A puzzle does not fit together without the right pieces. Some basketball players thrive with the ball in their hands attacking the basket, others excel at floating on the perimeter creating space for teammates to operate. Anthony Davis is excellent at just about everything that involves a basketball. But you already knew that. Tyreke Evans thrives when given the ability to handle the ball and drive the lane.
Evans has logged 1160 minutes so far this season. During that time, he is converting 40.2% of his field goal attempts. While his Per 36 minute statistics show career highs in rebounds, assists, and steals, the woeful shooting sticks out like a sore thumb. Missing Ryan Anderson has not helped, but certain lineup decisions by Monty Williams have been nearly as detrimental. Let's dive into the numbers.
Tyreke With Greg Stiemsma
According to NBAwowy, Tyreke has logged 294 of his 1160 minutes beside the Steamer. The results have been predictably horrible for Mr. Evans. His shooting drops below his season numbers to 39.6% from the field. Not only that, but only 23.8% of Tyreke's misses are rebounded by the Pelicans. (As you will see further along, this is a depressingly low number.) Paired with Stiemsma, the Pelicans are outscored by 15.8 points per 100 possessions , posting a horrendous .939 points per possession (PPP). (For a good frame of reference, here is a list of all the NBA teams and their current PPP. And for defensive efficiency here.) Thus, it would seem obvious putting these two players on the court together should be avoided at all costs.
Tyreke With Al-Farouq Aminu
Pairing a player dependent on driving to the basket with a player who cannot shoot and is rarely involved in the pick and roll is not a formula for success. But for Tyreke, there is no worse option than putting him on the floor with Aminu. Despite these easy observations, Monty Williams (there will be much more on him in the future) has paired Tyreke with Aminu for 270 minutes. Are you sitting down? If not, you should be.
Tyreke shoots 34.9% from the field when paired with Aminu. 26.2% of those many misses are rebounded by the Pelicans, still below average for New Orleans as a whole, who pull down 27.7% of all misses on the offensive glass. While this pairing somehow puts up 1.038 PPP, it gives up an atrocious 1.165 PPP on the other end for a Net rating of minus .127 (outscored by 12.7 points per 100 possessions).
The Unholy Trio
Please, don't make me do this.
All three of these players have thankfully logged only 47 minutes together. During that time, Tyreke Evans is shooting 29.2% from the field. This unit only scores 74.4 points per 100 possessions while allowing 113.8 - a negative 39.4 Net rating! This kind of discrpeancy should not even be possible. Honestly, grouping these three players together, in any circumstance, should be considered a fireable offense.
Tyreke With Shooters
This may surprise you (no, it really shouldn't since we've been doing our job here and you've been reading), but putting Tyreke on the floor with shooters results in excellent offense. For instance, paired with Luke Babbitt, for 69 minutes in just seven games, Evans is shooting 46.9% from the field. A dramatic increase from his 40.2% overall and well within the realm of acceptable. The team scores 125.4 points per 100 possessions while only allowing 103.5, good for a positive net rating of 21.9.
Tyreke has a significantly larger sample size playing beside Ryan Anderson, putting in 409 minutes together. While his 41.7% field goal is far from world beating material the Pelicans retrieve an astounding 40% of Tyreke's misses. This grouping also puts up points in bunches; posting a 119.2 points per 100 possessions while allowing 114.8. The defensive number is admittedly high, but a positive 4.4 net rating is nothing to sneeze at. Such a differential is equivalent to the Rockets (+4.5) or Trailblazers (+4.2).
Putting it All Together
Combining these two data sets (Tyreke with Anderson or Babbitt) creates a sample size of 478 minutes. During this time, Evans has shot 93/219 (42.4%). Without either of those shooters Tyreke's FG% plunges to 119/309 (38.5%). Specifically, Evans goes from shooting 52.2% (80/153) within three feet of the basket to 47% (80/170). In addition, Tyreke gets to the basket more frequently with shooters where 153/219 or 69.8% of his shot attempts are within three feet. Without Babbitt or Anderson on the floor, that percentage of attempts within three feet drops to 170/309 - 55%.
This gets worse for the team, as seen here. Lacking the spacing required for him to operate the offense stagnates to a pathetic .995 PPP, while giving up 1.133; that's an average of being outscored 13.8 points per 100 possessions. Even Philadelphia's league worst negative 10.4 net rating is hopeless to compete with such ineptitude. With shooters, the defense is more or less unchanged, allowing 1.132 PPP. However, the offense explodes to 1.199 PPP. A positive 6.7 points per 100 possessions sits smack dab in between Oklahoma City's ridiculous +7.2 and San Antonio's +6.1.
The key ingredient to allowing Tyreke Evans to maximize his strengths is clear. He needs to be on the floor with a stretch four who opens the lane for his various forays into the paint. Unfortunately that was the plan all along but a series of injuries to Ryan Anderson temporarily derailed that concept. With the late season (and nearly free) acquisition of Luke Babbitt, the Pelicans seem to have a "poor-man's Ryan Anderson" available to pair with Tyreke. Sadly, Monty Williams felt the best plan of attack last night was to glue Mr. Babbitt to the bench, playing him only seven minutes and twenty-one seconds.
If the Pelicans have hopes of continuing to develop a winning culture beyond banking on the exceptional talents of Anthony Davis, it is critical to put their best players in the position to succeed. Tyreke needs shooters on the floor to do the work he is paid to do. It is Monty's job to recognize both his players' strengths and weaknesses and find methods to capitalize on the talent available on the roster.
So far on that front, returns have not been promising.