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 NBA.com). 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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SH Blog: Stoudemire wants to win multiple championships with Knicks, Nash ready to play on Friday

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amare_stoudemireFor power forward Amare Stoudemire, the past few years in New York have been nothing short of a dreadful nightmare.

After reviving the New York Knicks with dominant play in his first season and leading them to the playoffs for the first time in a decade, it has been just about all downhill for the former All-Star.

To recap some of the things that have gone wrong since that glorious year: he nearly destroyed his hand after slapping a glass casing surrounding a fire extinguisher out of frustration during a playoff series, has suffered through multiple knee surgeries, became a backup to – gulp – Andrea Bargnani, has seen limited playing time due to medical restrictions, and never truly got comfortable playing alongside Carmelo Anthony. 

Sixth Man Rankings: Taj Gibson pairing strong offense with elite defense

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question markLet’s play a quick game of “Name That Big Man”:

Since the All Star Break (nine games), Player A, an All-Star, has averaged 19.0 points on 51.6% shooting in 33 minutes per game.
Since the All Star Break (nine games), Player B, not an All-Star, has averaged 16.3 points on 51.3% shooting in 27 minutes per game.

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SH Blog: Nene to miss six weeks, Clippers interested in World Peace, Jamal Crawford wants to come off bench

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NeneNot unlike seasons of past, key players for many teams around the league have missed significant time due to a variety of injuries this season.

It looked as though Nene Hilario would suffer a similar fate – and then some – when he went down with a scary looking knee injury against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. Some in the organization feared that it may have been bad enough to be season-ending.

Lucky for the Washington Wizards, the power forward suffered nothing more than a sprained ligament, from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports

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SH Blog: How Curry could have been traded to Suns, Crawford says Jordan should have been an All-Star

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Steph CurryWhen Stephen Curry signed a four year, $44 million contract with the Golden State Warriors last season, some wondered if the money was worth it for the oft-injured point guard.

Fast forward to present time: Curry will be in his first All-Star game this weekend as a starter voted in by the fans. Safe to say, the money was worth it — and then some.

So in honor of his accomplishments this season, lets take a look into his past and see how he got to this point, and what could have prevented him from being in the situation he is in today.

First, here is a detailed article from Tim Kawakami of Mercury News explaining how the guard could have ended up in a different uniform on draft night: