What’s Wrong With Tyreke?

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Published: February 8, 2014

It seems like we have seen flashes this season of the guy that Dell Demps and Monty Williams targeted at 12:01 a.m. on the first day of free agency. He has had nights where he has got to the rim at will or been the primary creator. He has one triple-double, and on several other nights he came really close. And who can forget the game winner against Portland?

But sprinkled in with all of those great games and moments were some real stinkers, and coming off another one last night, people are starting to really wonder what is wrong with Tyreke. This question is not a new one, as concerns first surfaced early on in the season before Ryan Anderson played in his first regular season game. Monty called him out after the game for “not finding his teammates,” which we all know is code for being an out of control ball hog. Monty has also said in the past that it has been an adjustment figuring out how to coach Tyreke and that he Tyreke to develop a mid-range game. All very nice ways of saying some pretty strong things. If we remove the sugar-coating, Monty appears frustrated by how limited Tyreke is offensively, and how low his basketball IQ can be on the offensive end at times. I don’t think any fans would disagree, though it must be said that when Tyreke is on his game, he’s magnificent.

So, why isn’t he on more, and what adjustments can be made to get him back on track? Well, the tape and the stats give us a couple answers.

Problems

1. Tyreke Evans has been terrible when Ryan Anderson is off the floor

The numbers are astounding. Tyreke Evans goes from a below average NBA player to a quasi-star when you put him on the court with Ryan Anderson. So far this year, he has played 622 minutes without Ryan Anderson and 409 with him, and the stats are as follows.

[table id=57 /]

As you can see, he is less effective offensively at both finishing and creating for others with Anderson not out there to space the floor. And while those numbers are glaring, the most shocking one is not even included in the table because it has to do with the teams’ performance. When Tyreke is on the floor with Anderson, the Pelicans are +52. When Tyreke is on the court, and Anderson is not, the Pelicans are -119 as a team. So, on average, a unit with Tyreke but not Ryno would get beat in a 48 minute game by 9.5 points while a team with both Tyreke and Ryno would win that same game by 6 points. A 15.5 point swing over 48 minutes.

Evans tends to take far more jumpers from mid-range when Anderson is off the court as well, as he shoots 9% of his shots in that area when Anderson is on verse 15.5% when he is off the court. Meanwhile, he takes nearly 76% of his shots within five feet when Ryan Anderson on the court, and as you would expect, he makes those at a much higher rate.

2. Evans is often forced to play with two lane cloggers

This goes hand in hand with the first point, as the loss of Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith means that Evans has had to play with two centers clogging up the lane while Anthony Davis is getting a rest. And if not two lane clogging bigs, then one lane clogging big and Aminu at the small ball four. Either way, there is little to no space. And that’s why it is no coincidence that the Evans-Aminu-Stiemsma, the Evans-Aminu-Withey, and the Evans-Withey-Steimsma are some of the worst three-man lineups Monty has ever put on the court.

Those three lineups have played 125 minutes this year and the Pelicans are shooting 30.4% from the field and are a -32.6 per 48 minutes with those three-man lineups collectively. Let that sink in. The Aminu-Evans-Stiemsma threesome is especially atrocious, as it has been on the court for 78 minutes since Anderson went down, and the Pelicans are averaging 69 points per 48 minutes with it on the floor.

Aminu, maybe more than anybody else is Tyreke’s kryptonite, as Evans shoots 51% in the restricted area when Aminu is off the court and just 42% when he is on the court. Overall, Evans shoots 5% higher with Aminu off the court, and his turnover percentage decreases by over 50% without Aminu. The simple truth is that you need shooting on the court if you are going to make Evans a primary offensive option, or at least have the threat of it out there.

3. Injuries have derailed Evans

Not only has Evans missed 7 games this year, but he has also been less than 100% for several others. Evans has come back early from a few injuries, and/or has been out of game shape and had to work himself back into it on the fly. After missing practically the entire preseason, Evans played in the season opener and later admitted he wasn’t quite in game shape until the Utah game at home. In those first 8 games when he was getting back into shape, Evans averaged just 7.8 points on 32% shooting. Then, he hit his stride and had a very good stretch through mid-December before going down again with an ankle injury he tried to play through.

His first game back from that ankle injury was a rough one, as he went 2-10 in LA. But then, he got 3 days off and with Ryan Anderson in tow, he was unleashed. In the seven games between then and the Ryan Anderson injury, Evans  averaged 19 points, 7.2 assists,  and 6.9 rebounds on 46% shooting in just 30.4 minutes per game. Those are phenomenal numbers. People chuckled when they heard the plan was for Evans to play a Ginobli-esque role with the Pelicans, but quite honestly, those numbers morph most of Ginobli’s best seasons.

But then Anderson went down and Evans got banged up again. First, at home against Dallas, and then against Sacramento. He returned and played okay, but then a shot to the ribs against San Antonio and he is struggling again, as seen by last night’s effort against Minnesota. When healthy and surrounded by good shooters, Tyreke has been a beast, but unfortunately we haven’t seen much of that this year.

Solutions

1. Build the Second Unit around Tyreke

Point blank, Aminu and Tyreke just can’t be on the floor together. When one is in, the other must be out. So when Tyreke is in, the Pelicans need to put Anthony Morrow on the opposite wing or in the corner, ready to catch and shoot. Austin Rivers, surprisingly, has become an elite catch and shoot player this year, nailing nearly 50% of his shots in those situations. At the four and five, you need to either have one three-point threat and a lane clogger or two mid-range threats. So, Davis and Ajinca could work, as could Stiemsma and Babbitt. What you can’t have is two guys who pose no threat from the outside, because teams just use one to show on the pick and roll and the other just camps in the paint. Finishing with a front court of Evans, Babbitt, and Davis seems ideal.

2. Put Evans on the block more

Evans has had quite a bit of success in the low post throughout his career, and this season is no different. Against SG’s, he has an incredible strength advantage, and he is usually quicker than most SF’s. Prior to his injury against San Antonio put him in the low post against Marco Belinelli, and Evans abused him for an easy bucket. If Monty puts Evans in the post with a collection of guys that have to be respected from the perimeter, the field goal percentage should rise while the turnovers plummet.

3. Continue to develop Luke Babbitt

If Ryan Anderson doesn’t come back this year, Tyreke Evans will need Babbitt to play the same role Anderson did to have any chance at being successful. Babbitt doesn’t have to shoot the ball like Anderson, he just has to be respected like Anderson was. Last night, Babbitt’s defender was often 16-20 feet away from the rim when he was in the game. Stiemsma or Withey’s man is never more than 6-8 feet away, and that makes things so much harder for Tyreke.

In order for Monty to continue to play Babbitt, Luke will have to pick up the defense quickly and maintain the same type of energy we saw last night. He doesn’t have to be a stopper on the defensive end, but he can’t be a gaping wound either. Solid play on that end, combined with effort and hustle on the glass, and we should see more production from Evans.

Conclusion

Tyreke Evans is not a bad player, and he isn’t an elite player. He is a specialist who needs to be in the right environment to contribute at a high level for his team. We can say that, “if Tyreke only would develop a jump shot…” all day long, but the truth is that the best he likely get to is below average (from horrible). He has worked on his jump shot for years, and there has been only slight improvement. It is not a laziness issue; some guys are just not capable of excelling in that area. Tony Allen is one of the hardest working guys in the NBA and he has never developed consistent range, for instance.

But he doesn’t necessarily need that to be a great player or to earn his paycheck. We have seen him have an enormous impact on this team when healthy, and when he was put into lineups that complimented him. Evans has some components of his game that he still has to work on, so don’t mistake this as me saying that he is blameless for his recent struggles, but a much bigger part of the equation is figuring out how to get the most out of his current skill sets.

We have enough data to know who he can play with and who he can not perform with at a high level. Dell Demps made a bold move to go get perhaps the best version on Ryan Anderson available on the market in Luke Babbitt, and now Monty Williams has to try and use him in a similar capacity. That should open some lanes for Evans, and eventually we should see the production increase again. The rib injury might not be fully healed until after All-Star break, but there is reason to be cautiously optimistic that full health + Luke Babbitt will equal a return to the norm for Tyreke.

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