In the summer of 2011, I bought Portal 2 at the local Wal-Mart. I sat glued to my bed every evening and played the game for hours. Having not played the original Portal game, I was flabbergasted at how incredible this game was. It was innovative and truly made me think about every level I needed to play. After having played years of sports, racing, and shooter games, this was completely different and refreshing. I’d jump my robot through blue and orange portals, figuring out the solution to each puzzle. After a month, the game was beaten. The co-op sector of the game was conquered in a single long day with a friend of mine talking out the strategies through the microphone wrapped around my head. It was probably the single most satisfying and collaborative gaming experience I’ve ever had with a friend. It’s still one of my favorite games ever. But with the game beaten, I grew bored and put it away, moving on to other hobbies and other games. It sat in my bedroom, encased in the signature green X-Box game case, for almost two years, virtually untouched. Just two weeks ago, I again put Portal 2 into my X-Box console and was delighted by the puzzles I had forgotten the solutions to. I played for a couple of massive amounts of time, wondering unfathomably how I went such a long time playing the game.
Now… You’re probably thinking to yourself, “What the f— is this schmuck doing? This is a basketball website, not a place for anecdotal stories about staring into a television screen, twiddling your thumbs.” Admittedly it’s pretty unconventional to begin a writing career at a website with that sort of opening paragraph, but bear with me as I identify the parallels between the experiences I had with Portal 2 and the NBA career of Tyreke Evans, the newly acquired Pelicans guard from Sacramento.
Tyreke Evans was the fourth overall selection in the 2009 NBA draft to the Sacramento Kings. Featured heavily that season in the Kings offense, Evans was able to burst out of the gate and piece together a magnificent rookie year. His year with Sacramento was not only good by that particular season’s standards for rookies, but also by historical standards of rookie seasons in the league. Reke became the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in his first year in the league. The others? Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. Not exactly the shabbiest of company. The league was absolutely starstruck when Evans practically singlehandedly brought back the Kings from the claws of defeat in a December match-up with the Chicago Bulls. Relentlessly attacking the basket, he outscored the Bulls team by himself in the fourth quarter, en route to coming back from a 35 point deficit to win, one of the greatest comebacks ever. He won the rookie of the year crown after the 2009-10 season and then knocked down one of the all-time great buzzer-beaters to win a game early the following year in a December home game against the Memphis Grizzlies. (Seriously, click that link. I get excited every time I watch the video of it.)
And then… well… the rest of Evans’ career as a member of the Sacramento Kings was pretty unspectacular and wasn’t highlighted league-wide the way his rookie campaign was. Like the video game sitting in my bedroom for over a year, Tyreke Evans went nearly unnoticed as he played the next three seasons for the lackluster and struggling Kings. But in the way the game disc was remembered and reinserted into the X-Box console after seemingly eons of inactivity, I see a chance for the same to happen to Evans as he tries to spark his career again in The Big Easy. Who knows? Perhaps Reke’s success in Sac-town was hindered by the aberration of a team they had in the last few years. Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis are all better teammates than he ever had in northern California. For what it’s worth, I believe Evans can help the Pelicans in a variety of ways.
Tyreke’s extremely flexible in what position he plays. In college and as an NBA rookie he played point guard almost exclusively and performed well in the role. Evans is a spectacular ball handler and could manage the game well without committing an abundance of turnovers. Due to his size and athleticism, the Kings thought he was better suited as a shooting guard or small forward, so he’s played a majority of his minutes at those two positions in the last couple of seasons. With more play as a wing man instead of the point guard, Evans adapted to playing off the ball. A good indicator of a player getting shots off the ball is the frequency in which the player takes corner threes, since very rarely a ball handler dribbles into the corner to shoot. As a rookie, it was evident that Evans was uncomfortable off the basketball. Although he attempted 141 three pointers that season, just ONE was from the corner, a startlingly low proportion. Last season? Evans attempted 133 threes–8 fewer–but 27 were attempted in the corner.
As a Pelican, Evans is projected to be the starting small forward, where he has become comfortable. However, with Eric Gordon generally unfamiliar with being the primary ball handler and Austin Rivers not quite playing efficiently enough yet to warrant a large number of NBA minutes, I’d expect Evans to play point guard (or at least taking care of point guard duties) during times that Jrue Holiday is on the bench.
Attacking the Basket
Tyreke Evans attempts a large number of three pointers, as I alluded to a bit earlier, but don’t let that fool you. He’s no Steph Curry. In his career, Tyreke Evans is dreadfully inefficient from beyond the arc, shooting just 27.6 percent in his career. Evans scores by putting his head down, using his strength and athleticism, and driving the lane to the basket. Tyreke was one of just 6 guards to attempt at least 450 shots inside of 6 feet last season, along with Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Monta Ellis, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.
The league knows of Evans’ ability to get to the hoop as well. Former teammate Marcus Thornton said in a recent interview that he could not recall an instance in which Evans has ever been hesitant to attack the basket. He added, “I know he’s going to do great things in New Orleans. He’s 6-6, can handle the ball and get to the goal at will.”
One of the best attributes of Evans’ game is his ability to split the defense in semi-transition. Endless times in highlight reels like this one you can see him use a hesitation move near half court to make the defense think that he’s going to set up a standard offensive play, then BAM. Before you can blink twice he’s at the hoop dunking the basketball.
Evans’ defensive ability is a bit of a conundrum for me. By most measurements, he’s a sub-par defender. But most of those measurements have a difficult time negating the effect of poor defensive teammates at center or power forward–where defense matters more. Synergy Sports Technology ranks Evans as just the 256th best defender in the NBA, well below average, but I think it’s a bit misleading. Between Demarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, and Chuck Hayes, the Kings had one of the worst interior defenses in the league if not the worst.
Reke certainly has the tools to be a great perimeter defender. He’s one of the strongest perimeter players in the league and has terrific lateral quickness as well. He has a pterodactyllian wingspan of 6 feet 11 inches. Would you believe me if I told you that was equal to Blake Griffin’s wingspan? Anyways, with Anthony Davis reeking havoc behind him, I strongly believe the numbers will begin to tilt in Evans’ favor on the defensive end.
So the ultimate question: How will Tyreke Evans help the Pelicans? I personally love the acquisition, as I think that it will entice the Hornets to begin playing at a faster pace and with more energy. With Greivis Vasquez running the show last season, New Orleans rarely saw perimeter players attack the basket. I expect Evans to bring that kind of mindset back to the team and to help in their push to get back into the postseason for the first time in the post-CP3 era.
You can follow the author of this article on twitter at @SkylerJGilbert for a plethora of sports opinions.