On July 7th, the news broke of the Memphis Grizzlies signing Tyreke Evans to a one-year, 3.3-million-dollar deal. This University of Memphis alumnus was coming back home. It was a free agent signing that drew some questions at the time, as Evans was coming off a few years of on and off injuries with the Sacramento Kings and the New Orleans Pelicans. Either way, he was still a guy who averaged 14.8 points per game in his last four years. Memphis could use a guy like that.
The Grizzlies took the chance on this one-year contract with the message of it being a low risk while giving Evans the chance to show the team how he can contribute. With all the moving pieces to the roster this offseason, was Evans the right move?
Eight games into the season, the answer has been a resounding yes. So far this year, injuries have cleared the way for Evans to have a much more prominent role in this Grizzlies’ lineup. Ben McLemore and Wayne Selden Jr. have yet to see the court this year, and a first game ankle sprain has sidelined JaMychal Green for a couple weeks now. All of these factors combine for there to be more minutes divided up between this deep bench, and to this point most importantly, Tyreke Evans.
For Tyreke Evans’s whole career, he has been a player who can score at will while possessing the ball-handling intangibles that set him above other guys at his size. He has the great ability to drive to the paint with his length and quickness anytime he wants. The alpha dog mentality does limit the passing from Evans some when he drives in, but that’s just what you sign up for with this player. He is hell on wheels, often attacking the rim with reckless abandon.
The uptick in minutes early on this season has given him the chance to be the third highest scoring player on the Grizzlies. Evans is averaging 15.6 points a game in 25.4 minutes a game, which is the fifth most minutes on the team. Coming off a season-high 32 points against the Magic Wednesday night, he is playing in prime form right now.
In this clip, Evans is using his finishing ability against Luc Mbah A Moute, a 6’8” versatile defender, to drive the paint. Even as Evans is off balance, notice how his wingspan and length help him create shots around the basket up and over an outstretched Clint Capela as well. This type of play was the staple of his career before the Grizzlies. Now he’s added to that formula a bit, extending his range to the outside.
Tyreke’s shooting from the charity stripe and beyond the arc are what have taken him to another level this year. He’s well above his career average for field goal, three-point, and free-throw percentage. His career splits are .444/.301/.757. And this year his splits are .470/.457/.833 through eight games. Undersized defenders must sag off or fall under screens in a hopeful attempt to stay with him if he drives to the rim. However, he’s pulling up this year, shooting off the dribble at a much higher rate than previous seasons.
As seen here, 6’3” point guard Jrue Holliday chooses to go underneath the Gasol screen because of Evans’s driving threat. Likewise, Anthony Davis has to sit back because of Marc Gasol’s offensive ability. This results in a good pull up look from Evans who drains the three-pointer.
There are numerous examples of this so far in the first eight games for the Grizzlies. Evans has been taking quality open shots or understanding when to take on the defender to the rim.
The overall impact to the game has stood out the most over this small sample size. It isn’t only his shooting either. He’s also averaging 5.9 rebounds a game which is second on the team. Evans has his nose in every play which is a major indication these numbers are here to stay.
Another statistical indicator of this is a Player Efficiency Rating. This is a standardized measure of per-minute production - the league average is 15. Currently, Evans’s PER is 22.4. That ranks 25th(!) among all NBA players averaging more than 20 minutes per game. It’s quite remarkable thinking back to this summer when Tyreke was only an injury liability question mark. Among the Grizzlies, his PER leads the team and goes to prove how efficient his game has been this year.
Even after his stats did balloon after his game against Orlando, Evans surely has the ability to keep this up throughout the year as long as health isn’t an issue. His mentality this season is something we never saw in his years with New Orleans. With his confidence and the quick trigger to pull up from anywhere, defenders will not be able to sag back from guarding on the perimeter. This will keep Tyreke in the driver’s seat, having the advantage to control where he wants to go off the dribble. It’s this important versatility that he will continue to dominate with.
Coach Fizdale may have a decision coming up soon about whether to insert Evans into the starting lineup until one of these injured players get back. Andrew Harrison (-0.1 VORP!!), James Ennis III, and Jarell Martin are all question marks in the starting rotation. It may not be good to tinker with what’s been working for Evans, but you’ve got to wonder how the integration of Wayne Selden Jr and Ben McLemore will affect Evans in the lineup.
Only time will tell, but either way, the continued dominance is something to expect in all categories. Tyreke Evans looks to become a fan favorite among all the Memphis Faithful.
All Stats provided by Basketball Reference. Video provided by 3ball.io.