Since Tyreke Evans stormed into the NBA in the 2009-10 season and won the Rookie of the Year honor with the Kings, many observers questioned his ability to play point guard at the highest level of basketball.
The skeptics wondered if Evans had the court savvy to set up teammates consistently or if he would be better playing off the ball at shooting guard or small forward.
These days, those questions don’t bother Evans much, since he’s a starting point guard for a playoff team, the New Orleans Pelicans, the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Evans is in the playoffs for the first time. So not even a bone bruise in his left knee that caused sharp pain could keep him out of Game 2 of the first-round series against top-seeded Golden State.
In Game 1 Saturday, Evans left in the second quarter after bumping knees with the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala and did not return. He played Monday and had 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists even though he wasn’t 100 percent. The Pelicans trail 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, which resumes Thursday night at New Orleans.
After four seasons with the Kings, Evans was sent to the Pelicans in a sign-and-trade in 2013, and he has re-emerged as a starter at his preferred position, point guard.
“That’s my best position, but whatever coach needs me to do and needs me to play, because I’m a team guy first,” Evans said. “I’m not going to argue about what position they want me to play. It’s whatever it takes for the team. My goal is to win.”
Though the Kings once considered Evans a key part of their future, they didn’t offer him a contract in 2013 when the new ownership took over, dealing him to New Orleans for Greivis Vasquez. By the time Evans left Sacramento, he was starting at small forward and Isaiah Thomas was starting at point guard.
This season, Pelicans coach Monty Williams started Evans at small forward in 15 games, and Evans averaged 14.1 points and 5.9 assists. In 61 games as the starting point guard, Evans averaged 17.0 points and 6.9 assists.
In 79 games, including three off the bench, Evans averaged a career-high 6.6 assists and matched his career-high rebounding average with 5.3. And his 16.6-point scoring average was his best since he averaged 17.8 in his second season with the Kings.
Evans has benefited from playing for Williams, who learned under legendary San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich as a player and assistant coach. Evans said his growth as a playmaker also is due to his experience.
“It’s just more years playing in the league and seeing how the game goes,” Evans said. “Playing under Monty ... he understands the structure of the game, and he’s getting me to play the right way. And I’m at the point, so I’m trying to get everybody involved and still play my game.”
Despite his injury, Evans played 41 minutes Monday.
“I thought I played him too much, though,” Williams said, noting Evans missed some shots he normally finishes or draws a foul on. He finished 4 for 13 from the floor.
“He looked fine (Monday),” Williams said. “I mean, he was typical Tyreke. And I thought his defense was pretty good, too. ... I thought he played a decent floor game. Down the stretch, I think we all fumbled a little bit. That wasn’t just Tyreke.”
Evans said he is as comfortable this season as he was early in his career, when he was the primary ballhandler. He welcomes having All-Star Anthony Davis and top three-point shooters Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson as teammates.
“Definitely,” Evans said, “especially when I get the ball on the break. I’m good at attacking the basket, drawing guys and finding E.G. and making it easy on those guys. We’ve got good shooters, so it’s easy playing with those guys.”