Tyreke Evans is the most important player on the Sacramento Kings roster.
Tyreke isn't the Kings best player. Not right now. For now, that title still belongs to DeMarcus Cousins. And any challenges will have to pry that title from DeMarcus' cold, T'ed up hands. But best is different than most important.
The direction of Tyreke's career from this exact moment will either propel or delay the growth of this team. The same can be said for most of the Kings players, I suppose. After all, if Cousins regresses, the Kings are likely to follow. If Cousins continues to improve, we believe the Kings will as well.
But what happens next for Tyreke is the most important on-court variable of the upcoming Kings season.
Tyreke Evans, more than any other player on this roster, has the potential to erupt into an absolute superstar. Cousins arguably has the shortest path to achieve superstardom, but he has well documented faults. His status as one of the best young big men in the league is earned through a combination of skill and a dearth of other quality big men.
Skilled centers are still important in the NBA, but wings are the most important position in the modern NBA. Athletic, skilled small forwards and shooting guards are the biggest stars. Miami Heat just won a title with Chris Bosh, a lanky 4 whose best skill is step back jumpers and who struggles at interior defense. The Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, who made it to the Finals despite Kendrick Perkins having one of the worst seasons of his career.
The NBA is about wings.
This may not be what we as Kings fans want to hear. We're quick to attach ourselves to the future of Cousins, and quicker still to hope that James Johnson might be an average 3. Average would, generally speaking, be an upgrade for the Kings at small forward.
Which brings me back to Tyreke. The general expectation entering this season is that the Tyreke as a small forward experiment is over. Most folks expect Tyreke to play primarily at the shooting guard position as we enter the season.
Personally, this makes me hopeful. I think Tyreke is better suited to play the 2 than the 3, and I hope that a more natural role will help Evans reach his potential. But questions obviously remain. Can you win if your shooting guard can't shoot? Are this offseason's reports of an improved jumper any different than the similar reports we've heard each offseason of Tyreke's career? Can Tyreke turn that corner?
If Tyreke Evans actually has a jumper...whoa. Just let that thought sink in for a minute. Think about Tyreke's incredible ability to get to the rim, even when defenses are slacked off and expecting it. Imagine Tyreke pulling up and reliably hitting a mid range jumper, or a three point. Just imagine what Tyreke could do if defenders couldn't leave a cushion. If they had to respect that jumper.
Of course, those are big ifs. They could never materialize. Tyreke could have another season like last year. And last year, although not a great year for what Evans is capable of, wasn't terrible. But if Tyreke never advances beyond that level, he'll be considered a bust. A wasted pick. A setback to the franchise.
Another season like last year, maybe the team decides it's not worth paying Evans. Maybe he leaves in free agency, the team moves forward with Thornton at the 2 and places its hope in yet another lottery pick. That could easily be where this goes.
Tyreke has so much potential just waiting to be unleashed upon the league. He can get to the rim as well as anyone in the league. Anyone. He can pass better than he gets credit for. He rebounds well for a guard. He can do pretty much anything except consistently hit a jumper. If that changes, the sky is the limit for both Evans and the Kings. If that happens, maybe Tyreke wrestles that best player title away from Cousins.
Tyreke Evans is the most important player to the future of the Sacramento Kings. For better or for worse.