No matter how good a player is, the focus always seems to be on what he needs to improve. And make no mistake, even the all-time greats had weaknesses; nobody is a perfect basketball player. The tendency then, is to talk about what the player needs to improve in order to get better, but what people tend to forget is that sometimes improving in one area might have unintended negative consequences in other areas.
Would it be nice if Tyreke Evans had a more consistent jump shot? Sure, I am not going to sit here and advocate for a guy to miss jump shots rather than make them. But, let’s not ignore the possible dangers either. If you grew up watching basketball in the 90’s, you probably remember Patrick Ewing as a great jump shooting center. He didn’t start off that way, though. Initially, he was extremely raw offensively and was much closer to Tyson Chandler or Andre Drummond than what he became later in his career. As any Knick fan from back then and they will tell you that they hated when he started hitting his jumper, because that meant he would fall in love with it and he would stop posting up. Early on, Ewing regularly shot 55 – 57% from the field, but once he started focusing on his jumper, those numbers plummeted to 46 – 48%.
Ewing became more versatile, but by turning a weakness into a quasi-strength, he also sacrificed what was already clearly a strength for him and his overall game suffered as a result. And it is not like Patrick Ewing is the only example of this; it is quite common. In fact, let’s talk about an even better comparison for Tyreke.
The Case of Rajon Rondo
If you read my articles or listen to the podcast, you probably know that I think that ‘a bigger Rajon Rondo’ is the best player comparison for Tyreke. They are two guys who can get into the paint at will, rebound well for guards, are terrors in the open court, and can get their teammates easy looks. For years, people said that Rondo needed only a better jump shot to make himself an elite guard. But guess what happened? He improved that shot and has now started to fall in love with it and because of that we just witnessed the least efficient season of his career.
Coming into this season, Rondo’s three-point rate was under 6 percent. This season, it is at nearly 26 percent! At his peak, he was taking nearly 56% of his shots within three feet of the basket. This season, just 32.6% of his shots are from within three feet. And it’s no surprise that with more threes and less shots at the rim, his free throw rate has plummeted as well – from as high as 41% his rookie year to just 19% this year.
Fans and even stat geeks like myself love the three, because hitting it at even a decent rate is so much more valuable than hitting twos at good rates, but for special talents like Rondo, that just doesn’t hold up. At his peak, Rondo was shooting 65% at the rim, meaning that he would have to hit 44% of his threes to be more efficient from beyond the arc as he was at the rim. Now I know that we have this unproven, yet somehow prevailing logic that “If a guy is a threat from the outside, it makes it easier for him to get to the rim. It opens up other parts of his game.”
If that is true, then why does Rondo’s highest FG percentage at the rim coincide with the seasons that he took the fewest jump shots and his lowest FG percentages at the rim coincide with the years he took the most threes? The fact is that guys like Rondo and Tyreke can get to the basket at will, and they don’t even need the threat of a jumper to do so. If you play too far off them, it gives them a chance to get their momentum up and they will hit you with a eurostep that you can’t defend. If you crowd them, they get right past you and use strength (Evans) or creativity (Rondo) to finish.
Honestly, the trick to guys like this is not to necessarily improve on their weaknesses, but to get them on the court with the right complimentary pieces. Rondo and Evans can get past the first guy every time. What they have problems with are the second and third guy waiting for them at the rim if you don’t have an offensive weapon on the court that the defense has to worry about. Perhaps adding a better mid-range jumper helps in those situations – something Rondo did even in the years he was going to the rim a lot – but, a three-point shot is not something that needs to be the focus of either guys’ game for them to be an elite offensive player.
What Should Evans Work On?
If Evans improves his mid-range and three-point shot, and let’s say he improves both by 5%, that would only have added 27 points to his season totals this year. If he were to add a field goal percentage increase of 5% on his shots between 0-3 feet, he would have added 56 points to his season total. Extend that to all of the shots in the paint and you are looking at adding a total of 84 additional points to his season total.
It just makes sense for him to take the thing that he does at an elite level (get to the rim) and improve on the secondary part of the equation (finishing at the rim). An increase in explosiveness could help him finish, as could improvement in his technique – Evans takes his eyes off the rim before he finishes quite often. In fact, improving his vision when he drives hard will help in other areas too. Evans has had shooters open on numerous occasions when the defense collapses and there is almost always a lob opportunity when AD is on the court.
Does that mean he should completely ignore his jump shot? Of course not. The summer should never be used to work exclusively on one or two aspects of your game. A player should always be improving, both physically and mentally. The mid-range shot off the dribble should be a focus as well, as he gets that shot quite often when he curls off a screen and his defender goes under. In one summer, Rajon Rondo went from a 32% shooter on his mid-range jumpers to a 46% shooter on that same shot. That same year, Rondo’s three-point rate actually went down and his true shooting percentage took the biggest jump of his career.
Another thing that Tyreke can stand to improve on is his post game. He has posted up just 56 times this year. The good news? He got fouled on 11 of those attempts. The bad news? He turned the ball over on 15 of those possessions. The in between news is that he went just 10 of 28 on post ups. Next season, he will likely exclusively play at one of the guard positions, meaning that he should have either a strength or a foot quickness advantage over his defender (sometimes both). Evans would be smart to improve his post game, both learning how to score out of it and pass out of it when teams double. Imagine Tyreke on a smaller guard in the post with Anderson, Holiday, and Morrow around the three-point line and Davis spotting up at 17 feet, willing to rim run if his defenders leaves to double.
Tyreke Evans can stand to improve his outside shot, but it should not be the top priority this summer. Evans has never had even an average jump shot and he has been able to dominate games in spite of that. His ability to get to the rim and his brute strength combined with his quickness and phenomenal ball handling is what makes him unique in this league. There are hundreds of guys who can shoot the ball from the perimeter, and several of them on this roster in fact. The move should not be to make Evans more like them, instead it should be to take his strengths and take what he does well to the next level. A Tyreke Evans who can finish at the rim at a higher level and dominate smaller guards in the post will be a one-of-a-kind weapon.
That is the foundation of his game. Make the foundation as strong as possible. Work on the landscaping later.