This is hard to write. It feels like a eulogy. It’s a lot like when your favorite TV show kills off your favorite character. It’s Omar Little getting killed by a child in The Wire. (Shame on you if this is a spoiler). Tyreke Evans is actually a lot like Omar Little. Both are teaming with irrational confidence. From Tyreke driving it into the paint — without concern for his body or the defense — shooting the three that he maybe shouldn’t have taken, or playing through a significant injury that could potentially end his career to Omar trying to take down a Barksdale stash house — resulting in Tosha being killed, or going after Marlo Stanfield.
Like Omar, Tyreke provided the swagger and attitude in 2014-15 that carried a rag-tag team into the playoffs doing what he does best — running the high pick and roll — getting buckets through penetration, providing Kobe assists to Anthony Davis or kicking out to an open shooter. It’s impossible to call Omar Little a hero, but he definitely presented some real shades of gray that even left the police struggling to decide whether he was an asset or a threat. Evans presents those kind of problems to this coaching staff as well. Both provide skills or knowledge that could benefit, but both operate a bit outside the system, which can cause problems for the bureaucracy while allowing them to achieve their main goal.
Evans is elite when it comes to getting to the rim — he’s like a big brother holding his younger brother’s head keeping his wild swings at a safe distance — using his length and strength to overwhelm his cover and dribble with only his right hand from the arc to the rim with almost no resistance. He is also a triple double threat. In 2014-15 (his last relatively healthy season), Evans averaged 16.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.6 assists. The only other players in the league that produced 15, 5 and 5 stat lines that season were Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe. Tyreke is 0.1 rebound away from averaging at least 15, 5 and 5 over his career. Of the players mentioned above, only Westbrook and James are in that company. I’m not saying that Evans is at the same level as these two guys, but his production is undeniable and impressive.
Still, Monty Williams started a historically bad Austin Rivers and journeyman Brian Roberts over Evans. Gentry raved about him in his first offseason with the team — saying he was a dynamic point guard. Yet, when Evans tried to balance fitting into the system that hadn’t yet produced wins while still trying to run pick and rolls with Davis — a strategy with a proven track record — Evans was beat up in the media. After his knee finally gave out completely, Gentry began throwing him under the bus for his ill-fit and reluctance to play within the system. I found it odd that Tyreke was vilified for ball stopping by the same people who gushed over Ryan Anderson — the biggest ball stopper who also didn’t defend and actually shot a lower percentage from three than Evans in 2015-16 — but then again, a lot of the Anderson love and Evans hate has always confused me.
I’m sad that Evans doesn’t get the credit he deserves for our playoff berth. I’m also sad that our coaches were not very imaginative in using him. In Gentry’s defense (probably the only time I’ll write that phrase ever), he didn’t have many games to tinker with Evans, but if the issue with Evans was his, “over-dribbling” then why didn’t we use him more off of the ball on baseline cuts? Tyreke has shown in his years with the Kings and in brief moments under Monty Williams that he is very good at catching passes and finishing at the rim when he is hit in stride running to the basket. Also, Gentry seemed to love to post Davis up at the elbow, which wasn’t really his game. However, Evans has has shown to be effective when posting up smaller guards. He has good post moves, can power his way through smaller defenders, can use his speed and handle against bigger ones and is a good passer out of the post. These two strategies were rarely employed, yet they could have been a boon for both coaches’ systems. And let’s not even begin to think about the staffs he played under in Sacramento, and their inability to maximize his skill set — an organization that has been wasting a major talent like DeMarcus Cousins for years.
As I’ve said, he brings a very solid skill set, but he isn’t without flaws. He has the length and strength to be a solid defender, but he doesn’t have great lateral quickness, which was exasperated by his knee injuries last season. When he is engaged on defense — like he was on March 26, 2014 against the Los Angeles Clippers — he can hold his own. Due to injury, Evans and Darius Miller were the point guard rotation for New Orleans that evening and they held Chris Paul to a career worst 0-12 from the field. Admittedly, history shows that big guards are Paul’s kryptonite — see any game he played against Deron Williams when Deron was still a top point guard — but Evans’ defense was relentless that night against the best point guard in the league at the time while playing nearly 41 minutes. This is an isolated incident, but it shows that he can be at least adequate defensively. Solomon Hill even made sure to note that Tyreke is a solid 1-on-1 defender when healthy on media day. Surely, much of the blame should fall on Tyreke for not playing with the same defensive intensity every night, but in those Monty years Evans often had to shoulder most of the load offensively — often playing through injury for a coach that made it clear didn’t believe in him.
The truth is that Anthony Davis is clearly the best player on this team, and Jrue Holiday is likely the second best, though we haven’t seen it over a full season yet. But can anyone deny Tyreke Evans was the heart of this team? Without him in the rotation or around the team last season, we saw an uninspired Anthony Davis and supporting cast just limp through a dismal season. I’m starting to believe we won’t see Evans play another game for us, which may bring joy to some. However, I take no joy in a young man possibly ruining his knee and willing his team to the playoffs while casual fans and bloggers throw barbs at him for over-dribbling and trying to enjoy his life off of the court. No matter what your feelings are about Tyreke, everyone should take time to watch his greatest performance as a member of the Pelicans when he carried a team of scrubs to victory over an extremely potent Thunder team. Pay extra attention the the other four Pelicans on the court with him during this masterpiece.
I have a gut-feeling that if he can get his knee healthy again — word is he could return as early as November — that he will be the Manu Ginobili replacement in San Antonio next season running the pick-and-roll with LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard (maybe even at some point this season with a trade or a buyout).