Dell Demps wasted no time targeting Tyreke Evans in Free Agency. Ultimately the two sides came to an agreement on a 4 year, $44 Million contract. Due to salary cap constraints, the Pelicans worked out a three team trade with Portland and Sacramento. Greivis Vasquez, Robin Lopez, and Terrel Harris (oh, a guy signed to an unguaranteed second year on March 27th that greases the skids for a future trade, imagine that) were sent out in exchange for Tyreke Evans and Jeff Withey.
Reaction to this move (in concert with the trade for Jrue Holiday) was pretty mixed. Most grades of the trade were in the B+ to C- range. Bill Simmons hated it. Tyreke Evans as a Manu Ginobli-esque 6th Man was intriguing to most writers, although there were concerns about how three high usage guards would co-exist. Unfortunately for Demps, the Pelicans only got 91 minutes of evidence with the "Finishing Five" on the court thanks to injuries. The Pelicans outscored opponents by 9.5 points per 100 possessions in that sampling. Do we know if the three of them together will work? No. Does anyone know it failed? No.
Injuries in Pre-Season
Speaking of injuries, Tyreke Evans started his career in New Orleans with one. Just 10 minutes into his career during the pre-season, he went down with a a nasty ankle injury. As some mentioned in the comments, Evans had a history of nagging injuries that limited his availability. His career high in games played was 72, his rookie of the year campaign. While Evans would be available on opening night, the loss of his expected running mate Ryan Anderson would have the predictable negative effect.
Struggles off the Bench
In his first two regular season games as a New Orleans Pelican, Tyreke shot 2-15. Already, anyone who was against the signing to begin with, had all the ammunition they needed. Putting up 15 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds against the Bobcats did nothing to quell this as it was "just the Bobcats." Then, Tyreke logged just 7 minutes against the Phoenix Suns due to "conditioning" and #MontyBall was in full effect.
Overall, without Ryan Anderson to create space for Tyreke to operate, the results were horrendous. Evans averaged just 9.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 3.6 APG while shooting 36.2% from the field. New Orleans was 3-6. The buzzards were circling.
Ryan Anderson is the Perfect Partner
The surprise benching did have the desired effect. Or the return of Ryan Anderson did; along with some luck (for Tyreke) in the form of an MCL sprain for Greg Stiemsma. Once Anderson returned Evans went off. In 20 games, Evans averaged 15.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 5.0 APG on 44.5% from the field. The Pelicans went 12-8 in that stretch (Evans missed two games due to another ankle sprain) and pushed within a game of .500. But that last victory against Boston came at great cost, one which would effect Tyreke Evans most of all.
No Space to Operate
Ryan Anderson would later be ruled out for the season, his last game in a Pelican uniform saw Tyreke Evans pour in 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Not only did the Boston game see the last of Ryan Anderson, it saw the return of Greg Stiemsma as a intregal part of the rotation. In the next 20 games, Evans would shoot above 50% from the field in just two games; a 23-7-7 game (7/13 from the field) in a win over Orlando and a 23-5-10 game (10/14 from the field) in a loss at Toronto. I will point out that Stiemsma did not play against Orlando and logged just 10 minutes (out of 32) with Tyreke against Toronto.
Tyreke Evans was awful in this 20 game stretch: 10.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 4.2 APG and shooting a dreadful 35.4% from the floor. His minutes plunged to just 23 per game. Tyreke missed three games after another ankle injury against Dallas, was benched against Detroit, missed a game against Atlanta with a rib injury, and was again DNP-CD'd by Monty Williams against Brooklyn. In his last game before being moved into the starting lineup, Evans scored just 4 points in 29 minutes at the Mavericks. Just before making his first start of the season he was stuck in an elevator. Maybe everyone was right? Evans was a bust and a horrible decision by GM Dell Demps.
It was in the midst of this awful slump that Bill Simmons published his "Worst Contracts in the NBA" column. Tyreke Evans clocked in at #16. No time like the present to bash Evans.
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.
During this 20 game stretch (counting just games Tyreke played), the Pelicans went a disastrous 4-16. In addition to the injury to Ryan Anderson, New Orleans also lost Jrue Holiday to a stress fracture and Jason Smith with a knee injury. Running out of options, Monty Williams (possibly with a push from Dell Demps?) decided to start Tyreke. He got to the arena in time after his extended stay in an elevator, could he turn his season around?
Move to the Starting Lineup
Before the move, I suggested that Tyreke needed to play with shooters more. Of course at the time I was focused on traditional "stretch-4" (i.e. one that shoots three point shots) players available (or injured) on the team - Luke Babbitt and Ryan Anderson. Instead, it might have been best to think outside the box, to a non-traditional "stretch-4" already starting, Anthony Davis. 70.9% (483/681) of Tyreke's minutes came beside Davis before back spasms shut The Brow down for the season; a dramatic increase from the 55.4% (675/1218) before Tyreke's move into the starting lineup.
Starting Tyreke proved to be a brilliant decision. Not just for Tyreke's stat line, but for the Pelicans as well. In 23 games (Evans missed the Memphis game due to illness and the Houston game due to a bone bruise), New Orleans went 11-12, rather impressive considering the injury toll up to this point. Tyreke began to 'reke havoc on opposing defenses. His stat line over this 23 game stretch was impressive: 19.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 6.4 APG on 49.9% from the field in 35 minutes a game.
More impressive were wins over six different playoff teams (Atlanta, Miami, Brooklyn, the Clippers, Oklahoma City, and Houston). In those six victories, Evans averaged 24.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 7.6 APG on 53.2% from the field. Tyreke saved his best for last, absolutely assaulting the rim against the Rockets and Thunder. Changing out Stiemsma's unsure hands (24.4% turnover rate) for Jeff Withey and Alexis Ajinca helped, as did the Thunder's bizarre strategy of guarding Evans with Derek Fisher. The shot chart below tells the story.
In the chart below, I broke down Tyreke's performance into the four segments mentioned above. Without Ryan Anderson (beginning of the season to November 15th), with Ryno (November 16th to January 3rd), the morass (January 4th to February 27th), and starter Tyreke (February 28th until the end of the season). Each of those links goes to the NBA.com/stats page for that particular date range.
To weigh for the wide range of minutes he received, I have put his production in terms of per 36 minutes instead of per game. This should favor the bad times (8 different games he logged 20 minutes or less) over the good times (12 times he logged 36 minutes or more). Doing this exercise by per game method would artificially make the good period look better (largely due to a much heavier minute load) and his bad times look even worse (thanks to a much lower minute allocation).
|Date Range||Pelican Record||PP/36||RP/36||AP/36||A/T Ratio||FG%||TS%||FG% Within 8ft|
|28FEB To End||11-12||20.2||5.5||6.5||1.93||49.9%||56.6%||55.19%|
Good Tyreke (the one that comes off the bench with Ryan Anderson or starts with Anthony Davis) is not just good, he is great. Here is the list of NBA players in history to put up 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists on 50% TS%:
- LeBron James
- Oscar Robertson
- Larry Bird
- Clyde Drexler
- Magic Johnson
That's a list any player would be honored to be included. The Tyreke Evans we saw in those two stretches (43 games for those claiming #samplesizetheater) is an All-Star. That kind of production for just $11.2M next season is not just a bargain, it is an absolute steal.
It goes beyond production. Good Tyreke also gets all the way to the basket more. Good Tyreke shot 78.11% (464/594) of all field goal attempts within 8 feet of the basket, Bad Tyreke shot 70.95% (215/303) from that same space. A sizable difference. Change the sorting to "Basic Zones" on the NBA Stats tool and the picture comes into focus much more clearly. Bad Tyreke shot 57.24% (174/303) of all field goals attempted in the restricted area. Good Tyreke got all the way to the basket on 69.86% (415/594) of all his shots.
Season Stat Recap
Tyreke Evans appeared in 72 games this season, tying his career best from his rookie season. Despite nagging injuries to himself along with a roster decimated by them, Evans still managed to put up a quality campaign. Tyreke posted his career best PER, 18.4. While his shooting percentage dipped from 44.9% in four years in Sacramento to 43.6%, his rebound (7.8% to 9.8%) and assist (23.3% to 30.4%) rates both increased; dramatically so in case of his assist rate.
Aside: Seriously check out this link. Only Denver improves more in FiveThirtyEight's "injury free" projections than the Pelicans. If the entire league did not suffer a single injury, according to that report, the Pelicans would have finished with a record of 39-43.
Defensively it is a very mixed bag. With Tyreke on the court the Pelicans gave up 108.7 points per 100 possessions, overall they gave up 107.3. Both those stats were pulled from NBA.com/stats. This particular coat of paint says Tyreke is a minus defender. ESPN's new "Real Plus-Minus" is even more negative, rating Tyreke Evans the worst defender among all players designated as small forwards. With this information, it would probably be best to just assume Tyreke is a terrible defender and be done with it, right?
Synergy Sports, however, tells a completely different story on Tyreke Evans the defender. Below I compiled the stats of the best wing defenders in the last two seasons. Isolation, P&R Ball Handler, and Spot Up points per possession allowed were all pulled from Synergy Sports. Defensive Rating was pulled from NBA.com/stats and DRPM (Defensive Real Plus-Minus) was pulled from ESPN. Since Monty Williams has determined Tyreke is mostly a shooting guard I compared him against Tony Allen and Avery Bradley from the 2013 NBA All-Defensive Team and Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala, and Kawhi Leonard from Zach Lowe's 2014 NBA All-Defensive Team ballot.
|Isolation||P&R Ball Handler||Spot Up||DRtg||DRPM|
Tyreke Evans is currently slotted to be the 48th highest paid player in the NBA next season, and that is before a single free agent signs a contract. Evans put up the 30th best PER in the NBA this season. Should Ryan Anderson play his typical compliment of games (he played at least 61 games every season and missed just 6 in the previous two seasons), it is reasonable to expect Tyreke's performance will be even better next season. We already have the evidence that Tyreke IS excellent when Ryan Anderson is available.
Two different opinions have come to light recently concerning what Evans should work on. Michael McNamara of Bourbon Street Shots writes that work on the jump shot should not be a priority. Our own Brian Ball disagrees and points out being contrarian just for the sake of it is something practiced often in journalism. Monty Williams wants Tyreke to work on his mid-range jump shot this summer, which is what sparked the dialogue. Never mind that it is the least efficient shot in the game.
This idea of Tyreke shooting jump shots has followed Evans around his entire career. No, seriously. Here is what we know from the data. Tyreke shot 24.6% on jump shots this season according to Basketball Reference. He shot 31.3% last year, 26.4% in 2012, 30.0% in 2011, and 30.9% as a rookie. So he probably should shoot better than 24.6% on jumpers, but expecting him to be a knockdown shooter (especially doing so from mid range), seems a fool's errand.
Instead, it is important for him to work on his jump shot and drill into his mind not to settle for the mid range attempt. If an opponent is backing off of him continually, Evans should shoot the three and have confidence in doing so. Even if the shot is not falling (he shot 1/7 from behind the arc against the Thunder), it still can have a desirable effect (Evans scored 41 points, the Pelicans won). Tyreke must not allow Monty's Influence (and love of the most inefficient shot in the game) to deter him from applying basic math that 3 is greater than 2.
If Evans can get the confidence back in his jump shot he had his last season in Sacramento and simply hit 33.8% of his three point attempts and learn to avoid mid-range jump shots, that will be enough this summer. Should he find the voodoo doctor that cursed the franchise's injury luck that would be even better.