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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Bernucca: NBA Buyout Season’s Winners and Losers

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I’m kinda high on what the Charlotte Bobcats did with Ben Gordon.220px-Gordon7_20091204

The Bobcats waived Gordon on Sunday, preventing him from appearing in the postseason should he sign with another team. While they may have alienated his agent – not a trifle thing in the business world of the NBA – two things should be pointed out.

1. When teams waive or buy out players at this time of the season, they are essentially establishing a price they are willing to pay to that player to not play for them.

2. In this case, the Bobcats made it impossible for Gordon to come back to haunt them in the playoffs.

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Sixth Man Rankings: People need to start paying attention to James Johnson

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James JohnsonI spoke with James Johnson at Atlanta Hawks media day back in October when he was just another former first-round pick trying to convince another team – his fourth, to be exact – that he was good enough for another shot.

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

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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 SprungOnSports.com. You should follow him on Twitter.

Sixth Man Rankings: Where does Deron Williams fit in the equation?

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Deron Williams practicing free throwsWhen Deron Williams returned to the court on January 20th to face the Knicks after a five-game absence, coach Jason Kidd decided to take an unexpected gamble. Instead of reinserting the three-time All Star into the starting lineup, Kidd told Williams he would ease back into the rotation by coming off the bench.

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