Former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans' career hasn't exactly gone according to plan. We should have seen a better sophomore effort. By now, he should be an All-Star.
Instead, he's attempting to rehabilitate his game with the New Orleans Pelicans after the Sacramento Kings—the team that drafted him—basically gave up on him. Best laid plans aside, there are signs that Evans is starting to turn the corner, and not a minute too soon.
Evans had a beastly March, averaging 20.4 points, 6.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. It's the first time in a long time that he's looked like a star in the making, the first time since his rookie season we've had reason to hope.
Evans' Pelicans went 9-7 in March, suggesting that his personal achievement wasn't lost on the team. It was easily NOLA's best month of the season, and it's no surprise it coincided with Evans' best month in years.
In February, Evans dealt with some injury setbacks and averaged just 9.4 points per game. It was a microcosm of his post-rookie career.
After averaging over 20 points per game as a rookie, Evans has watched his production and minutes slip in each of the subsequent four seasons. The downturn has culminated in this, his worst season statistically. That wasn't how the story was supposed to go.
Evans was out of place with the Kings, often playing out of position. Sacramento moved him over to the small forward spot to make room for a backcourt consisting of Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton. At times the Pelicans have attempted to do the same so that guards Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon get their minutes.
But with Holiday already out with injury, Gordon's absence through half of March created an opportunity for Evans to do what he does best—dominate the ball. With the rock in his hands, Evans is a dangerous creator. He's a prototypical slasher capable of scoring off the dribble from almost anywhere.
When asked to play off the ball, Evans' impact is limited. He's a point guard in a shooting guard's body, and that's made it difficult for him to find a natural position.
More importantly, injuries have made it difficult for him to find a rhythm.
Foot problems hampered Evans during his 2010-11 season, limiting his ability to build upon his breakout rookie campaign. The explanations for what happened a year later are harder to come by, but suffice it to say, Evans didn't grow as anticipated in his third season either.
Cowbell Kingdom's James Ham describes the devolution:
This was supposed to be the year for Tyreke Evans... Instead, Evans’ development stagnated. Plenty of critics will say he regressed, but the stats show otherwise. They say that he was basically the same player we saw in year one, but that he shot the ball nearly two times less per game and he drew fewer fouls. A lot less in fact. If we take the 1.9 less shot attempts (which equates to 1.8 points per game) and his 1.6 fewer attempts from the free throw line, Evans would have averaged 19.9 points per contest, a smidge off the 20.1 points he averaged as a rookie.
In other words, part of the problem is that the Kings simply went away from Evans. He became more of a complementary player, displaced by guards who took the ball out of his hands and took a greater share of shots in the process.
Evans didn't necessarily get worse. He just started to disappear ever so slightly. It's hard to say how much blame goes to the organization. On the one hand, it was asking Evans to do things he wasn't accustomed to doing. It wanted him to play on the wing and move off the ball. It wanted him to evolve.
It was a nice thought, but it might have been asking too much, too soon.
Evans' efficiency actually picked up in 2012-13, but he saw even fewer shots—just 11.8 shots per game compared to the 16.2 he attempted as a rookie. The Kings were clearly starting to go in a different direction, and not even an impressive 48 percent success rate from the field could change that.
It was a harbinger of things to come.
The Kings ultimately dealt Evans to the Pelicans last summer in a three-team sign-and-trade pact that netted Sacramento little in return (namely Greivis Vasquez, now a Toronto Raptor).
Evans' first season in New Orleans got off to a rough start, further cementing his status as one of the league's unluckiest stories. A preseason ankle injury hindered Evans' ability to get into any kind of sync with his new club.
In turn, Evans averaged just 11.7 points in November on 41 percent shooting.
Rumors circulated ahead of the trade deadline that Evans was on the block, a sign that the Pelicans were quickly losing whatever faith they initially had in him. At the time, CBSSports' Matt Moore suggested that, "The idea was for [Evans] to operate as the Manu Ginobili for the Pels in a sixth-man role. But with injuries, it's now $11 million for a guard averaging 13 points on 41 percent shooting going nowhere."
So Evans' March comes at a pivotal time, proving at the very least that he isn't exactly "going nowhere." Where he's headed is another question altogether, though. If he has it his way, he'll continue starting (per The Times-Picayune's John Reid):
I'm just playing my game, not thinking. I'm definitely more confident. I’m attacking, getting to the line and finding guys. When I get a rebound, I just go. I just know how to do those things better when I am starting. I've been starting my whole career and I know how to control getting baskets and finding open teammates better. I'm comfortable with that position and I can say that for sure.
What happens when Holiday and Gordon return to health? Can Evans remain efficient and productive in a full-time sixth-man role? Will he ever fully succeed as a complementary piece?
Or will all those questions become moot? If the Pelicans like what they've seen, perhaps they'll make him a more central facet of the offense. It seems like Evans has earned that in his brief March audition. The numbers were there last month, and he was making 51 percent of his baskets.
You can't ask for much better.
And yet somehow you get the idea that the Pelicans will, that they'll look for Evans to fit himself into a plan not of his own making. That would be a shame. We've seen that mistake before.
Maybe it's time to let Evans define himself on his own terms. When given the chance, he hasn't let us down.