During Marcus Smart's rookie season, many were surprised by the rapid improvements in his game, especially in the efficiency of his perimeter shot. After all, in two seasons at Oklahoma State, he posted a career 29.5 FG% from three point range. At first glance, a 33.5 3FG% doesn't jump off the page, but when you consider his poor mechanics in conjunction with the fact that the NBA three-point shot is a longer shot than in college, that is sizable improvement.
Darren Erman's secret? According to Evan Turner, it's repetition.
I don't know if you know Darren [Erman, assistant coach], but Darren's like the most annoying person ever, and he'll hunt you down to do whatever he thinks you should do," Turner said. "But [Smart] has done a great job, a lot of repetition. Shooting's a confidence thing and getting on a roll and riding that wave, and he's done a great job with that.
In other words, a lot of hard but meaningful work. Sure, there were some mechanical changes made to Smart's shot, such as helping him significantly improve the quickness of his release as well as his form. On YouTube, notice the jumper that used to start from his knees in college versus the middle of his chest during his rookie season with the Celtics.
However, it appears the biggest credit should be given to the hours upon hours he spent working in the gym to hone his craft. Just days before the Pelicans announced the hiring of Erman, he was busy spending several hours a day with Smart in Boston.
Why have I spent so much time dwelling on Marcus Smart? Because I don't think there is another player who possesses a more similar skill set, athleticism and size in the NBA to Tyreke Evans.
When Reke left Memphis and the guidance of Coach Calipari, he was also known for his bowling-ball driving forays to the rim without possessing a credible jumper (27.4 3FG% on 3.4 attempts per game). Unlike Smart, the Sacramento Kings appeared content to allow him to be coddled by his entourage. During his rookie season, all one can find on the internet is the blueprint.
Tyreke's network isn't filled with anchors, looking to drag Tyreke back home, but with family: his brothers Reggie, Doc, and Pooh, and a cousin, Temetrius.
"To say the least, there are some situations that make coaches worry, stay up at night," said first-year Sacramento coach Paul Westphal, who has coached both the Phoenix Suns and Seattle SuperSonics. "We don't stay up at night worrying about Tyreke."
At first, he was lauded for surrounding himself with good people. However, I fear too many influences not of the coaching variety were directly responsible for the stagnation in his game following his first year in Sacramento. His entourage likely did have his best intentions at heart, but their involvement prevented him from forming any close bonds with key Kings personnel. Granted, that honestly may have been a good thing considering all the questionable moves that were made by that organization since the hey days of Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic, but in the long-term, Evans probably never received vitally important tutelage until his arrival in New Orleans.
As his reputation preceded him, Fred Vinson was not sure he'd get such a willing pupil when he was assigned to be Tyreke's development coach.
"He’s been tremendous, working with him for the first time," Vinson said. "I didn’t know how badly he wanted to get better. I thought he’d be more of a guy who’d just want to show up and play. Maybe in his younger days he was like that, not understanding how difficult the league was going to be over the long haul.
Without a doubt, Vinson's work translated into visible results.
- Evans surpassed 30% from the 3-point line for just the second time in his 6-year career, and if we remove December's dismal showing, that percentage would have been knocking on the door of 33%.
- From 16 feet out to the three point line, he set a personal best of 39.1%.
- From 10-16 feet, Evans had his best percentage since his sophomore campaign.
For precisely these reasons, this is a perfect example of why one never gives up on a younger player and pigeonholes him. I'll wager that Dell Demps never even considered the notion that Tyreke working on his jumper could have resulted in more harm than good. He was probably well aware that Evans had never consistently worked with the finest of coaches. Demps didn't see a perennial poor shooter, he saw years of untapped potential.
Despite being a fresh face to NBA sidelines, Darren Erman is regarded for having a strong reputation for properly developing young talent. Before Marcus Smart, he was quite influential in the development of another high profile backcourt player, Klay Thompson.
Thompson could shoot, but to become an All-Star, he would have to defend the best wing scorers. For an entire month in the summer after Thompson’s rookie season, he and Erman worked every day at the Warriors’ practice facility on specific defensive drills: sliding over screens, helping inside and recovering onto shooters, sliding his feet.
Erman can help a player on both sides of the ball; Evans needs further guidance in both areas. His perimeter shot, although improved, is still miles from being a deadly weapon. His ball possession dominance can be curtailed, reducing the propensity for bad turnovers without eliminating the wonderful contributions of his vision.
Defensively, Evans has skills similar to Smart but he's never consistently made great use of his incredible reach. He's tough and aggressive one-on-one, but when the opposition throws in a screen, he could be taught to better manage the obstacle. Further, he could stand to learn an encyclopedia worth of defensive concepts playing off the ball.
Sadly, there are many who believe Evans ship has sailed, even if it is agreed Sacramento's environment was irrepressibly suffocating.
Like any relatively young guy with his sparingly-seen physical ceiling, Tyreke Evans can never be fully dismissed as a potential contributor in the right situation. But the ship appears to have long sailed on Evans as an integral piece on a winning team, and he has a long way to go to be a helpful player in any significant context. There are incremental improvements to be seen, but there’s no guarantee they will sustain. After all, they haven’t done before.
Thankfully, Darren Erman will not be one of those naysayers. Klay Thompson became an All-Star this past season, and Erman believes Marcus Smart could follow suit. Is there any good reason why we shouldn't believe the Pelicans newest assistant coach from Boston doesn't already have Evans in his crosshairs?
A year ago, I felt Eric Gordon was unfairly ridiculed after his most recent campaign and not given a chance to take another step forward. Similarly, I believe Tyreke Evans is primed to follow suit; he's going to have one of the best development coaches in his corner. Once Erman, Alvin Gentry and the rest of the coaching staff have a chance to work with Evans, there is a damn good chance he'll be considered an integral piece on an Anthony Davis-led team.