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Tyreke Evans says he’s getting back into a rhythm

Evans discusses his knee injury, rehab and developing his outside shot.

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Kimani Okearah

A little over a year ago, Tyreke Evans suffered his third knee issue, and this one may have been the the worst. The New Orleans Pelicans announced he would miss the rest of the season due to right knee tendinitis and would need surgery. One could assume years of slicing to the basket and running into the bigs of the league had taken its toll.

"It was a nightmare,” Evans said. “It was tough, I was down on myself, just how much pain I was in.”

It was eight years ago when the Kings missed out on the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA Lottery (the Blake Griffin sweepstakes). The team did land the rookie of the year in Evans with the 4th pick in the NBA Draft anyway though. (Some guy named Stephen Curry went 7 to the Golden State Warriors.) Griffin went down with an injury that year and Evans finished the season averaging 20 points, 5 rebound and 5 assists. Those powerful drives to the basket took defenses by surprise and wowed crowds.

The Kings traded Evans to the Pelicans in 2013. In New Orleans, Evans still put up good numbers. In the 2014-15 season, he averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 assists and 5.3 rebounds. While he remained a productive cog in the Pelicans offense, injuries began to take their toll. He underwent knee surgeries in May and October of 2015 and only played in 25 games during the 2015-16 season, spending the majority of last year rehabbing. Though it was tough on him he never gave up.

“People thought after the injury I was going to be done," Evans said.

In February, the Kings shipped DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans in a deal that included Evans, Buddy Hield and Langston Galloway. A few months prior, Evans had returned from his injury and was still trying to get back into the rhythm of the game.

"Some games I was feeling good. Some games I was feeling like I’m fatigued, but that was just from me not having training camp. Going into the games is different from practicing so once I got into a rhythm I started to pick my game up ... I feel like I’m getting into a rhythm right now," Evans said.

Around the third game with the Kings after the trade, Evans said he felt a bounce in his step and was moving quicker. Despite still being on a 25-30-minute restriction due to the injury and sitting out some games for “planned rest” and ankle soreness, Evans' numbers in his nine games played with the Kings would suggest he is feeling better. He's averaging 14 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field and 53 percent from three. Though it is a small sample size, that is the second highest field goal percentage of his career and the highest percentage by far from three.

Evans has put an emphasis on developing his outside shot instead of only relying on his driving capability to help try to preserve his body (and he says he has been playing without pain lately). He needs the ball in his hands to be the most effective as a playmaker and his ability to take the ball to the rim is still there, but his outside shot has added a new element to his game since he was last in a Kings uniform.

Other than his shot, head coach Dave Joerger appreciates Evans' passing ability.

“He’s a tremendous passer, he doesn’t get enough credit. He comes off pick and rolls and holds guys because of his size and you’ll see him throw those pocket passes,” Joerger said.

Evans knows teams around the league are watching his progression as his contract expires at the end of the season. Before he gets into that process in the offseason, however, Evans has tried to take it upon himself to help mentor the team's young players like Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere. He remembers what former King Francisco Garcia did for him in his rookie season.

"Francisco always talked to me on and off the court. Just always in my ear, keep working hard, never give up, in the gym shooting after practice, before practice. He was my vet," said Evans, who considers Garcia a good friend.

Now retired, Garcia came to a Kings game recently to watch Evans play.

Evans may not be as quick as he was as a rookie, but he's still a freight train when going at the basket, and he's been able to develop his shot while maintaining his ability to rebound and pass the ball.

His rookie season was a long time ago now and Evans is ready to move on from it.

"That's definitely in the past, I mean that was my rookie year, this is my 8th year in the league. From here on out man, I just want to be me ... be healthy and get back to playing basketball," Evans said.

The veteran enjoys playing in front of Kings fans and hasn't let the setbacks and injuries take away from what he loves doing.

"I want to play. I love playing basketball,” he said.