What Should the Sacramento Kings Do with Tyreke Evans?
The last two seasons haven't at all been kind to Sacramento's Tyreke Evans. Though Evans once staved off Steph Curry and Brandon Jennings in the Rookie of the Year race with a tremendous (and tremendously publicized) 20-point, five-rebound and five-assist season, he hasn't at all held the same form since. Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports lamented Evans' regression over at Ball Don't Lie:
On pure talent alone, Evans should be expected to vie for All-Star berths even with Kobe Bryant still roaming the landscape. That's not going to happen any time soon, not with all the kinks yet to be worked out and DeMarcus Cousins rightfully needing the ball. Sacramento can't trade Evans, not with his value so low and teams likely to pounce on him as a restricted free agent next summer. And last we checked, Steve Nash was a Laker, and Phil Jackson was in Montana. Easy looks and gestalt theory won't be showing up in the California capital any time soon.
It appears as if the onus is on Evans. He's made mistakes before, but he knows what's up … right? Turn 23, turn the whole thing around? Maybe work a give and go? Maybe make it so not every score has to come either from his right hand or off of one of his assists? Perhaps look at another 6-5 Sacto legend, in Mitch Richmond, that used footwork and touch (and, at times, a well-placed rear-wheeled bump to the defender) to pile up the points and respect?
A lot would have to take place, and all of it (sadly) would end up being quite surprising. The in-house guy, Keith Smart, would have to take an outsider's tone. And Evans would have to significantly reverse things. It's a tall, though do-able, order.
The truth threaded throughout Dwyer's assessment of Evans' play is what makes it so particularly unfortunate; although an injury set back the Kings' one-time cornerstone during his sophomore season, the 2011-2012 campaign can't be explained away.
Evans attempted to chuck and over-dribble his way out of every problem, even when the makeup of Sacramento's roster no longer required that he do so. There was indeed a time where Evans had to put a fingerprint on every single Kings possession, but over the course of his NBA career thus far, he's proven that doing so isn't conducive to high-level offense.
He's versatile. He's talented. But those facts alone shouldn't put Evans in control of an offense, especially when he's demonstrated such little aptitude to date for anything other than basic, right-hand-exclusive pick-and-roll work.
The man simply needs to let go, and through positional shifts and the like, Evans has yet to do so. Keith Smart has attempted to utilize him in a variety of capacities, and in those moments when he buys into the idea of operating without the ball in his mitts, Evans has actually done quite well:
He's a particularly effective cutter for a player so reluctant to do so, and yet with the team that Sacramento is slowly building, there's more reason to work off the ball than ever. Isaiah Thomas isn't just the guy who thankfully takes the ball out of Evans' hands, but also the playmaker who sets him up for easy scores.
Beyond Thomas, the Kings have what may well be the best trio of passing big men in the league in DeMarcus Cousins, Thomas Robinson and Chuck Hayes. That's a tremendous group of enablers for any player willing to make cuts down the lane or the opposite baseline, and yet it's hard to fight the sneaking suspicion that we may see Evans in depressingly familiar form in the season to come.
It doesn't have to be that way, and it's certainly possible that recency effects are responsible for such skepticism. Either way, Sacramento has little choice but to keep trying—new arrangements, adjusted roles and added movement—in the hope that something sticks.
Perhaps Evans will work brilliantly off of that aforementioned group of big men and give the Kings' offense some much-needed movement. Maybe Evans will find balance in his work with and without the ball, and learn to choose his moments rather than grab them by the fistful.
The only thing we can be sure of is that Evans' fate rests squarely on his own shoulders. It's all laid out for a player with this much of a natural advantage and this much potential, so much so that Evans' recent struggles have established a presumption of shortcoming; sadly, we can only believe in real growth from Evans when we see it.
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