The 2008-2009 NBA season was not kind to the Sacramento Kings. The Kings finished with a league-worst record of 17-65. And despite the worst record in the league and the best odds and landing the number one overall pick, and a choice between Blake Griffin or Ricky Rubio, the lottery gods chose not to smile on Sacramento that day. The Kings would get the fourth pick. And then, despite all odds, Ricky Rubio fell to the Kings at 4. But Geoff Petrie took Tyreke Evans instead. So Tyreke's time in Sacramento didn't start with much hype. It was mostly a disappointment.
But that was all about to change.
The Kings were Tyreke's team very early. Kevin Martin, the team's only bright spot in the preceeding season, went down with an injury after 5 games. It's no coincidence that Tyreke's scoring averages jumped in the following month. The team was Reke's. The offense was isolation. And Tyreke was amazing. He could get to the rim better than any player in the NBA not named LeBron James. Martin was traded to the Houston Rockets shortly after he returned from injury.
Tyreke Evans emerged as an immediate Rookie of the Year candidate. Although the race would eventually come down to the wire between Evans and Stephen Curry, Curry's campaign was on the strength of a strong second half of the season. Tyreke dominated right out of the gate. It didn't take long for people to notice.
It started simply enough. There was the standard groundswell of fan support, team media talking points, and blogger campaigns. The turning point, the point where the hype took over, was 20-5-5. Tyreke Evans was in line to conceivably finish the season with averages of over 20 points, five assists, and five rebounds per game. This, as we all know, put him in historic company. Averaging 20-5-5 for his rookie season would put him in the company of Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, and LeBron James. No other players had put together the 20-5-5 combo as rookies.
This was the basis of Tyreke's Rookie of the Year campaign. You couldn't miss the 20-5-5. It was historic. And when it happened, when Tyreke secured those averages, we celebrated like we'd just won a championship:
Even if you remember that moment clearly, go back and watch that video again. It's four minutes that explain the hype around Tyreke Evans better than I ever can. "He's going to be the hero for the Sacramento Kings." "A historic moment for the Kings." And the praise felt justified.
With 20-5-5 locked up, Tyreke Evans won Rookie of the Year honors. And Kings fans knew, we just knew, that things were going to get better.
The hype machine around Tyreke Evans broke down in Tyreke's sophomore season. Tyreke battled plantar fasciitis throughout the year, and played in just 57 games. He would battle injuries for the next two season, and would play out of position in his third year, seeing extensive time at small forward. Even with a bounce back year last season, widely regarded as the best year of his career in terms of all around play, Tyreke never approached 20 points per game again. His scoring, assist, and rebounds numbers each declined every season of Tyreke's career.
And yet 20-5-5 remains part of Tyreke's legacy. The hype machine was so strong that we still can't shake that stat. As we debated what Tyreke was worth and whether or not the Kings should match any offer, Tyreke's 20-5-5 as a rookie was still a common refrain.
We all know how the story ended, at least in terms of Tyreke's story with the Kings. Sacramento opted not to match an offer from the New Orleans Pelicans for $44 million over 4 years. The Kings worked out a sign-and-trade to acquire Greivis Vasquez. The decision not to keep Tyreke Evans seemed to take everyone by surprise. $10-$11 million a year is about what most Kings fans assumed Tyreke to be worth. Even Tyreke seemed like he expected to stay, having just purchased a new home in the area. Instead, we're left with the unfulfilled promise of what Tyreke was supposed to do for this franchise.
The Value of Hindsight
The biggest question at this point is whether or not the hype was warranted.
The answer obviously is no. Tyreke Evans would never again achieve 20-5-5, whereas Robertson, Jordan and James all exceeded those averages as their careers continued. Those players went on to Hall of Fame careers, and while Tyreke will turn just 24 this month, he doesn't appear on track for a Hall of Fame induction.
And as for 20-5-5, it was statistical cherry-picking at it's finest. Oscar Robertson averaged 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 9.7 assists per game in his rookie season. Jordan averages 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. While Tyreke's numbers were certainly impressive, he wasn't truly in the same conversation as Robertson and Jordan. And although Tyreke's assist and rebound numbers were in line with LeBron's rookie season, LeBron scored nearly a full point more per game, 20.9 to Tyreke's 20.1. Drop the statistical requirements down to 19-4.5-4.5 and you add Larry Bird, Grant Hill and...Ron Harper...to the mix.
So it's easy to say the hype wasn't warranted. But it's also easy to say it was.
The Kings were coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Not just in terms of record, but in terms of watchability. That 08-09 Kings team was horrendous to watch. There was no player you could point to and confidently say "he'll be part of the turnaround". And despite the fact that Tyreke never turned around the franchise the way we'd hoped, he gave us a player we could point to as a player who would be our future. That was important at that time. It was needed. It was necessary. It was warranted.
Kings marketing and Kings fans both saw the same thing in Tyreke Evans. He was hope and excitement for a franchise that had been lacking both.
Tyreke Evans was overhyped. The expectations exalted on Tyreke probably hurt his career and his perception with fans. He could never live up to our heightened expectations. But the hype job on Tyreke was justified. It was needed. And it won't be forgotten.
As long as Tyreke is in the NBA, he'll be associated, for better or for worse, with 20-5-5.