New Orleans Pelicans Season In Review: Tyreke Evans

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Published: April 29, 2015

Let’s get one thing straight – If it weren’t for Tyreke Evans this season, the Pelicans wouldn’t have sniffed the playoffs. He is a polarizing player that can be seen by some as an unstoppable offensive force and by others as an out-of-control liability, but both camps agree that he is as tough as they come and that he put the Pelicans on his back for stretches this season. The debate with Evans comes when people question his fit or whether the good outweighs the bad by a large enough amount to be able to depend on him as a key piece once the postseason arrives.

There is no consensus on Tyreke, and there probably never will be because his game is a collection of highs and lows that makes it impossible to put him (and keep him) on one side of the fence as opposed to the other. Without question, he is the most complex player to evaluate on this roster, maybe ever. But with our first season in review of the offseason, let’s try to give it our best shot.

The Good

Points Generated

The Pelicans were 8th in offensive rating this year, and so much of that is due to Tyreke Evans. Evans contributed more to this team than any other Pelican, as his points and assists added up to 2537 Pelicans points in 79 games (32.1 per game) and he basically contributed a point per minute to the Pelicans, again the highest on the team. A little over one-third of Tyreke’s assists led to 3-point shots, as his 521 assists led to 1224 Pelicans points. Tyreke gets into the lane and can score, but he also sucks a defense in, which leaves guys open behind the arc. Time and time again, Tyreke found these guys and the Pelicans offense was dynamic because of it when Tyreke got going.

In Pelicans wins, Tyreke’s scoring goes up about 12%, but the real difference between wins and losses is Tyreke’s assist numbers, which jump 45% in wins versus losses. When Tyreke can get into the lane, it opens things up for the entire team and when he is off the court or faces a matchup that is not a good one for him (more on this later), then the Pelicans offense goes from a top 10 unit to a bottom 3 unit. Now, a lot of that has to do with the fact that many of the minutes Tyreke plays are with AD and many of the minutes with him on the bench also feature AD on the bench, but Tyreke was still the engine that kept that machine running.

Tyreke was the one guy on this team that could create offense when something broke down once Holiday got injured. Less than a third of his field goal attempts were assisted on as Tyreke lead the NBA this year in total drives with 940, about 10% more than James Harden. And his drives created more points (when you factor in both points he scored and assists, Kobe assists, FT assists, etc.) than every player outside of James Harden and Ty Lawson. Quite simply, Tyreke kept prodding defenses over and over again, and the result was a top 10 offense for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Playing Through Pain

Tyreke Evans missed just three games this year, despite being listed as “questionable” on the Pelicans injury report over 20 times. Knee and ankle issues plagued him all season, but he fought through all of those issues and played the most games and minutes for the Pelicans this season. For Evans, it was a career high in both games and minutes, and the Pelicans needed every single ounce of effort he gave them to make the playoffs.

Isolation Defense

Tyreke Evans off the ball is a nightmare. On the ball, in isolation, he is elite. According to the Synergy stats, he ranked in the 96th percentile in these situations, allowing just 0.53 points per possession. Guys shoot just 22.7% against him in those situations, and I watched each of these possessions and you can see why. Tyreke has plenty of length, so he can play off a guy and bothers a guy with his strength when the player drives. Of high minute perimeter players this season, only Jae Crowder and Aaron Afflalo finished with better numbers.

Shot Selection

chart-2

 

Tyreke takes the vast majority of his shots inside the paint. Second most frequent shot is behind the arc. Only 13% of his shots come in the “dumb zone”, and in theory, that is ideal. The issue is that Tyreke shoots a below average percentage at the rim and behind the arc. But at least the idea is a good one.

Performance With Asik? 

I put a question mark here because I was simply confused when I came across this. His field goal percentage in the restricted area goes up and his 3-point shooting goes WAY up (35% compared to 23%). I think this can be attributed to Asik’s tremendous screens and Tyreke’s ability to know how to use them. Asik’s offensive rebounding also goes WAY up (11.5% to 14.3%) with Tyreke on the floor, as opposed to off, for obvious reasons I would say.

The Bad

Performance Against Top Interior Defenses

It is no secret what Tyreke wants to do on offense. He wants to get to the rim, and teams who can contest his shots there give him problems. Look at him vs. a team like Indiana who plays physical and has a monster in the paint. Evans went 9-23 against them this year and had his shot blocked 5 times. In fact, do you want to know why the Pelicans were so terrible against the East? Well, 9 of the top 12 paint defenses reside out there. Tyreke was awful against Indiana, Orlando, Washington, Charlotte, and Philadelphia – all games Pelicans fans point to when they say we should have had a better record. While none of those teams were good overall, they were great paint defenses and Tyreke shot 36% against those teams combined. And since the Pels were so dependent on Tyreke Evans this year, it is no surprise that they went 3-7 in those games despite arguably being better than all of them. Take a look at Tyreke’s shot chart in the two losses against Washington (a top 3 paint defense) for instance.

Tyreke Evans

You look at who Tyreke played well against this year and aside from a few quality games against Chicago and Memphis, he seemingly just racked up his stats against the poor defenses or the defenses without a paint protector. I mean, he crushed Toronto, Sacramento, Houston, and Minnesota this year. Those teams ranked 23, 24, 26, and 30 in points allowed in the paint this season respectively. Golden State finished just outside of the top 10 in paint defense, mostly because of Bogut being gone for a while, but in the 7 games where Tyreke and Bogut both played, Tyreke shot just 32.8%.

So, if that is who Tyreke is, then you have to hope for one of three things:

1. He can improve this (unlikely)

2. You avoid top interior defenses all the way through the playoffs (extremely unlikely)

3. You put yourself in a situation where you don’t have to rely on Tyreke and can get by without him in a series if need be (possible, but not ideal)

Clutch Scoring

25-76 from the field (32.9%)

1-13 from behind the arc (7.7%)

22-31 from the line (71%)

In the last 5 minutes of games, with the Pelicans ahead or behind by 5 points or less, Tyreke was one of the least efficient players in the NBA. 76 field goal attempts, 91 used possessions, 73 points. That’s really, really bad. And if you narrow it down to the last two minutes of games where the margin is tight, the percentages get even worse. However, maybe you can say that his misses were part of the reason AD’s clutch field goal percentage was so high, as we saw Tyreke draw the attention of a lot of guys in those moments and AD follow up his misses with a slam. Still, I’d rather he just make the shot in the first place.

Off-Ball Defense

He got praised for his on-ball defense, but his off-ball defense is terrible, and both our eyes and the numbers back that up. While Evans ranked in the 96th percentile on ball in isolation situations, he was in the 18th percentile against spot up shooters. He got lost far too often, stared at the ball instead of keeping an eye on his man, and/or played too far off his guy and couldn’t recover. Off ball defense was something that Monty has brought up several times since Tyreke joined the team, and quite frankly, it hasn’t improved in the two years he has been here despite Monty’s efforts to help him improve in that area.

Tyreke in Transition

We all want this team to pick up the pace, but maybe we should be careful what we wish for. Tyreke Evans is the guy who pushes the ball and he is just not good in transition. His effective field goal percentage in transition is only 54.4% and his turnover rate jumps up to 20%. All told, he scored just 0.94 points per possession in the 327 transition opportunities he got this season, which put him in the 22nd percentile. Again, this is another example of stats backing up our eye test. So many transition opportunities left us just scratching our head as Tyreke made a pass too early or too late or he simply missed a slightly contested layup. In all the opportunities Tyreke led a fast break, the Pelicans scored 1 or more points just 46.5% of the time. Of the 34 guys with 200 or more opportunities, only Kyle Lowry and Derrick Rose finished worse, and many of the other guys finished significantly higher.

Somewhere in the Middle (The Trade Offs)

3-Point Rate Up, Free Throw Rate Down

Tyreke’s 3-pt rate was a career high (19.5%) and his FT rate was a career low (25%), and as a result his true shooting percentage stayed about the same despite the massive jump in 3-pt attempts. Tyreke still took the ball to the rim a lot, but the non-restricted area paint shots were reduced dramatically. There was a 30% drop off in free throw attempts per shot this year vs. his last two years and you have to wonder if that has to do with the fact that he has faith in his jump shot. It was an issue I raised last year, and one I am still curious about. One other thing I am curious about is if he is losing explosion. In his rookie year, he had 209 shooting fouls drawn and was blocked 83 times. This year in very similar minutes, he drew 124 shooting fouls and was blocked 112 times.

One thing people say to me all the time is that Tyreke just has to watch tape of a guy like James Harden and learn how to draw free throws by watching him. That would be like saying that Asik needs to watch tape on Anthony Davis to figure out how to finish alley-oops better. Harden draws free throws because of his agility more than anything else. The defender thinks he gets to a spot before Harden but then Harden wiggles to a new spot, and all of a sudden it is a block instead of a charge. As I said last year, I would have Tyreke work on his fitness and his agility more than his jump shot. But what do I know?

Assist Rate Up, Turnover Rate Up

Forced to play more point guard this year, it is no surprise that both his turnover rate and assist rate went up. In the games Holiday missed, he had an outstanding 38.2% assist percentage, averaging 7.6 assists per game in just 34 minutes. That assist percentage would have been #1 in the entire NBA amongst starters, and #3 overall behind backup guards Andre Miller and Steve Blake. Problem is that his TO rate jumped too and only Rondo and MCW would have been higher amongst starting guards. Specifically, the charges were a problem, as they increased by 55% this season over last year.

Moving Forward

Tyreke Evans has 2 years and $21 million left on his contract, which is at the very least proper value, and it could possibly be a steal if Tyreke keeps improving as the cap goes way up. But despite having a year in which he led the team in games, minutes, and points created, he will always be the subject of trade rumors because of the Pelicans odd roster construction. Evans said himself that he would prefer to start and that he plays his best at point guard. If Jrue Holiday is back healthy next year, it will be hard for him to play point guard exclusively, and if Eric Gordon returns as well, it is unlikely that he would start.

Though he doesn’t love it, Tyreke might be best utilized as a high usage 2nd unit guy who comes in midway through the 1st quarter and changes the game. In that role, he doesn’t have to worry about conserving energy or running an offense with precision. Instead, he could just come in and ‘Reke Havoc’ for a couple of minutes and completely change the game if he is on. If you want to see an example of this, look no further than the game before Jrue Holiday got injured. Tyreke came off the bench against Memphis. Evans came in with 5 minutes left in the first and contributed 7 of the 9 Pelicans points to finish the quarter. Then, he started the second quarter and scored a team-high 9 points in that frame. And to close it out, he was fresh in the 4th and led the team with 8 points in that period. Buzzer sounds and the Pelicans win by 11 as Tyreke has 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists in just under 33 minutes.

That game a perfect example of what this roster can do if it staggers its stars properly. Tyreke led the team in scoring in two quarters, AD led in one, and Jrue led in the other. All five of the main offensive weapons scored 13+ and each averaged well over a point per attempt. Tyreke and Ryan Anderson had a massive usage rate both coming off the bench, and it worked for the Pelicans, as Davis and Holiday were able to get their looks as well because of the staggered units. But if one of the other guards is moved, Tyreke can be a starter as well – though he is better suited to play with Jrue than Eric Gordon due to Jrue’s ability to play elite defense and share the ball handling duties.

But what if the Pelicans decide that Tyreke is the guy they want to move? What can they fetch for him coming off of perhaps his most impressive overall season since his rookie year? It’s hard to say because he is such a unique player and he really needs to dominate the ball to have a significant impact for your team. If you don’t need a ball dominant guy, then you might take Tyreke, but you won’t give up anything of value for him. So, you would need to find a team without a ball dominant guard that has a system that needs a ball dominant guard, and when your search criteria gets that narrow, it is hard to identify a team.

Maybe if the Nuggets move on from Lawson or if the Knicks want to rush their rebuild, they could be potential suitors, but the reality is that Tyreke probably has more value to the Pelicans than he does to any other team right now. Because of that, I fully expect him to return next season and be a significant part of the team. What won’t be known for a while is what his exact role will be, because that all depends on Jrue Holiday and his recovery. If Holiday is back, it just makes sense to move Tyreke to the bench to start games. But even if that happens, his minutes should stay about the same, and his stats might even go up since his usage will be higher and his efficiency should improve playing against 2nd units.

If Jrue returns to form, I would make Tyreke Evans the clear cut favorite to win the Sixth Man of the Year award next season, and could even see him as a dark horse for an All-Star birth if he plays the Ginobli role for an elite Pelicans team. He won’t do it in the same way Manu did, but the raw stats might be even more impressive because Evans has been a fantastic rebounder with second unit guys the past two years. And that is what Tyreke is to the Pelicans in an ideal world, as it allows him to utilize his strengths while masking some of his weaknesses.

Tyreke is not a guy you want playing with his head for 36 minutes a game and he is not a guy you want playing under control for every minute he is on the court. We saw that he was forced to do that late in the year, and sometimes it worked out great, but often times it slowed down our offense and grinded the Pelicans to a halt when he ran into one of the bad match ups I posted above. Coming off the bench would allow Tyreke to go full throttle for 4-5 minute spurts, while also playing more under control with starters at other parts of the game. If he is going well and/or it is a good matchup, you can still get him 36-38 minutes and let him finish games. If its a bad matchup, you don’t have to lean on him to run your team or perform well against opponents starters at the end of a game.

Tyreke Evans is a very good basketball player, but he is a guy that can be great if utilized properly and could look awful if he is forced to shoulder a heavy load against a team with a good interior defense. With a healthy Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon, the Pelicans have an opportunity to use him in an ideal way, and if they do, Tyreke can be one of the best values in the league over the next two seasons.

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