Things were easy for Tyreke Evans a year into his career. The future seemed to have limitless potential for him.
He was the runaway winner for Rookie of the Year in 2010 and became the fourth player in NBA history to average 20 points per game, five rebounds per game and five assists per game as a rookie. At 6-foot-6, he had the passing, penetrating and playmaking skills of a point guard but the size of a perimeter scorer and slasher. The Kings had their truly unique building block to work around.
Then, the NBA being a somewhat conservative league, got its hands around Evans. Evans has found his future is not limitless.
Injuries derailed him during his second year when his averages dipped from 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game to 17.8, 4.8, 5.6 as Evans fought off injuries and an uncertain roster in Sacramento — Kevin Martin was traded mid-season and Sacramento brought in a point guard to move Evans off the ball. This year has not been much better. His averages are down to 16.5, 4.7, 4.6.
Those numbers are also reflected in his per 36 minute numbers too. Evans’ role is changing and he is struggling to adjust to it.
Evans has played most of his life as a point guard. That is what separated him from his peers and made him the fourth pick in the draft and the eventual Rookie of the Year. It seemed like the Kings’ gamble that Evans could be a game-changing point guard worked.
Now, it does not seem so. And the question is, with the Kings franchise in a state of turmoil both financially and publicly if not just on the court on their way to a losing record for the sixth straight year, will Evans still be the building block for the future?
Geoff Petrie and the Maloofs have to answer that question pretty quickly as Evans is due for an extension. And it is harder than ever to figure out his value.
“(Evans has) already proven he’s a very good player,” Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie told Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee. “Going forward for his game to continue to grow, he’s got to continue to work on areas of his game that need improvement.”
That is the kind of GM talk you expect especially since the two sides have not negotiated yet and Evans would not be eligible for an extension until the summer. But at one time it seemed Evans was a sure thing to be the Kings centerpiece and a potential max player. What other guard in the league had point guard saavy with that height?
Evans has been playing more and more off the ball and there has been an adjustment period for him in that area. His usage rate remains that of a star player — hovering around 25 percent — but his effectiveness has gone down.
Kings coach Keith Smart has used Evans everywhere on the wing. On the ball, off the ball. Point guard, shooting guard, small forward. Evans has had to do it all. But there is still growth this young player needs to do.
Smart said Evans needs to improve his jumper to get where he wants to be as a player. And that might be an understatement. This year, according to Basketball-Reference, Evans is shooting 26.1 percent on shots longer than 10 feet. Defenses can lay off him and recover better when he does decide to drive, where he is decidedly more effective with 43.1 percent of his shots coming at the rim.
Certainly, if Evans wants to become that player that drew those accolades two years ago, he has to work on this part of his game.
But Evans’ decline has led to questions about whether he is the centerpiece of the Kings franchise.
DeMarcus Cousins has come in and put his stamp on the team and, surprisingly, Marcus Thornton is the team’s leading scorer. Evans has not taken the reigns it seems everyone expected him to and it is hard to argue that he is “the man” in Sacramento. And if you are not “the man” or you underperform, your extension is not as generous when it comes due.
Being a tweener in the NBA is never a good thing as coaches get to imprint their ideas onto a player rather than, sometimes, letting the player grow and develop with what he is comfortable with. Evans’ maturation has been slow.
So will Evans reach that potential? Will it be in Sacramento?
An important turning point is coming for this young player, and the stakes appear to be the direction of his career.