Tyreke Evans is Wreaking Havoc with the Memphis Grizzlies

— December 13th 2017

Thanks to an improved shot and clean bill of health, Tyreke Evans has been one of the few bright spots in Memphis.

By Noah Shatzer

Not much has gone well for the post Grit-And-Grind Era Memphis Grizzlies through the first quarter of the 2017-18 NBA season. After starting out the season with a respectable 7-6 record, the Grizzlies have spiraled out of control due to a costly Achilles injury to star point guard Mike Conley and the shocking firing of head coach David Fizdale in the midst of an eight-game losing streak. Since the firing of Fizdale, which was seven games ago, Memphis has won only one game and dropped to a paltry 8-19 for the season, one game out of last place in the Western Conference.

Other than the impressive early season play by rookie Dillon Brooks, who 16 Wins a Ring’s Isaac Biehl wrote about earlier in the season, one of the lone bright spots for the team has been the stellar play of Tyreke Evans. After a disastrous 2016-17 season split between the New Orleans Pelicans (26 games) and the Sacramento Kings (14 games), the former NBA Rookie of the Year signed with the Grizzlies on a one-year, $3.3 million deal hoping to rejuvenate his career in Memphis.

And so far with the Grizzlies, Evans has done just that–evolving into one of the best bench players in the league and easily outperforming the one-year deal he signed. With the injury to Conley, Evans has slid into the starting lineup for the past eight games, but the combo guard was previously terrorizing the league off the bench in the team’s first 19 games of the season. Coming off the bench for Memphis, Evans has averaged 17.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.1 steals while shooting a career-high 49 percent from the floor and a career-high 41.3 percent from three. Out of players that have come off the bench for at least 10 games this season, only Lou Williams (18.6 points) surpasses Evans in scoring off the bench but on worse shooting percentages (45 percent from the floor and 37.7 percent from three).

Even though the Grizzlies have been on a losing skid, Evans’s play has been one of the reasons that Memphis has even been able to compete against their opponents. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the guard leads the Grizzlies in PER (Player Efficiency Rating) at 22.3, which is good enough for 20th in the league ahead of other guards such as DeMar DeRozan, Kemba Walker, Russell Westbrook, and Jimmy Butler. He’s also second on the Griz in total points scored at 480, only 15 points behind Marc Gasol (495 points), and is second in total assists behind Gasol (111 assists) with 105 so far on the season. The duo of Evans and Gasol have been single-handedly carrying the Grizzlies since Conley’s injury, ranking 20th and 21st in usage at 27.81 percent and 27.8 percent.

Two of the biggest factors in Evans’s career resurgence in Memphis have been his health and much improved three-point shot that has been building over the last few seasons. The guard has had health issues for much of his career, but the last two seasons were particularly bad for Evans as he only appeared in 25 games for the Pelicans in the 2015-16 season due to two knee surgeries and appeared in 40 games between the Pelicans and Kings after missing the start of the season recovering from the latest surgery. Other than a few bumps and bruises, Evans has stayed healthy through the first quarter of the 2017-18 season and looks the best he has on the court since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2009.

Coming into the league, Evans was seen as a combo guard that could create for himself and for teammates off of the dribble, similar to the player drafted one spot above him by the Oklahoma City Thunder, All-Star shooting guard James Harden. Evans may have beat out Harden and fellow 2009 draftee Stephen Curry back then, but one of the things that held Evans back while Harden and Curry became two of the league’s most tantalizing offensive players was his lack of a three-point shot. Evans was atrocious from behind the arc in his rookie season, shooting a measly 25.5 percent on 2.0 attempts per game and the guard continued to shoot under 30 percent from three until the 2014-15 season with the Pelicans when he shot 30.4 percent from distance. Since then, Evans has turned himself into a reliable threat from the three-point line, shooting 38.8 percent during the 2015-16 season and 35.6 percent last season. Now with the Grizzlies, Evans is attempting a career-high 4.7 three-pointers per game and knocking them down at a career-high 41.8 percent, 25th best in the league according to Basketball-Reference’s three-point percentage leaderboard.

Early in his career, Evans’s jump shot was plagued by the slinging motion that most poor shooters struggle with. That slinging motion, combined with the fact that Evans would often kick his feet out and fall backwards when shooting the ball, was a recipe for an unreliable jumper and stuck with the guard for much of his career. But finally, all the work that Evans has put in in the off-seasons of his career is finally paying off and the 28-year-old has finally developed a silky-smooth jumper. Although he still fades away a little bit on his long-distance attempts, Evans has become strong enough to the point where his shot has the distance to make it to the basket even as he’s fading backwards.

In Memphis’s recent 102-101 overtime loss to the ailing Oklahoma City Thunder, Evans showed off his new and improved jump shot from range, knocking down a clutch three with Andre Roberson right in his face and the shot clock ticking down.

Evans’s new and improved jump shot has also resulted in more opportunities for the combo guard to get to the rim, which he has always excelled at. Because he can reliably knock down the outside shot, defenders must guard him closer which makes it easier for Evans to get around them with his quick first step and dribble moves. This can be seen here in this clip from the Grizzlies’ 104-92 loss to the Denver Nuggets from late November. Gary Harris, who is one of the better perimeter defenders in the league, plays too far up on Evans in an attempt to prevent him from having enough space to get his jump shot off.

This backfires miserably for Harris, as Evans’s slight jab step to the right knocked the young Nugget off balance and out of position for just a few seconds. Long enough for Evans to take notice and quickly get around Harris with just one dribble and on his way to the basket, where he finishes over Kenneth Faried with a beautiful scoop lay-up.

Thanks to his healthy and much improved jump shot, Evans has stood out as one of the best bench players in the league and is arguably the front-runner for this year’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. Lou Williams isn’t too far behind Evans, but both players have been forced to move into the starting lineup because of injuries and could ultimately end up starting too many games to be in contention for the award. If the Grizzlies organization does end up hitting the reset button and blowing the current roster up, which is looking more and more feasible with every loss the team is handed, Evans could find himself as a highly valuable trade asset for a contending team because of his team-friendly contract.

Nevertheless, Tyreke Evans has managed to revive his career with the Memphis Grizzlies and is once again showing off the talent that once earned him Rookie of the Year.

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