Tyreke Evans and The Next Step

Published: July 10, 2013

Hey Kev-o, you know you’re only going to be the Pelicans’ fallback option, right? That’s my town.

You will almost certainly regret it.


Tyreke Evans took the league by storm in his rookie year, averaging 20 points, almost 6 assists, and over 5 rebounds per game while managing to post a respectable 52.3% TS%, which is fairly average, but good for a rookie. Unfortunately, the rest of the league caught onto his major weakness: shooting. The rest of his career has been spent trapped on a Sacramento team with no stability, an overload of gunner guards, and an altogether poisonous atmosphere. Last year, Tyreke managed to quietly post his most efficient season as a pro, though he did suffer a reduction in playing time.

This summer, the Pelicans were reportedly meeting Tyreke the minute free agency started, and he was a priority throughout the free agent period. The Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers have agreed to a 3 way trade (with the primary focus of Tyreke being signed/traded to us), and Tyreke will enter his first season as a Pelican this year after receiving what is reported to be a 4 year, $44 million contract.

At this moment, the Pelicans are looking to make Tyreke their Manu Ginobili, which means that he will be in control of the second-team offense. This by no means excludes Tyreke from playing alongside Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday, but it does likely mean that he will be doing plenty of ball-handling and scoring for the second unit. Here are some reasons why I think Tyreke is poised to make a jump in his effectiveness.

1. Tyreke will be facing weaker competition for at least some of his minutes

Playing as part of a bench unit has its advantages. Rather obviously, most players on the second unit are not as good as the ones on the first unit. This is fairly obvious, I know. This certainly doesn’t apply to every player on every bench, but generally, benchwarmers are worse than starters. Tyreke has spent 247 of his 257 career games facing starters, and if the reports are true, this will be his first season as a sixth man.

2. I expect that Tyreke Evans will be running more pick/rolls with the Pelicans than he did with Sacramento

Monty Williams’ history with New Orleans would validate that hypothesis. Here are some numbers that explain Williams’ penchant for pick and roll guards.

Percent of Offense from Pick/Roll (emboldened #s indicate seasons with New Orleans, italics with other teams). via mySynergySports

 2010-11   2011-12  2012-13
Eric Gordon     27.6%        33.5%       32.3%
Austin Rivers       33.6%
Greivis Vasquez     35.3%        39.7%       42.6%
Brian Roberts       43.2%
Jarrett Jack     43.0%        41.1%       31.5%
Marco Belinelli      5.3%        11.0%       26.4%
CP3     41.2%        40.7%       37.3%


There are plenty of areas to note.

  • Marco Belinelli, though a decent ball-handler, is primarily a spot-up threat, and his numbers reflect that. He experienced a large increase this year as he took increased responsibility with Derrick Rose spending the entire year hurt and smuggling candy on the bench.
  • Jarrett Jack was surrounded by better offensive options in Golden State, and this could explain his dip in pick/roll offense
  • Austin Rivers and Brian Roberts were rookies last year, so there is no data from previous seasons.
  • Every heavy ball-handler (again, besides Belinelli, who is primarily a shooter) experienced his highest pick/roll percentage in Monty Williams’ offense. More notably, each primary ball-handler in his offense received no less than 32% of his offense in the pick/roll and was more likely to hover around 40%.

How This Applies to Tyreke

Statistics from last season (via mySynergySports)

Offensive Set #    % of Offense   PPP    Rank
  Isolation 227            22.4%     0.75      127
  P/R Ball-Handler 180            17.8%     0.84       47
  Transition 247            24.4%     1.15      143


Tyreke is a one man wrecking crew in transition, generating a ridiculous 24.4% of his offense in this area. You will notice that, despite his rank being lower in transition than in the pick/roll or in isolation, he is more efficient in transition, scoring 1.15 Points Per Possession. This isn’t much of a surprise, as there is a reason that transition opportunities are valued. However, there are only so many good opportunities to get shots in transition, and I believe Tyreke’s jump will come from another area.

Isolation basketball has its place. The most creative NBA coaches draw up sets that bust every night. Teams need someone to throw the ball to with five seconds on the shot clock, someone who can create instant offense. As fans, we remember the moments where legendary players size up their defenders in isolation and hit game-winning shots, but statistics have shown that isolation play is often not the most desirable way to end a game.

Only 17.8% percent of Tyreke’s offense came from ball-handling in the pick/roll, and as I detailed earlier, most of Monty Williams’s guards generate at least 33% of their offense in this set. It would seem presumptive to assume that Tyreke will undoubtedly incorporate that much pick/roll in his offense, but the statistics of guards in Monty Williams’ system indicate that Tyreke is, at the least, going to spending more time in the pick/roll than he previously did, and I believe this is a desirable outcome. Tyreke’s efficiency in this set took a jump last season (he posted a .71 PPP the previous season), and more importantly, he was much more efficient (in terms of PPP) running pick/rolls than he was in isolation. A PPP difference of .09 may not seem like a huge difference, but consider that, in a game where a team has 100 possessions, that efficiency difference is equivalent to 9 points. NBA games are won at the margins and every point matters.

*Sidenote: the immortal Zach Lowe wrote a piece on the Pelicans yesterday that does a little Evans pick/roll analysis, but mainly focuses on the Pelicans’ offseason as a whole. You should read it.

3. New Orleans is loaded with adept pick/roll bigs

Statistics as Pick/Roll Man, 2012-13 (via mySynergySports)

 Player  #   PPP Rank
Jason Smith      143     1.05         46
Anthony Davis      210     1.11         33
Ryan Anderson      169     0.93         91


I don’t know who will start at “center” from day one, and frankly, I really don’t care. As the roster stands, Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, and Jason Smith should all be receiving substantial minutes. Each of these players is good at pick/rolls, although each is good for a different reason. Anderson is an excellent shooter and must be accounted for as he pops out; Davis is long/athletic and an excellent finisher at the rim, and can also pop out to midrange; Smith sets hard screens and can pop out or roll to the rim. Barring injuries or a trade, Tyreke will have at least one of these guys available in his pick/roll sets, and as Tom Ziller mentioned in the podcast, Tyreke was never really afforded a good pick/roll big in Sacramento.

So not only is Tyreke likely to get more pick/rolls, he will be running them with capable big men who can prevent hard double teams and who can finish with their respective skill sets.

Another consideration

It is important to evaluate all sides of this argument, and it should be noted that Eric Gordon (stats above) and Jrue Holiday (38% pick and roll) will be doing a lot of ball-handling. However, given that Tyreke is not as well-served as a spot-up shooter and will be running the bench unit, he should be afforded plenty of opportunities to act as the primary option for the Pelicans.

My Outlook

Tyreke is by no means perfect in the pick/roll, especially in regards to turnovers (he turns the ball over frequently in this set), but he is a tank with advanced ball-handling, an explosive first step, long arms to finish around defenders, and the strength to power through contact and draw fouls. He may not be getting 36 minutes a game, but when he is on the court, his presence will be felt.

I wrote an article a while ago regarding repossession rates on attacks at the rim, and this is an important consideration, because good things usually follow attacks at the rim. Tyreke is built to penetrate with the ball, and I cannot wait to see Tyreke attacking the rim with our second unit: I am expecting big things.


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