According to Alvin Gentry, the Pelicans are going to consistently run in his first season as the head coach. That potentially would have meant big things for the team's original point guard, Jrue Holiday, but with the team wisely monitoring his minutes for an indefinite period of time, the responsibility now shifts to Tyreke Evans.
Fortunately for Evans, he has experience in the uptempo department. In Sacramento, the Kings finished in the top 10 in pace in all four of his seasons. The problem, though, was that he normally functioned as a guard, not the point guard. Thus, Evans is going to be exploring somewhat new territory in 2015-16, and it could potentially result in a career year.
After Holiday went down on January 12th in Boston, Evans stepped in as the Pelicans starting point guard and averaged 16.4 points, 7.7 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, but when one considers Monty Williams was constantly tugging tightly on the leash that was the Pelican's offense, it really choked Evan's overall effectiveness.
Back in August, I had mentioned Evans led the team in transition opportunities. To extrapolate a little further, he finished with 327 transition possessions. The next two Pelicans on the list were Anthony Davis (122) and Eric Gordon (108).
Although Evans was typically a one man band, this propensity to push the pace served him well. In examining the trio of Evans, Holiday and Eric Gordon over the Pelicans 15 quickest paced games the last several years, Tyreke enjoyed the strongest production in an uptempo setting. Now imagine what those numbers would have looked like in a system designed to work with him, not against him!
Guess which Pelican struggled the most with efficiency when the shot clock was at ten seconds or less? That's right, Evans was far from wrecking havoc.
According to NBA Savant, he had dismal 38.9 FG%, the lowest among all returning Pelicans. Conversely, when he took a shot within the first 14 seconds of the shot clock, he had a sparkling 49.5 FG%. That's a significant difference made even larger when one also considers he took more shots than anyone else on the team besides the Uni-browed superstar.
The Golden State Warriors led the league in the most shot attempts early in the shot clock and finished second to the Suns very early in the shot clock. Meanwhile, The Pelicans finished 29th and 28th respectively. Trust me, there is no one happier on the team to see Monty Williams replaced by Gentry.
When the Pelicans find themselves without an opportunity to push the pace, look for Evans to possibly find himself initiating the offense quite a bit in the post. Just as Evans reiterated on Media Day, he informed The Bird Writes early in September that he was going to be spending more time on the block.
Have you added anything new to your game for this year? Say will we see more three-pointers, post-ups or some other type of shot that you’ve been working on?
Uhh, more post. When I was working out and on my floater, coach came over and said I needed to spend 20 minutes on post-ups and moves cause I'm going to the block this year. I've definitely been working on that. I did a lot of that in Sacramento, but he said I'm going back to it this year. Definitely have to work out all of that and always wanted to be moved into the post this year.
When thinking about point guards who enjoy spending time in the post, two names should come to mind: Andre Miller and Shaun Livingston. Since Evans physically resembles the later, we'll concentrate on Livingston. Two years ago, he absolutely dominated opponents in the post while with the Brooklyn Nets.
Livingston can’t – and doesn’t – shoot from outside, but he can help Golden State’s spacing in other ways. The Warriors often chased mismatches in the post with Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes last year, but those guys just weren’t consistently able to punish their defender down there. Livingston can. He was the most efficient post-up player in the league last season, according to Synergy Sports, and his long arms and 6’7 height give him an advantage over most smaller defenders.
Last season with the Warriors, those numbers slipped some, but he remained effective enough for Gentry to keep going to that well. Can Evans enjoy similar success?
The Synergy Post-Up numbers aren't much help considering the sample size: Evans had only 24 possessions in the post for the entire 2014-15 season. However, as Evans has mentioned in recent interviews, the block is not foreign to him. While with the Kings, he claims to have worked on a post-up game. As a point guard, he'll certainly have the size advantage over nearly the rest of his peers so proficiency could be a real thing.
However, until either Holiday or Quincy Pondexter are able to play a full allotment of minutes, it will be interesting to watch if Evans playing from the block gets shelved or at least reduced. With Dante Cunningham the favorite to start at small forward, spacing and playmaking could suddenly become an issue for the slated opening day starting lineup. If Evans sits on one block and Asik is lingering closely in the paint somewhere, that would leave Gordon, Davis and Cunningham sprinkled along the perimeter. Outside of Gordon, can we trust the other two to both knock down shots, or if pressured closely, drive by their defenders and finish the possession cleanly?
It's fair to have some doubts, especially with Cunningham. More likely, an Evans post-up game either makes an appearance later in the game amid a friendlier lineup or gets postponed until later in the season. Perhaps, a lot could also hinge on how well his shot is falling in preseason and then in November. If Evans turns into a viable threat on the perimeter, there would be less urgency to hide him on the block.
During Evans first year in New Orleans, he shot well under 30% from everywhere along the perimeter (10-16 feet, 16<3 point line and the 3-point line). Last season, all three areas witnessed shooting percentages above this mark including nearly 40% from just inside the arc.
Is there room for any more improvement? Maybe.
Regardless, Evans is first and foremost a driver on the basketball court. Undoubtedly his primary responsibilities will include the transition game, breaking down defenses and getting others involved. His new physique should help, making his crossover more effective and hopefully reduce turnovers including his propensity for picking up offensive fouls.
Another area his new anatomy should come handy is on the defensive end of the floor. Generally, Evans' on-the-ball defense has fared well, even against opposing point guards. He has handled Chris Paul and other point guards whose calling card is not speed. The problems will arise when the Pelicans have to face the likes of say Russell Westbrook or John Wall. It'll be during these moments that Darren Erman will be asked to earn his money, but we should expect for Evans to be moved onto opposing wings for plenty of stretches.
As Gentry said, Anthony Davis will lead the team in scoring; however, don't push Evans too far down the hierarchy list. As the team's point guard, he's going to dominate the ball. Plus, with the Pelicans significantly looking to increase the frequency of attempts earlier in the shot clock, Evans will find himself in a role he was always meant to play.
Don't be surprised if come season end, Tyreke Evans gets rewarded for finally being utilized correctly with mentions for the league's Most Improved Player of the Year award. Yeah, the stars appear to have aligned themselves that much for this oft-maligned player by the media. As long as he gives it straight gas, vindication will be well within his grasp.