Tyreke Evans is a mystery.
He possesses All-Star level talent but regressed significantly last season. For this reason, the 2011-2012 NBA season is somewhat of a crossroads for Evans. Will he improve and take the next logical step in his career, or will he suffer even more setbacks, and further decrease his chances of reaching his full potential?
Some of the blame for 'Reke's struggles last season can be placed on injury, and some on his franchise's inability to find the right mix of young talent and veteran leadership to surround him with.
But part of the blame certainly falls on Tyreke himself. There are many ways he can improve, and take his game to the next level in 2012.
Here are 10 of them...
Tyreke Evans is a shooting guard who has been forced to play point guard through circumstance and bad luck.
If he hadn’t been drafted by a team desperate for a point guard and paired with Beno Udrih, arguably one of the worst starters in the league at the position, he would likely be a shooting guard.
Most of the blame for Tyreke not having a true position falls on the Kings organization itself. They have consistently tried to force him into a role he is clearly not yet suited for—one that requires leadership, knowledge and natural selflessness—and it has often been detrimental to the team.
But Tyreke hasn’t pushed the issue. He hasn’t focused on passing like a point guard or developed wrinkles to his game like an elite shooting guard. He has stayed who he was his rookie year—a ‘tweener on a bad team that hasn’t forced him to improve significantly.
Judging by the reports coming out of Sacramento, the Kings are interested in using their first-round pick to obtain a point guard, meaning that Tyreke would move to his more natural shooting guard position. This would ultimately be the best decision for Evans, as well as his struggling franchise.
I chose a picture of Tyreke taking a jumper in college because there were none of him taking one in the pro's.
Mid-range jump shots or even three-pointers will probably never be Evans’ primary source of offense. And given his size, speed and ability to score below the rim, it probably shouldn’t be.
But a jump shot—any kind of consistent jump shot—will keep defenses honest. Right now, Tyreke Evans has one source of offense—get into the lane and score the ball.
And that’s fine. He’s good enough at it to average 20 points per game, so it is to be expected that the driving/slashing game will remain his bread and butter. But having no J makes him predictable. Defenders know that he is one-dimensional and can adjust their position accordingly. He may still be difficult to stop, but he gives defenses exactly what they are expecting.
Despite mostly taking high percentage layups, Evans’ career field goal percentage is only 43.6 percent, and was under 41percent last season. He has never hit more than 29.1 percent of his threes.
No one is expecting Tyreke Evans to suddenly turn into Larry Bird. But becoming even a little bit of a threat from outside would make him much, much harder to stop.
If Tyreke doesn’t want (or isn't able) to develop a jump shot, there is another option, one that may be a more natural progression for him.
He can use his size to dominate opponents down low.
Tyreke is clearly comfortable muscling past smaller defenders to score in the paint. It is a natural step for him to turn his back to the basket once he’s down there and goes to work.
This would also solve the all-too-familiar problem of Evans penetrating into the lane without thinking and not knowing what to do with the ball when he gets there, resulting in a low-percentage attempt at a well-defended layup or hoping he gets bailed out by the refs.
Tyreke undoubtedly has the size to dominate in the post, especially when he is matched up with a point guard. Maximizing this advantage would help him score more efficiently as well as adding a new dimension to his offense.
According to John Hollinger's PER ratings, which factor in a player's defensive efficiency, Tyreke Evans ranks outside of the top 30 point guards in the NBA—well behind lesser talents like George Hill, Rodney Stuckey and Earl Boykins.
I'm not trying to argue that Hollinger's incredibly complex PER formula is a perfect one, or that Evans is in fact the 33rd best point guard in the NBA. However, it is worth noting that a formula designed to include a player's impact on defense ranks Evans so low, which begs the question—how good could Tyreke be if he committed himself to defense?
Evans certainly has all the physical tools of a great defender. He is bigger and stronger than most players at his position and has shown the elite quickness and first step that would allow him to shut opponents down.
But Tyreke has not been willing to focus on D. While Lebron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami have shown what big, strong, quick guards can do when they are motivated to play great defense, Reke's focus has remained on the offensive end.
If Evans is ever going to reach his full potential, he will have to improve defensively. This isn't a skill that is going to emerge overnight. He will need to take the responsibility upon himself to make his game a more effective all-around one. Hopefully, we will see signs of this effort beginning next season.
I love Demarcus Cousins, but he acts like a knucklehead sometimes.
He gets silly technicals, argues too many calls, talks back to refs and coaches, and generally whines a lot.
And it’s OK to have one knucklehead on any roster. Bill Simmons has written about this in the past. But you can’t have two. And you can’t have that guy be your best player.
Tyreke Evans is still very young. He needs to rise above Demarcus’ antics and use them as motivation to step up his role on the team. He is capable of becoming a perennial All-Star if he keeps his head on straight, but this will require growth on his part, not regression.
Getting caught up in Demarcus Cousins-related nonsense can only result in bad things for Evans.
Last year, Tyreke regressed playing with Cousins. This year he needs to take a step forward, or people will start wondering about what his potential really is in the long-term.
Help a brother out, Tyreke
Evans is still much younger than most players who are asked to take a vocal leadership role on their teams.
But the team around him is also much younger than average and are in desperate need of an on-court captain.
So whether he's ready or not, it is time for Tyreke Evans to become the leader the Kings need. He is their best player and unquestioned centerpiece of Sacramento's franchise and offense. This means that the responsibility for leadership is his, and needs to step up and seize it.
Until now, Tyreke has been described as a leader-by-example-type, which is a nice way of saying that he is very good but doesn't take the weight of leading an entire team. This needs to change. Demarcus Cousins needs leadership. So do Donte Greene and Jason Thompson. At times, it seems that even Paul Westphal needs leadership.
When a teammate screws up, Evans needs to be the one to tell them about it. He is capable of lighting a fire underneath this team if he chooses to. Leadership will mean a lot coming from him. It will also send a message to the Kings that it is time to get seriously committed to improving as a cohesive unit.
Obviously, Tyreke isn't in control of his own health. That said, problems with injuries seriously limited his effectiveness last season and could do so again in the future.
For a player as young and raw as Evans, perhaps the most important factor in improving is repetition. He needs in-game reps and practice reps. He needs to practice free throws, jump shots, turnaround moves and post moves. But he needs to be healthy to get these reps.
Hopefully, Tyreke can stay healthy in 2012. If he can, he is likely to improve simply through experience. But if he cannot his development is likely to regress just as it did in 2010-11.
This is just another way of saying he needs to work harder, and maybe grow up a little.
I’m sure he didn’t need to put the extra work in under John Calipari at Memphis. But this is the NBA. No Boys Allowed. It’s time to step up and work like a professional.
I’m not saying he doesn’t work hard already. Being a professional athlete is a lot of work, and Tyreke has certainly put in some effort in his young career. But he needs to work harder.
As in harder than his teammates and harder than most players in the league. The best players in the NBA are often the ones who are the most dedicated and work the hardest. This is not a coincidence.
If Tyreke wants to be a great player he needs to act like a great player. That means outworking his competition and not accepting anything less than success.
Tyreke needs the ball in his hands to be effective, which is fine. But part of the responsibility that comes with handling the ball so often is getting teammates involved. Too often, Evans does not look for teammates like Donte Greene, Beno Udrih, Omri Casspi, Marcus Thornton or Francisco Garcia, all of whom are capable of knocking down open shots.
Ok, so Evans isn’t exactly surrounded by South Beach-level talents in Sacramento, but there are skills to be exploited around him.
Among NBA point guards, Evans ranked 55th in the league last year in assist ratio. That’s a Nate Robinson-esque assist rate. Especially given Evans’ low shooting percentages, consistently failing to distribute the ball is simply unacceptable.
Tyreke has a unique ability to get into the lane and draw defenders to him. This naturally creates open looks for perimeter players. However, too often these players are ignored by Evans. By looking to pass more, Tyreke would not only be diversifying his game, but would in fact be utilizing his skills to the greatest extent he can, instead of relying on them only to score.
Alright, so this one's really more of a recap.
Evans has to become more efficient on the defensive end. Which is to say that he needs to become at all efficient on the defensive end.
He also must show progress on offense. Whether this means developing a jumpshot, a post move or two, or simply looking to create openings and opportunities for his teammates—something has to change.
Evans is too good a player, too rare a talent, to continue to coast along with the same skill set he had in college. He needs to evolve, and add to his game, otherwise, he will find himself becoming less and less effective with every passing year.
He is capable of improving, but it's on him to do so. If he can, he will become one of the game's best. If not, he will be just another lottery pick who couldn't fully live up to the hype.