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Tyreke Evans is proving that hard work pays off

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An interesting development.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Tyreke Evans was seemingly nothing more than salary filler in the gigantic blockbuster trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans last month. He was such a trade afterthought that reports circulated shortly after the deal was close that the Kings would be cutting him after the trade went through.

Either those early reports were wrong, or something behind the scenes changed, but Tyreke Evans is a Sacramento King again. He’s playing a lot, and while I wouldn’t say it’s been all good, one thing that has clearly stood out has been his improved three-point shooting. A 27-year old Tyreke Evans with a jumper is a lot more appealing than a 27-year old Tyreke Evans without one.

This improved three-point stroke actually started last year in New Orleans. Evans only played 25 games in 2015-16 due to complications with his knee that kept him out right up until the Kings traded for him last month. He’s still on some sort of minutes restriction after undergoing three knee procedures over the course of nine months. He’s a massive injury risk, but more on that later.

Through 25 games in 2015-16, Evans shot .388 from three on 3.4 attempts per game. Those were both career highs. This wasn’t one of those low-volume, high-percentage type increases. Evans has been working on his shot since he entered the league, and his improvement here wasn’t an accident. It appears as though he made a conscious effort to add that to his game, which makes a lot of sense for a guy who earned millions and millions of dollars going to the rim. Adding the outside shot would not only improve his ability to get to the rim, but it’ll take a lot of pressure off that bum knee. It’s a safer move.

When I watch Evans now, I see a guy who is still very uncomfortable coming off knee surgery, but that is just eye test stuff. He looks heavier to me, which can happen when you can’t train like you’re used to training. He’s also missing a lot of shots at the rim that he used to make, and I don’t know if that is a temporary dip because he’s still thinking about the knee, or his lift isn’t where it will be when he’s 100% recovered, but it’s a noticeable and alarming development. In fairness to Evans, he’s still shooting .500 from the field which is an excellent number for any guard. I would guess it’s temporary, but it’s impossible to know. I think it’s important to note here that in Evans’ introductory press conference after being traded back to the Kings, Tyreke expressed that his knee was both the best its ever felt, and still kind of sore, so, make of that what you will.

I also see a guy who clearly spent a lot of time working on that jumper since his first stint in Sacramento. There is less fade, less movement in his setup, he doesn’t bring the ball quite as far behind his head as he used to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from the best looking shot we’ve seen, but as Ben McLemore taught us, jumper looks can be deceiving. Beyond aesthetic, the results sort of speak for themselves.

In his first 26 games with the Pelicans this season, he only shot the ball .300 from three, so I don’t want to oversell anything here. We are still in the is this really real phase, but he’s been shooting a pretty remarkable .571 from three since the Kings reacquired him, and it doesn’t feel like a complete accident. Obviously he’s not going to shoot like this for the rest of the season, but just the fact that he has a three-point jumper now, or may have a three-point jumper now, is an interesting development.

I’ve been floating the re-sign Reke idea out there since the minute the Kings brought him back, somewhat ironically because the absurdity of the Kings trading Cousins for Evans is hilarious, but I’ve always been an Evans believer. He’s a good defender, he’s very coachable, he possesses one elite NBA skill with his ability to go to the rim, and he’s extremely versatile. Not fake versatile, either. You hear about players’ versatility all the time. I think Garrett Temple is a good example of fake versatility. Temple has been one of the best Kings this season. A deserved fan favorite, but he’s not really a shooting guard that can play point guard despite being billed as such. I don’t love him at small forward, either. He’s a good shooting guard and should play most of his minutes there if he’s on a competitive team.

In a super emergency situation, sure, Temple can play in other spots, but he’s not a substitute lead guard. Tyreke Evans is. Tyreke Evans is so versatile that he can play the one, two, or three and if you told me to pick his best primary position I wouldn’t even know what the answer was. It’s tough to put him in any box. That can be good and bad. It could be a negative if you’re expecting him to be a franchise cornerstone, but if you’re looking for an Andre Iguodala type, his positionlessness is a blessing.

I’m not going full re-sign Tyreke Evans on you yet. I understand how unlikely that is just because, but I’m not closing the door, either. There are things I’ve liked and not liked about his second run in Sacramento. A lot of those negatives I can put on well, he’s just coming back from knee surgery if we choose to give him that benefit of the doubt, but the knee issues themselves is a knock against bringing him back. It’s all part of the Tyreke Evans package that I am still evaluating. I like his unique play style. I like his quiet demeanor on the court. I like his defense, and I certainly like this new and improved jumper.

Kings fans have been clamoring for Dave Joerger to go full-on youth movement, and while I’m certainly on that train to an extent, Evans is one of the few veterans I still want to see. I want to see what kind of player he is now. I want to see more of that jumper. I want to see him continue to build strength in that knee. I want to see how Dave Joerger uses him. I want to see if anything is salvageable there, because the Kings have a lot of money to spend this summer.

The Kings have a lot of holes heading into free agency, and Evans is a good player with age on his side that could theoretically be signed at a dramatically reduced salary for what his skill set would usually command. I’m looking directly at guys like Omri Casspi, or Seth Curry here. The Kings brought Casspi and Curry in on one year deals, they played well in Sacramento with nobody really noticing, Casspi was brought back on an excellent low two-year deal, while Curry signed an excellent low contract with Dallas, and we’re all seeing how that worked out. There is a model here that Evans could fit into, we just need to see more.