Can Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday Be NBA's New Dynamic Backcourt Pairing?
Talk of a New Orleans Pelicans backcourt featuring Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans would have been viewed as nonsensical at the end of the 2012-13 season, but now it's legitimate.
Not only that, but the pairing would have a chance to jump Deron Williams-Joe Johnson, Ty Lawson-Andre Iguodala (if he returns) and Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson as the most dynamic in the NBA. There are very few teams who can boast both an elite point guard and a standout shooting guard, especially given the dearth of quality 2-guards in the NBA.
The Pelicans acquired Holiday by trading Nerlens Noel and a top-five-protected pick in the 2014 NBA draft, but they didn't stop dealing following the acquisition of the former Philadelphia 76ers point guard. Now they have reportedly picked up Evans, according to ESPN's Marc Stein, in a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers.
The deal would send point guard Greivis Vasquez and center Robin Lopez farther west.
Eric Gordon would likely follow Vasquez and Lopez out of the bayou. The backcourt would be crowded even with the departure of Vasquez. Evans, Holiday, Gordon and Austin Rivers would all be fighting for minutes.
Evans is determined to play shooting guard, according to ESPN NBA blogger Jonathan Santiago, so it would be better to cut ties with current Pelicans 2-guard Gordon. A hypothetical trade for Indiana Pacers small forward Danny Granger sounds awfully appealing for both sides, but let's save that type of speculation for another time and place.
For now, let's assume that Gordon would be gone and instead focus solely on the Evans-Holiday duo that would be taking over the backcourt.
Two Dynamic Offensive Options
When you can put two premier offensive threats in the same backcourt, you're in tremendous shape.
Holiday certainly qualifies as such, especially after using his first—and only—season as part of the post-Andre Iguodala era in Philadelphia to break out and make the All-Star team. With his deceptive athleticism, terrific driving skills, top-notch passing abilities and quality outside shooting, the young point guard is on the track toward stardom.
He averaged 17.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game during his first campaign as the go-to guy for the Sixers. And that's factoring in the unfortunate decline during the second half as an impotent Philly roster heaped too much offensive pressure on Jrue's shoulders.
Any guesses on how many players in the NBA averaged at least 17 points, four rebounds and eight assists per game during the 2012-13 season? Five? Ten?
Only Holiday met the criteria.
If we drop the qualifications down to five assists per game, Holiday is one of eight players to meet all three criteria. LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and John Wall are the others.
Not bad company to be in.
Meanwhile, Evans isn't too far removed from his historic rookie season, one in which he joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the only first-year players to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game.
The Memphis product has stagnated since that first go-around with the Kings, but he's also played for a toxic organization (note: that description shouldn't apply anymore) that surrounded him with a carousel of players and coaches.
Evans hasn't managed to develop a consistent jumper—his shooting from 16 to 23 feet has declined during his time in the Association, although his three-point shooting improved during 2012-13—but he remains an elite slasher. Few guards are better at finding their way through traffic and attacking the rim.
Once he gets to the basket, Evans is also a great finisher. According to Hoopdata.com, he made 63.2 percent of his attempts at the rim throughout the 2012-13 campaign, and he spent a lot of time there. In fact, Evans shot six times per game right at the hoop, which was less frequently than ever before as he placed more of a priority on taking jumpers and spacing the court.
Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook were the only two guards in the Association who made more shots at the rim.
Having two premier offensive guards is one thing, but having two that complement each other is even more impressive.
At first, Holiday and Evans aren't going to get along so well on the basketball court. They're both ball-dominant players who require the rock in their hands to maximize their skills. But as they learn how to function together, they'll suddenly realize that they can work well on the same court.
Holiday is tremendous as a drive-and-kick point guard. He'll be able to find Evans slashing to the basket with ease once they develop some creative sets, and his passes are typically so on target that the bigger guard could appear to have a functioning jumper.
Evans was significantly more potent from beyond the arc in catch-and-shoot situations, so this bodes well. He'll also be able to improve upon his shooting from 16 to 23 feet, as the 2-guard drilled only 33.9 percent of his looks during the 2012-13 season, according to Basketball-Reference.com. It's also telling that only 15.8 percent of the makes were assisted.
Pelicans fans everywhere should be hoping that Evans will ban himself from creating deep two-point looks with Holiday on the court.
Holiday also benefits from having Evans alongside him because defenses won't be able to play his drives quite as hard. The threat of Tyreke receiving the ball in the open court off a kick and having room to work up a head of steam en route to the rim is too great.
Of course, offense isn't all that matters when looking at the dynamic abilities of a backcourt. Defense has to come into play as well.
The former Philadelphia 76er's defense has improved throughout his time in the NBA, particularly because he's become more comfortable using his quickness to navigate the inevitable pick-and-roll sets run against him. Holiday's 16.1 PER allowed to opposing point guards might not be too impressive, but it's more telling that the Sixers gave up 3.8 points fewer per 100 possessions when Holiday played than when he sat.
Evans has the defensive fundamentals and body necessary to develop into a potent wing defender, but he hasn't made that happen quite yet. He lacks the focus, and that could change with both Holiday and winning basketball motivating him.
Additionally, the two guards are fairly versatile, and against teams with smaller 2-guards, Evans and Holiday would be able to reverse spots to match up better.
In a lot of ways, switching roles is what could make this a potent offensive lineup as well. Each can capably handle the ball and run an offense, so finding a give-and-take would make them all the more dynamic.
It's tough to find a more skilled backcourt than this potential one, and the pieces are in place for them to complement each other down the road.
To the other 29 teams hoping to top this backcourt, it's your move.
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