Tyreke Evans has had a very impressive rookie year with the Sacramento Kings, averaging 20.3 points, 5.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. You won’t find too many people who will dispute that. Much like the witch hunt above, though, there are still mobs of people who insist that he can’t be a point guard. “He only averages five assists per game!” “He takes too many shots!” “He’s too big!” “He’s a shooting guard! Burn him!”
This is already playing into much of the analysis of the Kings’ decision to trade Kevin Martin late last night. Martin was their starting shooting guard, but had struggled through injuries for much of this year. When he returned, there were plenty of comments that Martin and Evans would never be able to play together, and some have even seen that idea as the primary motivation behind this trade (although Zach Harper shot that down pretty nicely).
What’s missing from the suggestion that Martin and Evans are an incompatible backcourt tandem because Evans takes a lot of shots is that that pairing was actually working reasonably well in the past few games, according to such minds as Harper, Tom Ziller and Sebastian Pruiti. Pruiti’s analysis is particularly interesting, as it uses several screengrabs from the Kings’ Feb. 9 game against the Nets to illustrate that Evans and Martin not only can form a passable backcourt, they can form a downright dangerous one that many teams struggle to defend.
Most of the arguments that Evans must be moved to shooting guard seem to derive from initial impressions. He’s 6’6”, 220 pounds, and an athletic guy who possesses both a solid shot and an ability to drive to the basket. By contrast, at first glance, he doesn’t seem to have the tremendous sense of the court that many of the best point guards have, and he’s averaging 5.2 assists per game, which certainly isn’t bad, but doesn’t necessarily scream “all-world point guard”. As Douglas Adams once wrote, “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.” Evans’ appearance, stats and general skill set at this point have led many to declare on first look that he’s definitively a duck, which in this case weighs the same as a shooting guard.
Appearances can be deceiving, though, as a certain famous fairy tale involving ducks would remind you. For one thing, there are plenty of successful point guards whose stats are similar or worse to Evans. As an example, the Spurs’ Tony Parker is averaging 17.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, lower than Evans’ totals in points and rebounds and only slightly higher in assists. Both average similar numbers of turnovers as well (2.7 for Parker, 2.8 for Evans). Parker’s shooting percentage is better (49 per cent from the field to Evans’ 46 per cent), but other than that, Evans comes out on top. Yet, you don’t hear too many people suggesting that Parker should be converted to a shooting guard.
What’s an even more compelling angle to me is that this is Evans’ first year in the NBA. He’s still adjusting to his team, its offensive system and the league as a whole. That takes time, and you can make a case that assists are perhaps one of the areas that require the most time to adjust. You can still put up points without a complete grasp of an offensive system, especially if you’re a ballhandler with the talent and raw athletic ability to take it to the rim frequently. Grabbing rebounds requires some knowledge of positioning and when to crash the boards, but the basic elements of rebounding aren’t that drastically different from offence to offence. Piling up assists, however, generally requires a comprehensive understanding of a team’s offensive scheme; you need to know who’s going to be where at each moment in time and when the perfect moment to deliver the ball to them is. This may be why we don’t see a ton of rookie point guards starting; it takes perhaps more time for them to adapt than those playing other positions. Thus, Evans’ already decent assist totals and reasonably low turnover numbers may skyrocket down the road as he familiarizes himself with the Kings and the NBA.
In my mind, the top reason to keep Evans as a point guard is his potential for matchup problems, though. As a shooting guard, he could be very good, but he wouldn’t be far outside the mould of many traditional shooting guards. Teams would still need to beware of his athleticism and driving ability, but most NBA shooting guards would be a better match for him physically than most point guards are. Also, he wouldn’t handle the ball anywhere near as much and wouldn’t look to set up others as much, which would remove much of the crucial element of surprise from his drives to the rim. As a point guard, though, he’s considerably taller, bigger and stronger than most of the players at his position, and he’s still incredibly quick. You could always set your shooting guard on him on defence, but that means you’d have to rotate your point guard over to Sacramento’s shooting guard, and that presents its own set of problems. Keeping Evans as a point guard and allowing him to develop is somewhat of an unconventional strategy, and those strategies are often the toughest to counter. To me, that’s why he should remain a point guard.