Editor’s Note: While we wait for the return of NBA basketball, we’ll be taking a look back at Kings history through the Cincinnati Royals and Kansas City days to identify the best players for each letter of the alphabet. We hope you enjoy KANGZ, A-Z.
The 2008-09 season was a rough one for the Sacramento Kings, and that’s probably underselling it a bit. They won 17 games that season, which — to this day — is a franchise low. It was also the worst record in the NBA. Prior to that season, the Kings had never lost more than 60 games in a season.
Despite having the fewest number of wins in the league, the Kings ended up with the No. 4 pick at the 2009 NBA Draft Lottery. The Clippers, who had the third-best odds of winning the No. 1 overall pick, leapfrogged the Washington Wizards and Kings. Meanwhile, the Kings dropped three spots and fell behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, who won six more games than them the season prior.
Blake Griffin went No. 1 overall, followed by Hasheem “The Dream” Thabeet and James Harden. When the Kings were on the clock, they had a few directions they could go, mostly because they needed talent wherever they could get it at the time. Ricky Rubio was a favorite among Kings fans, but the overwhelming expectation was that the Spanish sensation would be off of the board by the time the Kings picked.
Aside from Rubio, there were a number of intriguing point guard prospects, such as Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday and Brandon Jennings. When the clock started counting down for the Kings on draft night, all four of Rubio, Curry, Holiday and Jennings were on the board.
In true Kangz fashion, they decided to go in an entirely different direction and draft Tyreke Evans. In their defense, Evans was in the conversation to go No. 4 overall, but only because Rubio wasn’t supposed to still be on the board. Even in Rubio was unavailable, it probably would have made more sense for Sacramento to take a point guard.
With the amount of scrutiny the pick received, Evans needed to be good almost immediately to win over Kings fans, and, to his credit, he did just that.
In his rookie season with the Kings, Tyreke Evans averaged 20.1 points per game on 45.8% shooting from the field, in addition to 5.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. The only other players to average at least 20 points, 20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.5 steals per game in their rookie seasons are LeBron James and Michael Jordan.
In 2020, we know that Evans’ career is more similar to Jordan Clarkson’s than it is Michael Jordan’s, but in 2010, he was the Kings’ franchise cornerstone. He and Kevin Martin — the latter of whom quickly outplayed his draft position — were going to be Sacramento’s backcourt for the foreseeable future, and whoever the Kings drafted in 2010 would round out the team’s young core and lay the foundation for long-term success.
If only that were true.
In the four years Evans was in Sacramento, the most games he ever won in a season was 28. That season, under head coach Keith Smart, Evans averaged 15.2 points per game, which was second on the team in scoring behind DeMarcus Cousins, who was slowly establishing himself as one of the league’s premier big men.
In hindsight, Evans’ regression should have been expected. During his rookie season, Paul Westphal gave him free rein in his offense, and Evans took advantage it. Over time, though, it became clear that the mistakes Evans made as a rookie — the over-dribbling, the tunnel vision in close games — weren’t going to go away, at least not before he was up for a new contract. Coincidentally, teams started to figure his game out, and he became a less impactful player.
The Evans years were fun while they lasted, but they didn’t last long enough for them to translate into anything meaningful for the Kings, in the short or long-term — like dating in college.