sets in much the same way San Antonio uses Manu Ginobili. Evans is well-sized, positionally dynamic and clever with the basketball in his hands. With as many skilled offensive players as the Pelicans have, Evans figured to fill a bunch of tiny holes.

A natural shooting guard out of high school, Evans was talented enough as a freshman at Memphis to learn point guard responsibilities on the fly under John Calipari’s tutelage and  lead his team to a second seed in the NCAA Tournament. His court vision is better than his reputation as an inefficient scoring guard would allow you to assume. When he tries to facilitate, he usually does so effectively.

Regardless, the experiment of using Evans as the team’s sixth man was unsuccessful.

Evans, Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon – otherwise known as the most disappointing backcourt trio in the league – logged a staggeringly low 256 minutes together for the entire season before Holiday went down to injury.

The Pelicans’ most star studded lineup – those three guards alongside Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis – actually outscored opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions in the scant 90 minutes they shared the court together this season. Injuries kept the Pelicans from reaching absolute cohesion at full strength.

While injuries were the obvious problem, much of the team’s lack of success became Evans’ burden. The 24-year-old struggled to adapt to a reduced and inconsistent bench role and eventually grew restless.

Evans disclosed to us in early February that he had had virtually no communication with his coach. Sure enough, the rumor mill swirled that week suggesting the Pelicans were ready to give up on the Evans experiment.  Whichever team was willing to take on Evans’ contract would have been able to nab him. They found no takers.

Soon afterward, Holiday was ruled out for the season following surgery on his right tibia. Guards Brian Roberts and Eric Gordon then sat a few games apiece to recover from a knee scares.

Coach Monty Williams was left with no choice; he took Evans out of his sixth man role and placed him in the starting lineup.  Ever since, the Pelicans have become unrecognizably dominant.

New Orleans is 5-1 with Evans in the lineup. Several of the wins have come over quality opponents such as the Clippers, Heat and Nets. Yes, Anthony Davis is playing at a superstar level. But that has obscured Evans, who is averaging 20.7 points on 54 percent shooting with 5.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game over the streak.

To put it simply, Evans has changed his mental approach and it’s making him (and his team) significantly more efficient.

This season, Evans is shooting less than 22 percent from the arc but had taken more than 10 percent of his shots from deep. Since moving into the starting lineup, however, only 5 percent of his shots have come from deep (per In other words, he has cut his bad shots in half despite having more  opportunities.

More telling of his better offensive approach, Evans has spiked his season average of 9.1 points in the paint all the way up to 15.0. His fast break points have nearly doubled from 3.2 for the season to 5.8 as well.

With more of a defined role in the offense, Evans has the freedom to control the ball and make decisions previously unavailable to him. He’s driving liberally and starting to resemble the future perennial All-Star he looked set to become in 2010.

While the success Evans has experienced as a primary ballhandler has helped him find a rapport with Anthony Davis (averaging 28.8 points and 14.0 rebounds during the streak), their pairing is still analytically average.

Evans’ insertion to the starting lineup has actually had a much stronger effect on 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow. The two have outscored opponents by 14.9 points per 100 possessions in 72 minutes over the last six games.

Maybe when all of New Orleans’ guards return healthy next season, the less versatile (and more trigger happy) Gordon would be a better fit for the team’s sixth man role.

Evans brings more versatility to the team’s defensively challenged lineup anyway. Switching Gordon for Evans in the lineup seems like a no-brainer going forward. After all, with Evans still only being 24, it’s very possible that he’ll have earned his contract by the time it’s finished.

On to the rankings.

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Tyreke Evans benched in Pelicans loss, admits lack of communication with head coach


EvansIn a season that’s been a struggle for both the New Orleans Pelicans and its high-priced import Tyreke Evans, it seems like there’s a growing rift between player, coach and team.

Evans did not play in Sunday night’s 93-81 loss to Brooklyn despite head coach Monty Williams playing 11 Pelicans players in the game. When asked why Evans didn’t play, Williams said “it’s just internal right now.”

Evans and the New Orleans public relations staff declined to comment on the matter after the game, deferring to the head coach and saying that Williams “had said it all before.” Williams could have said he was hurt or he was resting, but the unique language of the explanation could imply that there’s something more going on.

It’s no secret that Evans has struggled in acclimating to the Pelicans after coming over in a sign-and-trade with Sacramento that netted Evans a four-year contract worth $44 million. He told Sheridan Hoops before the season in a wide-ranging interview that he would be comfortable coming off the bench, not playing the point guard position and he’d do whatever it took to help New Orleans win.

Now as we approach the All-Star break, Evans appeared frustrating with his injuries, “fluctuating” playing time and his communication with Williams.

“He’s trying to figure me out still,” Evans said of his head coach before the game. “Most of the guys that came here are pretty much new [to the team] so he’s trying to fit everybody in and put me in the best position he can.”

But when asked whether he and Williams ever discussed his best role on the team openly, Evans said it’s never been brought up.

NOH_Williams_Monty“No, we never talked about that,” Evans told Sheridan Hoops. “I haven’t talked to him about it. We talk here and there but I haven’t talked to him about what role is whose on the team.”

Asked if the communication with Williams has to improve, Evans said that it needed to improve. “It has to get better. We have to know our roles on the team.”

It seems like Evans is overloaded with responsibilities for the Pelicans coming off the bench, and it’s impacting his play on the court.

“I have more roles than the team I was on before so it’s tough trying to adjust to all those spots,” he said. “The system is different but it’s not anything I can’t get through.”

Evans said he’s felt rushed on the court, trying to do so many different things to help his teammates while he’s out there on the floor.

“Sometimes I think I feel like I have to do too much instead of playing my game and letting it come to me,” he said. And that’s a direct byproduct of trying to keep his playing time up.

“When I’m out there, I just have to try to perform so I can keep my minutes up,” Evans said. “And then it gets bad on me because I’m trying to rush things. When I let the game come to me, that’s how I always play and I create that way. ”

And all that rushing is affecting his shot. Take a look at how far he’s fallen in shooting the ball since he came to the Pelicans.

Evans Minutes FG % 3 FG % Points Reb Assists PER e FG % O Rating D Rating Win Shares/48
2012-2013 31 47.8 33.8 15.2 4.4 3.5 18.1 50.8 110 111 0.105
2013-2014 24.5 40.1 15.2 12.4 4.3 4.1 17.3 40.9 101 108 0.063


His minutes are down since he’s not starting. His field goal percentage is down more than 7.5 percent and his 3-point shooting has cratered to an incredibly woeful 15.2 percent. His rebound and assist numbers are good as he tried to help his teammates, but his efficiency and points per 100 possessions, as well as his per-minute win shares, have plummeted.

Being rushed is affecting how he shoots. “I’m anxious to help my team get points on the board,” Evans said. “But it can’t just be about scoring, it’s gotta be about passing and trying to figure out what I can do to help this team win.”

Evans’ per-36-minute numbers are actually better this year in the major statistical categories, but that’s become moot because his playing time with the Pelicans has gone down significantly from his 2012-2013 season with the Kings.

Per 36 Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals
2012-2013 17.6 5.1 4.1 1.6
2013-2014 18.2 6.3 6.1 1.7


New Orleans players didn’t openly discuss what was going on with Evans, but readily talked about how important he is to this Pelicans franchise.

“He’s a big part of what we’re doing here,” forward Al-Farouq Aminu said. “We’re really excited about all the things he’s done.”

Point guard Brian Roberts said that Evans has been aggressive from the start. “We all know the type of player that he is and he’s shown that on the court,” Roberts said. “To have a guy of that caliber to come in as the 6th man, that’s huge for this team.”

That aggressiveness Roberts referred to could be because of the rushed way Evans said he’s played. As New Orleans’ big-name offseason acquisition, this pressure to perform and stay on the court has affected his shooting percentages.

Not communicating well with the head coach probably hasn’t helped matters either.

Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for Sheridan Hoops who loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is You should follow him on Twitter.

Sheridan Hoops Rookie Rankings: Week 23

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Damian LillardThis is the final edition of the Rookie Rankings, and we will allow Kobe Bryant to have the final word on a race that was decided long ago.

Bryant is a student of the game who understands its history and normally is not given to hyperbole. So when he offers an evaluation of an opponent – most of whom he holds in disdain – it should not be taken with a grain of salt.

And here’s what he had to say about Portland Trail Blazers rookie point guard Damian Lillard.

“He’s spectacular … really fantastic,” Bryant said. “A lot of players get hot, but he’s got the moves, patience, intelligence, the balance on his jumpers. He’s the real deal.”

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Sheridan Hoops Rookie Rankings: Week 16

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Thomas Robinson just caught a huge break.

With the possible exception of Austin Rivers, Robinson had been the most disappointing 2012 lottery pick this season. An All-American and the Big 12 Player of the Year, he went fifth overall to the Sacramento Kings, who weren’t exactly loaded in the frontcourt.

There appeared to be an opportunity for Robinson to make an impact as a rookie, but he did not. He has averaged 4.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in just under 16 minutes. He has scored in double digits a mere seven times. He has three double-doubles, all in a nine-game span in January.

On Wednesday, the Kings kicked off the trade deadline hysteria by giving up on Robinson after just four months and sending him with Cisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt to Houston for Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich.

The Rockets also traded Marcus Morris to the Phoenix Suns, which means Houston cleared out both of the players who had manned their power forward spot this season. Yes, we know the Rockets like to play small with Chandler

Parsons at the 4 and Carlos Delfino at small forward. But right now, their only established NBA big man is center Omer Asik.

Aside from Robinson, the power forwards on Houston’s roster are Greg Smith and rookies Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones and Royce White, all of whom have spent the season bouncing back and forth between the NBA and the D-League. You could argue that Robinson – as disappointing as he has been this season – is better than all of them.

What cannot be argued is this: Robinson now plays for a team that is clearly committed to building through youth and developing its young players at both the NBA and D-League levels. The Rockets used nine players in a 122-119

home win over Oklahoma City on Wednesday, and Delfino – who is all of 30 – was the only one with more than four seasons under his belt.

Contrast that with what is going on in Sacramento, where the Maloof family continued its penny-pinching ways in advance of selling the directionless Kings to the highest of two bidders. By dumping out of Robinson’s rookie contract (4 years, $19 million if both his options are picked up), they showed that they are far more interested in counting beans than winning games.

Robinson also exits an environment that was not conducive to development. The Kings seem to be putting out fires set by the immature DeMarcus Cousins every couple of weeks and have spent a fair amount of time over the last year-plus stroking the ego of Tyreke Evans, who refuses to modify his game for the good of himself and the team.

As far as we can see it, the only downside to Robinson leaving Sacramento is that he missed out on a chance to be overpaid by the Kings, who gave bloated contracts to Garcia, Marcus Thornton, Chuck Hayes, Jason Thompson and Travis Outlaw in recent years.

That probably wouldn’t have happened under new ownership in Sacramento or Seattle. And it certainly won’t happen in Houston, where GM Daryl Morey and his reliance on analytics has the Rockets in a playoff spot despite playing in the unforgiving Western Conference with the lowest payroll in the NBA.

Trading lottery picks in their rookie seasons happens more than you think. The Knicks moved Jordan Hill in 2010 to clear cap room and the Nets packaged Derrick Favors a year later for Deron Williams. Heck, the Rockets even traded Jeremy Lamb to get Harden right before this season started.

Although he has had a forgettable rookie campaign thus far, Robinson was a rotation player with the Kings. He has a chance to be the same with the Rockets, given their lack of muscle. He has a chance to have an early taste of the postseason, which often gets young players pointed in the right direction. And in the offseason, he will have direct access to low-post guru Hakeem Olajuwon, who can teach him some badly needed footwork.

Robinson has a second chance to make a first impression. He should try to make the most of it.

On to the rankings.

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Gibson: Gustavo Ayon and the European Buyout


One year ago, the Hornets bought power forward Gustavo Ayon out of his Fuenlabrada (ACB) contract and brought him to New Orleans several days before their unlocked season tipped off.

Ayon started 24 games as a 26-year-old rookie and was shipped to Orlando in a sign-and-trade for Ryan Anderson this summer.  That’s fairly incredible value for someone New Orleans plucked from a small Spanish club only 12 games into its ACB season.

So will Ayon’s leap become the archetype for signing post-draft eligible prospects abroad?  Almost certainly not. Or at least not exactly.

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