“I can’t imagine him in Year Five or Six. He probably won’t peak until he is in Year Seven. He will only be 27 then. That’s crazy. Think about what he could be at his rate of growth right now. He’s going to be scary.” – Lamont Peterson
It was supposed to be his introduction to America. Not to those embedded in the game, for they already know what he’s capable of, but rather a larger audience. Much larger. 82 games in and we were all lining up to be witnesses, a new King was here. The Takeover was just beginning. But then injuries happened, fame happened and his team taking a reverse step happened.
Now Tyreke Evans is suddenly feeling something he isn’t used to: uncertainty.
Peterson knows Evans as well as anyone. He’s been with the 21-year-old since the Kings’ star was just an eighth grader, at the time already the best middle school basketball player in the country, but still incredibly shy and had, as Peterson put it, “Nothing that stood out about him physically.”
We all know what Evans, with Peterson’s help, went on to accomplish: featured in a hoop documentary, MVP of the McDonald’s All American Game and later the only freshman finalist for the 2009 U.S. Basketball Writers of America National Player of the Year award while at Memphis, as well as last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year.
His ceiling is still considered unlimited, but Evans has definitely been sidetracked.
Sometimes, manipulating a good thing doesn’t always turn out the way we expected. With a greater supporting cast, everyone wanted Evans to give up the ball more this year, distribute and improve his floor game. The change in mentality for Evans was noticeable even during the preseason. Watching the 6-6 bulldozer play off the ball, only checking for his offense once he had attempted to open the game up for his teammates, didn’t seem right. Instead of ruthlessly attacking the paint like he did every minute of every game last year, Evans was doing what he could to set up Omri Casspi for open threes and Carl Landry for layups.
Maybe this should’ve been expected. Evans called it this summer, saying, “People can’t worry about getting better stats. We just have to worry about trying to win because if we all worry about stats, then we will never get far.
“I know I can score so I just want to get a lot of help this year so I can focus on the team and us getting better so we can win more games.”
Passive might work for someone else. But not on this team and not for Evans.
Besides his unreliability as a traditional point guard, Evans knew his jump shot needed work and lived in the gym this offseason so he could come back with a more diverse game. Or at least attempt to.
The numbers don’t lie. This season, Evans is attempting a ridiculous 2.4 less shots a game at the rim as his perimeter attempts have spiked without an improvement in accuracy. While his jumper does indeed look considerably smoother this year – when he sets his feet and squares up like he did on a deep third-quarter three against the Mavs on Saturday night, the result is consistent – his inconsistency on pull-ups and step-backs has one of the best finishers in the entire league shooting an ugly 40.1 percent from the field.
So in an attempt to prove what he is, Evans has forgotten what he was.
Now, not only is he struggling to regain the core of his attacking personality, Evans is also dealing with a myriad of injuries to his lower body: a bout with plantar fasciitis on the bottom of his left foot as well as his ankle, an injury that was the tipping point in ending Evans’ time with the U.S. team this summer. For someone built to destroy, injuries were considered the last thing that could reel him in. But they have taken a toll.
Traditionally, second-year players are expected to make enormous strides in their games, especially when that person is someone like Tyreke Evans, who was, and is, just a jump shot away from becoming an all-world player. But this isn’t always a certainty. And sometimes the improvements are hardly noticeable: the knowledge of when to step on the pedal or when to slow down, learning how to hit a shooter without getting caught, recognizing where each teammate is most comfortable from.
Science and math would tell us Evans is struggling with the transition now that nobody defends him with point guards anymore or allows him to go one-on-one. And they would be right. But, sometimes growing pains are the best type.
Evans has defied expectations at every level. In high school, he went from being hailed as the best sophomore ever to not even the best in his class. In college, he was considered a ball-hogging shooting guard who couldn’t shoot. And even at the NBA level, there were many who criminally misjudged his talent and how it could be used.
Dealing with doubt and adapting is nothing new.
Sacramento came into this season with heightened expectations. In the midst of their terrible finish last season, their 14-17 record through December was hidden beneath the perils of that ending. They had a decent nucleus revolving around Evans and a core of solid role players. Then they added DeMarcus Cousins this offseason. Everything was rising; all eyes bent on a playoff push.
But after Saturday night’s terrible loss at home to Dallas, a game that the Kings led 99-90 with only five and a half minutes remaining, Sacramento is sitting at an ugly 4-14, losers of seven straight and just 1.5 games away from the Clippers and the worst record in the League. It wasn’t Evans’ fault. He scored 25 and had eight assists. It was his best performance since Sacramento’s last win over two weeks ago.
“Once we learn to play together, we’ll be okay, we’ll start winning.”
Exactly what Kings coach Paul Westphal means by that statement is not entirely clear, and perhaps not completely true. What is clear is that the Kings will start winning once Tyreke Evans becomes Tyreke Evans again.
What do you think?
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