Curry or Evans: The Lake Debate
After back-to-back contests against leading ROY candidates, the Lakers weigh in.
by Jonathan Santiago / @ITSjonsantiago
With the NBA regular season nearing its finale, the contests for league awards are heating up. And one of the most talked about races is this season’s Rookie of the Year chase. From fans to pundits, everyone has their own opinion of who should come away with this year’s honors.
But, after back-to-back games against the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers might have the best insight on at least two of this year’s front runners.
On Monday, the Lakers squared off against Stephen Curry and his Warriors in their fourth and final meeting of the ‘09-10 campaign. And Curry played easily one of his best games of the season, shooting five of nine from beyond the arc, dishing nine assists with no turnovers and scoring 29 points. And if not for teammate Monta Ellis’ missed tying-three pointer, his night could have been bigger with an extra period of play.
Then Tuesday evening, the Lakers drove down Interstate 80 and challenged Tyreke Evans and his Kings. The former Memphis Tiger, who posted a triple-double against the Toronto Raptors last Wednesday and was only a rebound shy of another against the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday, almost did it again. Evans finished with 25 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists.
So after seeing both Curry and Evans post huge numbers on them consecutive nights, what do the defending champs think of the two?
“They’re both (tough to game plan against),” Lakers forward Ron Artest said of Curry and Evans. “It’s really hard to stop them.
“You know it’s like you take one thing away,” Artest continued. “Then they got something else for you.”
Despite the Lakers victory over his former ball club, Artest was more subdued than jovial in the locker room. He looked exhausted after spending much of the evening guarding Evans, perhaps indicative of the talent the Sacramento rookie brings to the table.
Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson would agree.
“He showed a lot of capabilities against a strong defensive player like Ron,” Jackson said of Evans during his postgame comments outside the Lakers’ locker room. “(Artest is) a power player, where Evans is more of a finesse player than a point guard.”
Lakers forward/center Pau Gasol doesn’t face the nightly grind of defending players like Evans and Curry one-on-one. But, he still can attest to the different challenges team defenses must account for when playing the two.
“Curry has got great ball-handling and shooting,” Gasol said. “And Tyreke really (gets) in the lane and uses his size very well…They’re both great players and I think they have a bright future ahead of them.”
But out of all the thoughts expressed by the Lakers on Curry and Evans, the following opinion may matter the most.
“Steph’s a phenomenal player,” reigning Finals MVP, Kobe Bryant said. “But Tyreke — that’s a grown-ass man.”
Curry, who has the complexion of a high-school sophomore, has improved statistically as the season has progressed, from averaging around 13 points in October, November and December to nearly 20 points per game in March, February and January.
On the other hand, Evans has been consistent all year long, pacing himself to a healthy line of 20 points, 5.2 rebounds and five assists per game. Those are first-year averages only three other men in NBA history can claim — Oscar Robertson, LeBron James and Michael Jordan.
“I maybe a little biased too because I’m from Philadelphia,” Bryant, referencing his and Evans’ Pennsylvanian roots, said with a grin. “Philly guys have the all-around game.”
In the end, however, Bryant refused to make a choice between the two.
“They’re two different players,” he said. “I love what Steph does in his own right. Tyreke does what he does in his own right. I’m not going to compare who is better.”
It’s safe to say the debate will rage on until a winner is given his due.
Jonathan Santiago also co-hosts the weekly Davis Sports Deli Podcast, which can be found here.