Last year over at NBAPlaybook, Sebastian Pruiti took a look at players who struggled during the season and looked at whether it was a fluke season or the start of a trend. This year, Sebastian is bringing the series to Basketball Prospectus.
During his Rookie of the Year 2009-10 season, Tyreke Evans was one of the few rookies in NBA history who was able to average 20 points, five assists, and five rebounds in a season. Using that performance, Evans was able to post a PER of 18.1 his rookie season. However, during his sophomore campaign Evans underperformed while struggling with a foot injury. Always a high-volume shooter, Evans saw his shooting percentage drop from 45.8 percent to 40.9 percent. The result was a decline in his PER all the way to 14.37.
Where Did He Struggle?
When looking at Evans and his game from his rookie season to his sophomore season, the biggest difference was his performance in the pick-and-roll, which has been one of his most used play types since he entered the pros (19.9 percent rookie year/21.9 percent sophomore year), second behind isolations. His rookie year, Tyreke Evans excelled in pick-and-roll situations, scoring 0.835 points per game (top 40 percent of the NBA) on effective 44.8 percent shooting. This past season, Evans' pick-and-roll game really fell off. Despite running the pick-and-roll a little bit more, Evans' PPP dropped all the way to 0.648 points per possession (putting him in the bottom 20 percent of the NBA) on an eFG% of 36.5 percent.
What's interesting about Evans' pick-and-roll play is that what he did coming off of screens didn't change all that much. During his rookie season, you could argue that he settled for too many jumpers when coming off of ball screens, taking a jumper off of the dribble 44.7 percent of the time (making just 28.9 percent when taking jumpers). However, when he did attack the rim, Evans was one of the better finishers in the NBA, scoring 1.17 points per possession on 58 percent shooting. This past season, Evans took a dribble jumper 45.9 percent of the time, and continued to struggle with them, only shooting 35.1 percent of the time. The drop-off came when he attacked the rim, posting just 0.78 points per possession (bottom 15 percent) on just 37.7 percent shooting.
The biggest problem that I have with Tyreke Evans is when he attacks the rim he tends to settle for the "Euro-step" entirely too much. As he comes off of the screen, he usually picks up his dribble way too early, takes his Euro-step, and ends up flipping the ball at the rim. The Euro-step can be an effective move, but if you have a foot injury (which Tyreke Evans had last season, battling plantar fasciitis), you aren't going to have that same explosion to the rim with the Euro-step move. This means he is farther from the rim then he is used to being and that can be a reason for the drop in shooting percentage.
This reliance on the Euro-step also results in Evans getting to the free throw line less, also resulting in a decrease in his effectiveness. The Euro-step naturally takes the player making the move away from the defense rather than drawing contact from defenders. Evans' free throw percentage when attacking the rim off of ball screens dropped from 18.3 percent his rookie season to 10.3 percent last season. Someone with Evans' size and athletic ability should be seeking out contact rather than shying away from it.
Can He Bounce Back?
So can Tyreke Evans bounce back? I think so. He was dealing with a foot injury all season, one that forced him to miss a chunk of games, and that definitely will hurt your ability to not only get to the rim, but to finish at the rim as well. If you do get to your spot, which is incredibly difficult considering the foot injury, a healthy player can explode to the rim and finish over help defenders. Even Evans' Euro-step can be more effective when he is using a healthy foot to explode to the rim, getting closer and becoming a more effective finisher.
It should be comforting that Evans' game, especially in the pick-and-roll, hasn't changed much. Combine that with an external factor that explains why he struggled despite the lack of change in his game and I think that if healthy (and by all reports it seems that he is getting closer and closer to 100 percent), he will be able to bounce back and return to the productivity we saw his rookie year.
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Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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