Each season, there are a group of players that exceed expectations. Often times it’s a young player taking a significant step forward in his development. Other times it’s a veteran player bouncing back from past injuries that limited his ability to perform on the court. It’s still early November, which means there’s a lot of regular season basketball to play this season. But Tyreke Evans is emerging as one of those players who is exceeding expectations.
Evans is only playing 27.1 minutes per game so far this season, which is the second lowest count in his nine year career. However, Evans is making the most of those minutes, producing the kind of numbers that we would expect from a marquee player earning a significant annual salary. Per 36 minutes, Evans is averaging 23.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.3 steals, while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from three-point range (on a career high 4.6 attempts per game). Evans has been a big-time contributor for a Memphis Grizzlies squad that many predicted would have little chance of competing for a playoff spot this season – a prediction that is looking increasingly misguided.
Basketball Insiders spoke with Evans recently about his hot start to the season and the fact that several teams passed on signing him as a free agent this season.
“Yeah, definitely. I’m gonna make everyone pay for that too,” Evans said when asked if he believes other teams are regretting passing on him last offseason. “I mean a lot of teams didn’t want to risk it because of the knee, but I mean I want to thank Memphis for giving me the opportunity to show my talent and let me play the game I know I can play. And teams see that wishing they could have me on their team.”
Evans has always been a confident player and had zero hesitation in his voice when he made this statement. It’s easy to understand why Evans feels so strongly about his abilities and the fact that multiple teams passed on signing him this offseason. He was selected fourth overall in the 2009 NBA draft and averaged 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game in his rookie season. Evans established himself as one of the best up-and-coming players in the league, despite struggling with inconsistent shooting mechanics.
Since his rookie season, Evans has struggled with a multitude of injuries and has undergone three knee surgeries, the most recent in February of 2016. The injuries have kept Evans off the court for various stretches and limited his effectiveness when he has been healthy enough to play. With his injury history, shaky perimeter shooting and the perception that he has regressed since he burst onto the NBA scene, Evans found little interest on the free agent market this past season and settled on a one-year, $3,290,000 contract with the Grizzlies. For reference, Evans’ teammate, Chandler Parsons, is set to earn $23,112,004 this season – a salary that will increase over the next two years.
The Grizzlies now look very smart after signing Evans this offseason, though they surely wish they could have convinced him to sign to a longer contract. Evans credits the extensive work he put into strengthening his knee this summer and working on refining his game.
“It was just a matter of me getting my health back,” Evans said. “My knee is stronger… I had the whole offseason to just train with my trainer and get my knee stronger. I feel great, I’m healthy now. I’m back to myself and when I’m out there I just feel comfortable, I can do what I want.”
Evans has certainly looked healthier this season than he has in recent years. He has always had the ability to get to the basket and either score or make plays for his teammates. Now he is doing it more effectively and consistently, which has been a major boost for the Grizzlies. Evans believes his ability to attack the basket, score and act as a playmaker has made him a natural fit in Memphis.
“It’s been great,” said Evans when asked about how he has fit in with his new team so far. “I mean I could always [score and be a playmaker]. It’s just been a matter of being healthy. When I’m healthy I could do everything… pass, shooting the ball well. I mean my confidence is through the roof right now just from being healthy. Me healthy is definitely a problem.”
Health is certainly a major factor in Evans’ early success with the Grizzlies. Other factors could be the strong culture the Grizzlies have developed over the last few years and Evans’ experience playing at the University of Memphis.
“I’ve been with New Orleans, it’s a good culture there too,” Evans said when asked to name which teams he’s played for had the best cultures. “But Memphis is definitely a good culture and I’ve been to the schools, so I’m pretty familiar with the city and I like it.”
Memphis seems to suit Evans well and their fans are quickly embracing him and his contributions to the team. Those same fans are certainly hoping that Evans’ reworked jump shot is for real and that he won’t revert to his less orthodox shooting mechanics from earlier in his career. Evans confidently states that his shot is for real.
“I’m gonna stay with the consistency. I’ve been consistent every game,” said Evans when asked about his improved mechanics. “Every game I’ve made a three. I’m just shooting with confidence, ya know? I worked on it two years straight so when you put in hard work it definitely pays off and that’s what I did.”
Now that Evans is healthy, shooting confidently and is motivated to show rival teams what they missed out on this offseason, he has established himself as a viable Sixth Man of the Year Candidate. Not bad for a guy on a one-year, $3.2 million deal.
If Evans maintains this level of play, he has a good shot of pushing the Grizzlies into the playoffs this season – something that few would have predicted entering the season. For his part, Evans doesn’t care much about what people thought about his team before the season started and is going to continue doing the things that have made him successful and got him to this point.
“I don’t really care what people say,” said Evans. “I mean everyone got their own opinion, ya know? We gonna do what we have to do to keep winning.”
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