Can you believe that it has already been three years since the Kings have drafted Tyreke Evans?
Three years ago, we as fans were coming off of a brutal 17-65 season, the worst in franchise history. We were the worst of the worst, literally and figuratively. The only hope most of us had was the NBA Draft, where we had a very good shot at Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio. In fact, in a poll on this very website on who fans would pick first, there was a perfect tie between Griffin and Rubio. Kings fans also had Brandon Jennings ahead of one Tyreke Evans.
We know how the draft story played out. Despite the best odds to land the first pick and really good odds at a top three pick, the Kings dropped three spots to #4. Then on draft day, a lot of fans dreams came true when Ricky Rubio fell out of the top three and into the Kings hands... only to be passed up in favor of Tyreke Evans. At this point we had all heard of Evans' monstrous workouts, where he simply dominated the other guards in the draft, and many of us had grown used to the idea of him becoming a King, so the pick itself didn't come as much of a shock.
The Kings initially thought to make Evans their point guard of the future in a big backcourt next to Kevin Martin. The idea was that they'd become the most difficult backcourt tandem in the league to guard. The rookie Evans got off to a bit of a rough start in the NBA, only scoring 11.2 points per game in his first five games as the Kings got off to a 1-4 start. The news got worse as it was confirmed that an injury Kevin Martin suffered against Memphis ended up being a broken wrist. There was more pressure than ever on Evans.
He delivered. In the Kings' first game without Martin, Evans had his breakout performance, scoring 32 points and dishing 7 assists in a comeback win in Utah. This was the start of what became a four game win streak, giving the Kings a 5-4 record. 26 games through the season, Evans had helped lead the Kings to a 13-13 record, featuring game winners against Washington and Milwaukee, and the epic 35 point comeback in Chicago against the Bulls.
At this point, I don't think that there was any question that the Kings became Tyreke's team, and that he was taking the league by storm. It seemed destined that Evans was to be our chosen one, to lead us back to relevance.Of course it changed after those first 26 games. The team began to struggle, winning just 2 of their next 19 games. Hell, after winning 13 games in the first 26 games, the Kings didn't win 13 more games over the next 56. The story went from how awesome Evans was and the fact that he was winning games for the Kings to just how awesome Evans was. The focus grew entirely on Evans, both on and off the court.
On the court, Paul Westphal was feeding Evans' ego by giving him a blank check to do whatever he wanted. The notorious one-four flat in which Evans would attempt to win the game with an isolation clear out was a staple of the Kings crunch time offense. Evans also was treated differently than other players, most famously when Westphal gave Spencer Hawes a DNP-CD for saying he didn't know what his role was while Evans said something similar and possibly more damning.
It was not merely the coach's fault though. The media and even us fans drove it. The race to join the elite company of 20 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds per game in a rookie season became the narrative. On this website even, we had a tracker on the sidebar detailing how many points, rebounds and assists he needed to clinch the number. I think a lot of us felt that if Evans could join the likes of the Big O, MJ, and LeBron, it would guarantee future success.
Kevin Martin, the former franchise player, came back to the team shortly before the midpoint of the season, and it was clear something was different. Martin spent a lot of the time clearly deferring to Evans despite being the veteran and later reports suggested he became disillusioned at the cult of Evans that had been created while he was gone. It wasn't simply that he was no longer the man (although that probably was a lot of it) but also the fact that team basketball was being sacrificed for the sake of letting Evans run wild. Martin basically all but requested a trade, and he got one soon after.
Evans achieved his 20-5-5, funnily enough in the last home game of the season versus Kevin Martin's new team, the Houston Rockets. As per usual, the Kings achieved their goal of getting Evans' statistical accomplishment, but lost the game.
At the time, most of us had Evans-tinted glasses on and couldn't see past the ridiculous rookie numbers. He easily won Rookie of the Year despite a strong second half run by Stephen Curry, and it wasn't hard to imagine that the Kings would finally leave the cellar, adding another lottery pick, a free agent or two, and Evans leading the way.
Evans' sophomore season is when the new car smell really began to fade away. He came into training camp out of shape, his jump shot hadn't noticeably improved at all (the one category he was supposedly concentrating on) and he battled plantar fasciitis for much of the year. More and more questions began to crop up on if he was really suited to play as a point guard, particularly since the Kings offense ran so much better when Beno Udrih ran it. To add to Evans' diminished importance to fans, the Kings had drafted a big, loud personality with the talent to match in DeMarcus Cousins. Later on in the year they traded for Marcus Thornton who won our hearts with buckets upon buckets upon buckets.
The season ended on a high note of sorts thanks to a 9-9 finish when Evans returned after finally sitting out a chunk of the season to let his Plantar Fasciitis heal. Evans and Thornton seemed to gel very well, and DeMarcus Cousins was making big strides. The Kings' future in Sacramento remained uncertain, and there was also a lockout looming.
The lockout may have hurt Evans' development more than the plantar fasciitis of the previous year. Without being able to talk to the team or organization, Evans and every other player in the league were left to their own devices in the offseason. For veterans, this isn't that big of a deal, but for a young player like Evans, that's a critical growth period that was taken away.
It didn't help that when the lockout ended, the season became compressed and practices were kept to a minimum. The organization had also drafted two point guards in the offseason in Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas. They traded for John Salmons, a similar type of player to Evans who needs the ball in his hands. Sacramento got off to a rough start to the season, and Paul Westphal was fired soon after he publicly feuded with DeMarcus Cousins.
Under new coach Keith Smart, Evans finally was asked to add different parts to his game. Midway through the season, Evans was moved from the Point Guard to the Small Forward in the hopes that letting Isaiah Thomas run the point would help the offense and putting Evans at Small Forward would shore up the Kings' weakest position.
While Isaiah Thomas thrived, Evans struggled a bit in his new role. Throughout his entire career, professional and amateur, he had always had the ball in his hands. Now he was being asked to move off the ball, play point forward when he did have the ball, develop a mid-range game to stymie defenses even further, and become a defensive stopper. That's a lot of different things to try to add to someone's game, particularly in the midst of a shortened lockout season at the age of 22.
I often hear, both on the internet and the radio, that Evans hasn't improved since his rookie year. To me, that's simply false. There are several places I think Evans has improved immensely. He's a much more willing and smart passer than he used to be, finding guys right at the rim instead of only for kickouts. He still gets to the rim very well and has learned to sometimes go left, something he previously almost never did. His off-the-ball game, while still very weak, has improved to the point where he no longer simply stands in one spot but instead finds opportune times to cut to the basket.
Another refrain that I hear about Evans is that "he sucks". There is no doubt that Evans' numbers are down from his rookie year, but considering the increase in talent level and guys that demand touches like Cousins and Thornton, as well as the fact that he's learning a new position and style of play under Keith Smart, I think he's managed to do relatively well. Aside from shooting ability, I don't think there is one thing that Tyreke Evans does that "sucks".
Tyreke Evans may play his last game as a Sacramento King tomorrow. Has he really fallen that far from grace? All the talent and skill is still there. He is 22 years old, and hasn't had a normal offseason to grow yet. The biggest problem most fans seem to have with Evans is that he hasn't fulfilled the prophecy of the 20-5-5 and become someone like the Big O, MJ, and LeBron. So what. Forget the 20-5-5. Focus on who Evans is. Evans is one of just 8 players in the NBA under the age of 23 that is currently averaging over 16 points a game (with teammate DeMarcus Cousins being one of them). He has a greater field goal percentage than four of those players. His 7.1 attempts at the rim this season is the most of any Guard or Small Forward in the league, and third overall to just Greg Monroe and Blake Griffin. That speaks to his unparalleled ability to penetrate.
Trading Tyreke Evans this summer would be a mistake. He might not ever become the superstar that we had envisioned him to be in his rookie year, but he still has plenty of time to become a very, very good player. It is my sincerest hope that the Sacramento Kings organization does not do something rash when deciding Evans future. Let him have this offseason to develop, under the guidance of Keith Smart and the organization. Make no mistake, it's still up to Evans to decide just how hard he's going to work and to try to be the best player he can be, but we also need to give him the chance to do so.