Why is it that the majority of NBA journalists and analysts can’t seem to agree on what Tyreke Evans’ true position is?
For much of the 2009-2010 ROY race, popular opinion was that the Kings, and head coach Paul Westphal, were playing Tyreke out of position at point guard. I have to wonder, has anyone who feels this way actually watched and followed what Tyreke has done with Sacramento?
The usual argument for Evans playing out of position at point guard focuses on his size. At 6’6” and 220lbs, he is larger than 99 percent of point guards in any league, anywhere. Also, that he is not a “pure” point guard, and struggles being placed in a role where he has to create for teammates.
It is true that Tyreke has the height, strength, and quickness to match up with NBA shooting guards, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
It is also true that Tyreke has the offensive arsenal to score against opposing shooting guards, even without much of a jumpshot. From a distance, and to the casual observer, Tyreke has all the qualities of an NBA shooting guard.
If we take a more in-depth look at the strengths and weaknesses of the 2009-2010 Rookie of the Year, will that argument continue to stand?
First, let’s look at the playmaking ability of Evans, which has been a focal point of criticism since the Kings decided to start him at the point.
As a rookie, Evans dished out a solid 5.8 APG, which placed him 2nd among all rookies, in-between fellow rookies Stephen Curry (5.9 APG) and Brandon Jennings (5.7 APG).
For a better comparison, let’s look at how Tyreke’s rookie assist numbers compare to the rookie assist numbers of the most prominent point guards in the NBA today.
Chris Paul 7.8 APG
Jason Kidd 7.7 APG
Derrick Rose 6.3 APG
Tyreke Evans 5.8 APG
Russel Westbrook 5.3 APG
Deron Williams 4.5 APG
Tony Parker 4.3 APG
Chauncey Billups 3.9 APG
Steve Nash 2.1 APG
Numbers don’t lie. The notion Tyreke isn’t a willing passer is more of a perception than reality. We must take into account that the point guard position at the NBA level has to be learned. The speed and flow of the game requires an adjustment period.
Understanding your teammates strengths, weaknesses, and where they prefer the ball takes time. Learning the intricacies of your opponents comes from experience, both on the court and in the film room.
Developing into an NBA point guard doesn’t happen overnight.
Let’s look at the logic in moving Tyreke off the ball, and playing him as a shooting guard. The notion that Tyreke plays, and is better suited to play the 2-guard, rather than the point, would imply that Tyreke’s strengths as a basketball player favor him playing off the ball, right?
By far, the weakest part of Tyreke’s game, and the strength of most off guards, is his jumpshot. Tyreke made roughly 34 percent of his jumpshots this past season, and shot just above 25 percent from three. In contrast, Tyreke shot approximately 59 percent from in close, and placed in the top 10 in the NBA for points in the paint, as a rookie.
What does this tell you besides the fact that Tyreke has a lot of work to do on his jumper? Even with defenses playing off him, and daring him to shoot the jumper, he was still able to get to the rim at will.
Opposing teams knew he couldn’t shoot, and would sag off him much like defenses will sag off Rajon Rondo. Yet, time and time again, Tyreke blew past two and three defenders, mesmerizing fans with his quickness and ball handling ability, while leaving defenders spinning in their shoes.
This is downright impressive to say the least.
We have to take into consideration exactly how Tyreke scores his points.
Tyreke is at his best when looking to create for himself or others. Tyreke has the ability to break down any and every point guard in the league. He is a walking mismatch. There isn’t a point guard in the league that can guard Tyreke one on one. His ability to get by his man and penetrate into the teeth of the defense opens up numerous scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. If you move him off the ball, and take the ball out of his hands, you lose that advantage.
Tyreke is not a spot-up shooter. He is not a good shooter coming off screens. He is not an off-the-ball slasher, due in large part to his inability to finish above the rim. He is not a threat from beyond the arc. All are qualities the top shooting guards in the NBA possess, and qualities which Tyreke at this moment simply does not.
Tyreke is bigger and stronger than just about any point guard out there, and quicker than most. If he were to move to off guard, the Kings would effectively negate that advantage.
Sacramento is attempting to transition into a physical, punch-you-in-the mouth type of a team. Due to Francisco Garcia being injured for the majority of the 2009-2010 campaign, the Kings were forced to go small, and use Beno Udrih as a shooting guard, after experimenting briefly with both Omri Casspi and Donte Greene at that position.
This coming season, look for Garcia to be back in the starting lineup at shooting guard, next to Tyreke. This will help accomplish what Sacramento planned when drafting Tyreke, which was to have one of the biggest backcourts in the league. If Garcia is healthy, at 6’7”, opposing point guards won’t be able to switch over and guard him, which was a problem for Tyreke when he lined up with Udrih.
The Kings are hoping Garcia can fill the role of a poor-man’s Doug Christie, a versatile role player on offense, physical and aggressive on defense. That would help keep the defense honest, and allow Tyreke to consistently match up against opposing point guards.
While many outside of Sacramento believe Tyreke will end up playing shooting guard, the Kings feel they have their point guard of the future. A move to shooting guard will not happen this coming season, and unless Tyreke improves his play off the ball considerably, might never happen. All this should be fine for Sacramento fans, given their last “over-sized” point guard went by the name of “The Big O," who also happened to be a member of the elite 20/5/5 rookie club.