Top 50: Tyreke Evans, no. 27
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
If this were my Top 50, Tyreke Evans would be ranked way higher than the 27th best player in the NBA. I voted Reke at No. 12, although I knew he had no chance of landing there on the final list.
After a historic rookie campaign in which he joined LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only members of the rookie 20-5-5 club and earned Rookie of the Year honors, Evans’ numbers dipped across the board in ’10-11, and his Sacramento Kings finished with a relatively abysmal 24-58 record, good for 14th in the Western Conference. Reke’s sophomore slump could be attributed to several setbacks, all which reverted to a lingering foot injury.
While competing for a Team USA roster spot last July, Evans suffered a sprained left ankle in the first practice of training camp when he came down on the foot of North Carolina forward Tyler Zeller, a member of the college select team. The ankle injury wiped out Evans for the rest of the summer.
Seemingly healthy for the start of the NBA season, Tyreke played well through his first 20 games, averaging 16.5 points, 5.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds. But after scoring only five points on 2-10 shooting in a December loss to the Miami Heat, Evans sat out the following game against the Houston Rockets with a sore left foot. Kings fans didn’t think much of it, and rightfully so; Evans returned to the hardwood the following night against New Orleans, and over the next 11 games he averaged 18.5 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds.
The left foot injury resurfaced in early January, this time causing Tyreke to miss three consecutive games. But again, the Chester, PA native returned for the next 15 games, eight of which he scored in double figures.
Although his team was losing (13-38 at that point), the youthful Kings were growing and continuing to gel. First-round draft pick DeMarcus Cousins was exceptional (despite early foul troubles), producing as a top-tier center in only his first season. Guard Beno Udrih played consistently well, and veteran Carl Landry (later traded to New Orleans) was a viable double-double threat off the bench.
In mid-February, a diagnosis on Evans’ left foot added insult to injury (pun certainly intended). What was once believed to be a sprained ankle/sore foot was actually plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot which leads to pain on the heel of the foot and often extends under the sole of the foot. PF can become quite severe, and takes months to properly heal. The injury persisted and eventually required laser surgery.
In a recent interview with SLAM editor Adam Figman, Evans’ strength and conditioning coach Lamont Peterson said Tyreke couldn’t walk when he would wake up in the morning and that “he had to limp to the bathroom.”
“It was like someone stabbed [my foot] with a knife,” Evans added. “It was a tough season for me.”
Tough season indeed. The fact that Reke played in 57 games under such conditions is a testament to his dedication and pain tolerance. When suffering from PF, the act of running and jumping can put up to five times the amount of pressure on the foot than walking does, so for a drive-and-create-contact type of player like Reke, the effects of the injury trickled down from his game to the entire Kings offense.
For a franchise in limbo—both financially and on the court—the last thing the Kings needed last season was a step backwards. But with Tyreke finally healthy and a plethora of young talent on its roster, Sacramento is well positioned to breakout next season (whenever that may be).
At 6-6, 220 pounds, Evans is a matchup nightmare for opposing point guards. His monstrous frame overwhelms smaller defenders, enabling him to enter the paint at will. If you don’t possess the lateral quickness of a Derrick Rose or the pestering hands of a Rajon Rondo, you won’t stand much of a chance against Tyreke Evans. Coaches know this, too.
Consider a Kings-Lakers tilt last November, in which Lakers coach Phil Jackson quickly realized the aging and undersized Derrick Fisher didn’t stand a chance to contain Reke. His solution: glue Ron Artest to Tyreke… at half court.
With deceptively quick feet and ambidextrous dribbling skills, Evans is able to plant his foot and change direction on a dime, a la Rose and Dwyane Wade. Except he’s 6-6, 220. Similar to LeBron James, Reke is blessed with certain skills that are uncommon and frankly unnatural for someone his size, which in turn makes him virtually un-guardable. It’s like a positive mutation. Don’t mistake Evans’ humility for aloofness, either; the kid wants to win more than anyone, he just doesn’t embrace the spotlight. Tyreke Evans is a low-key guy playing in a low-key city. Just the way he wants it.
With the off-season additions of Jimmer Fredette, JJ Hickson and John Salmons, and the continued growth of Cousins (another player whose skill set doesn’t match his body: 6-11 immovable object with a jumpshot), the future looks bright in California’s capital.
Drafting Fredette gives the Kings two viable options to run the point and advance the basketball, both in half-court sets and transition. When Tyreke overpowers his defender on the perimeter, the defense will be forced to pick its poison—play help D and leave Jimmer open on the wing (um, gimme that), or give Reke the open lane.
In Hickson, Sacramento gets a young, talented power forward to compliment Cousins down low. Hickson plays above the rim, has a feisty motor and feeds off energy, something ARCO Arena never lacks.
Salmons returns to the Kings, this time as an experienced veteran who can score in bunches and also help the team’s infant-like core develop.
Sacramento is a young team ready to bubble, similar to the ’09 Oklahoma City Thunder. And with a healthy Evans leading the way, the Kings will Reke Havoc for years to come.
|SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011|
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.