What is Tyreke Evans?
Well, other than a former Rookie of the Year, an impending restricted free agent, and a one-time star-in-the-making whose future with the Sacramento Kings is murky, at best.
As far as anyone can tell, Tyreke still has the talent to be the 20-5-5 guy he was immediately after leaving Memphis as a collegiate freshman. He hasn't shrunk any in height or weight, and though he's been bothered by plantar fasciitis over the last two seasons, Evans seems to be fit for the upcoming campaign.
The question remains, what is he? Is he a big point guard, a strong shooting guard, an undersized small forward, a combination of any of those three, or something else entirely?
'Reke came into The Association as a point guard, though, upon closer review, he seems ill-suited to the position.
Not that Evans isn't comfortable having the ball in his hands. If anything, that's something to which he's well-accustomed. For most of his basketball life, Evans has had the privilege of being his team's primary ball-handler, thanks in no small part to a tight, creative dribble.
Trouble is, his actions thereafter are hardly indicative of a guy who fits well at the point, even if some of his past numbers suggest otherwise. Simply put, Evans isn't a great passer. According to Hoopdata, Evans posted the sixth-lowest assist rate among "point guards" who played at least 20 minutes per game last season. Furthermore, DraftExpress rated him 50th among qualified point guards in pure point rating, which (as you might imagine) is meant to quantify a given player's aptitude for sharing and handling the ball.
Part of the problem stems from Evans' propensity to spin, often into trouble. The move itself is designed to help Tyreke force his way through and around traffic in the middle of the floor.
In the process, though, Evans forfeits the time and visual clarity he needs to assess the situation and, perhaps, make a pass if he's about to run into a brick wall. As Kings coach Keith Smart said of Evans' spin move to Zach Lowe (formerly of SI.com):
“The spin move goes back to Tyreke going in there with only one thought on his mind—to score. He didn’t know how to map the floor. He wasn’t reading the defense. He didn’t have a next move.”
Indeed, spinning renders such thinking-heavy maneuvers difficult, if not nearly impossible. Only a handful of players—none named "Tyreke"—can execute passes whilst pirouetting with any reliable proficiency. Evans does well enough executing simple passes and distributing the ball when he has the proper time and space to do so.
But that wouldn't differentiate him from any other competent guard in the NBA, much less suggest he can be an elite floor general. Smart seems to agree:
“Tyreke can be a pass-as-a-last-resort kind of guy. A guy might come open for a second, but Tyreke will hold the ball a second or two too long. You look at Chris Paul, or the elite point guards in the league, and they already have a plan for where to go with the ball before they drive. It’s called mapping the floor.”
'Reke's inability to shoot effectively as a ball-handler in the pick-and-roll—35 percent, per Zach Lowe—in an increasingly pick-and-roll-heavy league doesn't exactly help his case, either.
Nonetheless, Evans has seen some time at the point with the Kings in training camp this month, though the emergence of Isaiah Thomas and the addition of Aaron Brooks indicate that minutes up top will be hard to come by for 'Reke this season.
Which would appear to leave Evans on the wing, be it at shooting guard or small forward.
That's no slam dunk either, at least not yet. His jump shot was shaky in years past, and even that's putting it lightly. Evans' tendency to shoot off balance and kick his legs hither and thither yielded predictably poor results, with only 26.5 percent of his shots away from the rim winding up through the twine, per Hoopdata, including an abysmal 20.2 percent from three.
And for a kid who's supposedly a great isolation scorer, Evans shot surprisingly poorly in such situations—37 percent, according to Zach Lowe. He's also shown alarmingly poor judgment when attempting to differentiate between when he should see a play through to fruition and when he should break off and do his own thing.
It's not all bad news for Evans, though. For all his faults as a shooter and passer, Tyreke is still among the league's best and most frequent slashers. According to Hoopdata, his seven at-rim shot attempts per game last season were the fourth-most of any player in the NBA, placing him in nearly a dead-heat with Dwight Howard in that regard. Better yet, Evans converted 64.6 percent of those shots—by far the best rate of his three-year career.
Yet, Evans only attempted 0.29 free throws per field goal attempt, placing him firmly in the middle of the pack among point guards and slightly worse among swingmen.
That aside, Evans' success at the rim wasn't all about driving off the dribble. His midseason move away from the ball, though painful at first, gave way to some surprisingly effective shooting on his part. According to Synergy Sports (via Zach Lowe), he shot 69 percent off cuts last season.
As one might expect for a career "ball-hog" like Evans, he wasn't always as engaged while off the ball as his coaches might've preferred. That being said, his understanding of spacing and movement seemed to improve as the season went along and should only progress from here on out, as the Kings continue to utilize him under such circumstances.
All told, there is no "perfect position" into which Tyreke neatly fits. He's a solid ball-handler and seems to be at his best when he controls the rock, but doesn't pass well (or much) and prefers to shoot it himself more often than not. By the same token, Evans is a subpar shooter (at best), though he works well off the ball and can get to the rim better than most players his size.
If picking a traditional position for Evans comes down to defensive matchups, then shooting guard may be the way to go. For all of his strength and athleticism, 'Reke is a step slow to deal with quick point guards and a smidgen too small to handle bigger, stronger small forwards.
Assuming, of course, that he's focused on that end of the floor and doesn't forgo his fundamentals in search of steals and blocks.
Slotting in Evans at shooting guard would seem to work at the other end for the Kings as well. According to Cowbell Kingdom, the Kings have allotted more practice time at small forward for Marcus Thornton, presumably making way for Evans at the "two".
More tellingly, Evans has started at shooting guard in each of Sacramento's first two preseason games.
The key going forward, then, will be Evans' progression as a shooter. Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports reported in September that 'Reke had been working diligently on his game, particularly his shooting stroke. He spent much of the summer locked inside gyms at/until the wee hours of the morning, putting sweat equity into his game alongside his teammates and running drills with Kings GM Geoff Petrie.
Whether that gives way to a better Tyreke remains to be seen. At the very least, Evans can provide an honest, if not entirely satisfactory, answer to the question of what he is this season.
A basketball player who's finally doing what it takes to be the best he can be, whatever that is.