Evans and Kings still trying to figure it out

Mar 22 2012 - 10:31pm

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Keith Smart has been pretty slick about this whole ordeal. While his team's fan base was obsessing about the most important development in recent Kings history -- that being the tentative agreement reached for a new arena -- the head coach grabbed hold of Sacramento's other melodrama and very quietly revised the script.He killed one experiment and authorized another. He named a 5-foot-9 rookie as his starting point guard and shifted his former lead guard to small forward. He made the tough decision and, inevitably, made the move that was necessary and long overdue.

The rest is up to Tyreke Evans. Can he emotionally embrace the change and become a more versatile threat? Can he change his habits? Can he adjust to a faster-paced offense that emphasizes ball and body movement and features other teammates? Can he improve a shaky perimeter shot that invites defenders to converge under the basket, awaiting the familiar dribble-drive?

"I'm looking at Tyreke as a rookie in this role," Smart said the other day. "I told him, 'You are still going to handle the ball and initiate plays. You will still have a chance to drive and to shoot. The only thing that will change is that you are out there with a point guard (Isaiah Thomas). And also, you have to be our best defensive player.'"

This isn't easy. If not a complete makeover, this isn't like placing a band-aid on a broken fingernail. He's trying, he's progressing, but if there were do-overs in basketball, the Kings (and the departed Paul Westphal) probably would want to re-think their entire approach to their young star. Evans was never, ever, ever going to be a point guard, and that's fine. What is Russell Westbrook? Jrue Holiday? Brandon Jennings?

Other members of his stellar draft 2009 class? What's in a name, really?

But the dribbling had to cease. The ball had to start moving. The shot has to improve. Evans' strengths needed to be exploited and his weaknesses minimized.

"We're asking him to make sacrifices," Smart added, "and if he invests, it's going to help all of us."

Smart's insistence that Evans become a consistently above-average defender is the least of it. Powerfully built at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, with long arms and quick hands, there already are plenty of nights when he physically punishes both smaller and bigger opponents.

At his best, Evans bodies up on his man and rotates aggressively, deflecting passes, stealing balls, swiping rebounds, then busts downcourt for one of his scoop shots or acrobatic layups.

It's the other part of this new deal -- the need to move without the ball, to attack from the baselines and different angles, to rely on teammates -- that requires the biggest adjustment. And for Evans to fully capitalize on his size and immense physical tools, whether as a slashing small forward or two guard, he has to make some shots.

He is averaging 17.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists, but shooting 21.8 percent from three-point range and 42 percent overall -- stats skewed by the fact that the vast majority of his attempts are drives or layups.

Particularly concerned about his poor perimeter game, he recently hired a personal shooting coach and plans to rework his mechanics during the offseason. According to his older brother, Reggie, it's not that Tyreke doesn't know how to shoot; somehow he just forgot.

"That dribble-drive stuff all started with Cal," said Reggie Evans, referring to former Memphis coach John Calipari. "He told Tyreke to just get the ball and drive to the basket, because nobody could stop him. Now we're trying to get Tyreke back to doing what he does best, the way he played in high school. He can shoot, and he can do a lot of other things, too."

With the Kings approaching another NBA Draft lottery and owning cap space to make major personnel moves, clarifying the roles of the two stars only benefits the franchise. DeMarcus Cousins and Evans. Cousins up front, Evans on the wings. It starts there.

Additionally, Evans can become a restricted free agent in 2013, which means the Kings can strike preemptively and offer an extension this summer. His performance during the closing weeks of the current season should provide a clearer sense of his market value.

"I'm trying to figure it out," he said, thoughtfully. "I don't know if I like it (the three spot). I am so used to having the ball in my hands. But I want to be out there playing, so I'm working on it. I'm working on my shot, too."

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