Old Habits Die Hard

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Published: December 17, 2015

I want to share something I was taught with you. Now it isn’t that complex of an idea, and you may already have an understanding of its message but basically it goes like this:

To change who you are you have to change how you think and how you act.

Ground breaking stuff I know.

Example: You try to work out more, but every time you do, your brain asks you “why are we doing this? We don’t normally do this.” That right there is not your brain telling you not to work out, it is your brain asking “are you sure you want to do this?” Your brain cannot say no if you decide to work out, but it can make you question your decision.

Every time you go against what you normally do, your brain asks, “is this who we are or is what we normally do who we are?” which makes it hard to change what you normally do. It will do this until you reach that point where your new routine becomes habit. When your new habit becomes part of the self-image held in the brain. The message is that you can consciously control your self-image. If you put in the work and time you can change anything, be anything.

Supposedly it takes a minimum of 3 weeks to break from an “old mental image.” And we are talking habits like working out a couple times a week, waking up earlier, eating a fruit or veggie with lunch, little things. Obviously a lot more work and effort would go into changing an approach to your profession that has been built up and established over your entire lifetime.

Tyreke Evans, the guy everyone expected to push the pace for the Pelicans this season, holds a self-image as a basketball player that does not mesh with the image of the team Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry envisioned. There has been a LOT of talk about his fit in this high pace, motion offense. There are only so many ways to say Evans’ fit in this system has been terrible so far… but how many exactly? Here are 7 stats through Tyreke’s first 7 games this season that show what I am talking about:

  1. Evans has an average speed on the court of 4.01 miles per hour. As a team this season the Pels run at an average speed of 4.26mph. On average he moves slower than Tayshaun Prince, Ryan Anderson, Alexis Ajinca, and Andrea Bragnani.
  1. Off the ball New Orleans is 4th in the league with an average speed of 4.70mph. Evans’ average off the ball speed is 4.51mph, slower than all the other guards and wings currently on the team.
  1. Evans has the 5th least distance traveled per minute on the court on the Pelicans (least among guards).
  1. When he is on the floor, the Pels have a pace of 97.29, the lowest on/off mark on the team. When he is off the court, the Pels have a pace of 100.4, 3rd highest on/off mark on the team. Again, slowest pace when he is on the court, 3rd fastest when he is off the court.
  1. He is leading the team in touches/game at 84.1, next closest is Davis at 71.1. On top of that he averages 4.57 seconds per touch, highest on the team. He touches the ball the most, and when he touches it, he holds onto the longest.
  1. His average time of possession is actually 13th in the league. Everyone around him on that list is a better scorer, facilitator, or just better at running the team’s offense.
  1. Tyreke is only being assisted on 24.4% of his field goals, the lowest of his career. He is also assisting on 36.6% of everyone else’s field goals when he is on the court, the highest of his career. When he scores he is creating it himself and when other people score he is creating it for them. No sharing here.

Can he change though?

Our own Michael McNamara has been pretty vocal that many of the Pelicans players should be looked at with the possibility that they may be a sunk cost at this point. While I loved the piece and agree with the premise, if we are looking at Tyreke Evans, are we at the point where we can unanimously consider him a sunk cost? Can we say he is definitely a bad fit for this system and that won’t change? I think it is too early to pull the plug.

For starters Evans looked “better” in his 8th game last night, a win against the Utah Jazz, than he did through the majority of his first 7. I say “better” because he didn’t have a particularly efficient night (4-12 from the field with 3 turnovers), but he got the ball out of his hands a lot quicker and the entire offense benefited from it. 3.7 seconds per touch last night was a season low. In crunch time the ball movement didn’t completely go away like it had in previous games, and look what happened, a win!

3 weeks was supposedly the “minimum” amount of time required to break a habit, but according to more recent studies and the first result of my Google search, it takes on average 66 days to establish a new habit like eating a fruit at lunch or running for 15 minutes a day. I am no psychologist, I have no idea if those numbers are true, but I don’t care. The idea that it would take time to break deep seeded habits makes sense, so let’s remember that Evans has only played 260 minutes in 8 games this season, less than Alexis Ajinca and Luke Babbitt.

This season the players have much more control and responsibility on the court than in years past. Tyreke has always been able to run things his way, so everyone, especially Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry, should have expected some initial struggle with that freedom. We are seeing many of Tyreke’s “bad habits” exposed, but that is a step in correcting them. Moving the ball (and off the ball) has never been so emphasized and holding on to the ball has never been so discouraged in his career after all.

His most efficient season, his last season in Sacramento, happened to be the one he had the ball the least. That season he had the highest percent of his made baskets assisted in his career (41.0%). This would lead one to believe he can break from this self image that he has of himself dominating the ball, and it can be a good thing.

That last year in Sacramento, Evans had DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas ahead of him in the pecking order. Even Marcus Thornton had a higher usage% than Evans, who ranked 6th on the team. In New Orleans, Davis is really the only one clearly above him and there is no Isaiah Thomas taking ball handling away from him. Tyreke has been the main ball handler the majority of his minutes so far, but that could change as Holiday’s restrictions come off.

Last season Holiday and Evans were a good pairing. They were the best 2-man lineup on the Pelicans that didn’t involve Anthony Davis. In the 79 minutes Holiday and Evans have played together this season they have been great. With Holiday, Evans is shooting 59.4% from the field (19 of 32). Without him (181 minutes), Evans is 26 of 74 (35.1%). I’m not saying Evans will completely turn this around. I’m not saying I wouldn’t be open to moving him. But I am saying that Evans doesn’t have to be a perfect fit for running the system for him to a good for the Pelicans. Before the season people picked him as the guy to run the offense, but if that is not the case, he can still fit next to a ever-improving Holiday.

I also want to remind everyone that despite the record the Pelicans are just 4 games behind the 8th seeded Denver Nuggets. Since the 1-11 start the team has gone 6-7 (.500 basketball should sound familiar to Pelicans’ fans). Give this backcourt more than 79 minutes in a completely new style of play with a completely new coaching staff before you pull the plug. There is a lot of basketball left to play.

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