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Let's Start Tyreke

Starting Tyreke Evans seems to be a good idea.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Over a week ago, the Pelicans and Tyreke Evans had reached a bit of a crossroads. The Pelicans had just lost their fifth straight game and Evans had failed to reach double digits in scoring in each of those five games, shooting a paltry 25.9% from the field over the stretch out of the All-Star Break. Just before this stretch, Bill Simmons had come out with his list of the worst contracts in the NBA, featuring Tyreke Evans at #16.

By the way, I’d love Tyreke as my Heat Check Guy off the bench if he made Jamal Crawford money ($5 million to $6 million per year). But nearly twice as much? Incomprehensible. He reminds me of Corey Maggette — for 10 years, Corey made too much money, never made anyone better, never played for good teams and always left you frustrated because he’d unleash those occasional monster Maggette games (35 points, 15 of 17 free throws) to remind you how talented he was. That’s Tyreke. He’s Maggette 2.0. Explains Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry, "Out of 203 players who attempted at least 75 midrange shots, Evans ranks dead last in FG% at 22 percent. The next lowest guy is Cody Zeller at 27 percent — that’s a big gap. He’s also making 14 percent of his 3s." Other than that, he’s been on fire.

Into a Starting Role

Just before the Phoenix game, it was revealed that Monty Williams would start Tyreke - if he could get out of the elevator at the hotel. Ominous beginning to say the least yet Tyreke made his way to the arena in time for the start. Sadly, the Pelicans elected not to run an "elevator doors" play for Evans on the first possession, nor any of the following possessions! After battling the Suns well throughout the first three quarters, Phoenix managed to put together a 10-0 run early in the fourth and refused to reliquish the lead, fighting off all Pelican comeback attempts.

Lost in everything was a surprisingly solid first start for Evans. He went 6-13 from the field, scored 14 to go along with 4 assists and 5 rebounds. Tyreke followed up that performance on the following night in Los Angeles as the lone bright spot in a blow out to the Clippers -- another efficient night from the field, going 9-19 with 22 points, 5 assists, and 9 rebounds.

Back in his old stomping grounds at the Sleep Train Arena (and people make fun of the Smoothie King Center?), Tyreke had possibly his best game of the season. He posted an incredibly efficient 27 points on 8-14 from the field to go along with a near triple-double 8 assists and 10 rebounds. While the Pelicans battled foul trouble and an unseasonably cold Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans did everything in his power to keep New Orleans in the game. 14 of his 27 points came in the fourth quarter.

Finally the Pelicans snapped their 8 game losing streak with a win against the Lakers on Mardi Gras Day.  In an exceptionally ugly basketball game, devoid of most efforts on defense by both teams, Evans was again a bright spot (along with Davis getting out of his funk and Gordon going out of his mind from behind the arc). When Evans was not attacking the basket for himself (24 points on 8-17 shooting), he was setting up his teammates. His 11 assists (a game high) led to 24 points, 9 twos and 2 threes.

Stat Dump

At Lakers 8 17 47.0 56.1 24 7 9 2 4 48 1.29
At Kings 8 14 57.1 73.4 27 10 6 2 3 45 1.60
At Clippers 9 19 47.3 55.3 22 9 4 1 4 33 1.17
At Suns 6 13 46.1 50.4 14 5 4 0 2 22 1.10
Average 7.7 15.7 49.2 59.1 21.7 7.7 5.7 1.2 3.2 37 1.30

If you have not followed along recently, this marks a significant increase in effectiveness for Tyreke Evans. Over the course of 113 possessions against the last four opponents, to put up 1.3 points per possession is rather ridiculous. Creating 37 points per game for the team is excellent. A quick look at Basketball Reference's game log (select "Advanced Game Log") also shows that Tyreke's usage has been a more reasonable ~25% instead of 27%+ that it had been coming off the bench. Subtle changes like that make a big difference over the course of a game. Asking Tyreke to initiate everything with the second unit without putting him in a position to succeed is what led to his ghastly overall numbers.

Performance like this is why BSS's Michael McNamara wrote on Christmas Eve that Holiday-Evans is the back court of the future in New Orleans.  Averaging 21.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 7.0 APG is why Tyreke Evans is a steal on his contract. The big number of 4 years/$44 Million is thrown around (by Bill Simmons, above and elsewhere) as proof that Evans is a terrible deal. I wrote this summer that it was not as details of the contract came to light.

But unknown to most, some new and important financial information has also come out recently. As seen here, Hoopsworld has updated the contract information for Tyreke Evans. As rumored, his contract is either front loaded or contains a significant signing bonus. This is excellent news, as I will show you in this hypothetical chart below.

I encourage you to check out Sham Sports for more information on Tyreke's contract. For those unwilling to do the math; this summer his 4/$44M contract becomes a 3/$32.2M contract. The following summer in turns into 2/$21M. As Tyreke Evans enters his athletic peak (he turns just 25 in September), the hit of his contract becomes smaller. His $11.7M number this season is probably in excess of his value. Considering the injuries to this team it is fair to say it did not matter either way.

Into the Future

Rumors this January were that Tyreke Evans (along with Eric Gordon) were being shoppedJrue Holiday and Anthony Davis were the only keepers on the roster. While it is reasonable to believe that Gordon will continue to be on the trading block (this summer especially), I think the front office will come around on Tyreke. Is he limited offensively? Absolutely. He is not a jump shooter and despite the frequent calls from Monty Williams and the broadcast team of Fox Sports New Orleans, I do not expect 15-18 footers to become a cornerstone in Tyreke's offensive attack.

Besides, I have railed against those midrange jumpers  all season long from the entire team. But to ask a player as adept at getting all the way to the basket as Tyreke to settle for such a low percentage play is asinine. Critics can make hay about his shot chart on the season, or we can notice that he's shooting 58.82% (20/34) in the restricted area over the last four games. This is not some out-of-line outburst; he shot 60.1% there last year and 61.54% the year before that. He is still BELOW his career average converting at the hoop over such a small stretch for those who scream #SmallSampleSizeTheatre. And putting up 21, 7, and 7.

Maybe that extra stay in an elevator (and a move into the starting lineup) was just what Evans needed.