Who do you want your offense to run through with the game on the line? Counting down from 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…
TYREKE EVANS, Sacramento Kings
It’s called instinct for a reason. Lion cubs must be taught the tricks of hunt, but they’re already ingrained with the knowledge that survival depends on catching prey.
In other words: You can teach the method, not the motivation. So when I hear talk of an athlete needing to “develop a killer instinct,” I’m automatically skeptical. The mechanics of making the fadeaway jumper, pinpointing the deep out route, throwing the backdoor slider, all learned behavior. But that between-the-lines killer has either been lurking behind the eyes since birth, or it hasn’t.
Which brings us to Tyreke Evans. Since he was four years old, Tyreke has been trained to be a killer on the basketball court. When the preschooler naturally went right, his older brothers tied that hand behind his back to force him left. When the kindergartener chucked two-hand push shots, he was drilled in the art of snapping his wrist. From an All-American in high school to the Sweet Sixteen in college to the Rookie of the Year in the NBA, Tyreke hit the big leagues like Obama hit the DRC in ’04; an instant star. 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists per night, right away. So clear was his go-to status that former Kings franchise player Kevin Martin‘s status switch from untouchable to expendable in a matter of months.
Tyreke brought with him the tools to be a crunch-time assassin, but does he have the instinct? Yes. It was clear even on a rebuilding Kings team. Last season Tyreke scored 36.0 points per 48 minutes of “clutch time” according to 82games.com, tied for 13th in the NBA with Kevin Durant. His 6.2 assists per 48 minutes ranked in the League’s top 25 in clutch time. Point guard or no point guard, Tyreke was a pure playmaker under pressure. He made game-winners against Denver and Milwaukee. He outscored the Bulls by himself in the fourth quarter to cap a Kings comeback from a 35-point deficit. He dropped 12 points in the final seven minutes of regulation while erasing a 15-point deficit to the Knicks.
It wasn’t all gravy, as evidenced by Sacramento’s 19-win record. Tyreke was locked up by LeBron in crunch-time, and watched Kobe beat his team with his highly-elevated killer instinct. He had nights where the shots weren’t falling, when the calls didn’t go his way, and when his team was simply never in the game at all.
But he’s getting better, and didn’t even wait for the games to count this year. In the preseason he beat the Clippers with a driving up-and-under circus shot in the final seconds. Early in the regular, Tyreke has led the Kings in second-half rallies to beat the Cavs and Raptors.
How he does it isn’t as beautiful as it is brutal. A couple dribbles, a couple steps, and a bucket. It’s been mostly layups so far — no less impressive, because it’s not easy to penetrate an NBA defense for close shots at the end of games — because his jumper isn’t automatic yet. When that becomes more of a threat, though, Tyreke becomes more of a threat, and the Kings become more of a threat.
And that’s when the NBA’s modern-day Manchurian Candidate will become known for making the kill.
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15. Vince Carter (Magic)
16. Gilbert Arenas (Wizards)
17. Amar’e Stoudemire (Knicks)
18. Monta Ellis (Warriors)
19. Danny Granger (Pacers)
20. John Salmons (Bucks)
21. Rudy Gay (Grizzlies)
22. Stephen Jackson (Bobcats)
23. Baron Davis (Clippers)
24. Ben Gordon (Pistons)
25. Andre Iguodala (76ers)
26. Yao Ming (Rockets)
27. Mo Williams (Cavaliers)
28. Brook Lopez (Nets)
29. Andrea Bargnani (Raptors)
30. Michael Beasley (Timberwolves)