The Importance of Reggie Evans

After watching Reggie Evans put forth a great overall performance on Sunday, Franchise wonders if Evans isn't a lot bigger key to the success of the Toronto Raptors this season than many people think...

 

 

I figured I'd start this post with a little video montage of possibly the greatest rebounder of all time, Mr. Dennis Rodman.

Rodman for his career averaged 13 rebounds a game, including nearly 5 of these on the offensive glass, but in his prime, "The Worm," regularly hauled in around 17 a night.

17.

Think about that for a second.

The Raptors as a team only averaged about 40 in total last year, so on many nights Rodman would have accounted for half Toronto's boards.  There's no question Rodman was a difference maker on the court, and it's a shame that his off-court persona has reduced him to a bit of a sideshow joke.

However for those that remember Rodman, they'll remember that he was more than just a spectacular rebounder. He was also one of the top defenders in the league and while not a shot blocker, was an expert at taking charges and locking down his man.  He was also an underrated passer and in his prime averaged over 2.5 assists per game.

No, nothing to write home about, but in the Chicago Bulls' triangle offense, it was essential to have a big man who could distribute to cutters like Jordan and Pippen, find open gunners like Steve Kerr and Toni Kukoc, or even lob the ball inside to Luc Longley types.  Essentially, Rodman had two jobs on the court - rebound and defend at one end, and help facilitate the offense around Jordan and Pippen at the other.

I was reminded of this while watching Reggie Evans in the second half of Toronto's win over Phoenix on Sunday afternoon.  Reggie was doing his best Rodman impersonation, hauling down balls and immediately resetting the offence, moving his feet on D, and making the correct decisions with the ball on O, finding teammates en route to 4 assists to go with his 7 points and 12 rebounds.

It was a spectacular performance in my books, and one that made me rethink my "why the hell are the Raptors starting Reggie Evans" stance.

The question remains however; is it feasible to expect Reggie Evans to take only 3 shots a night, hit 2 of them, pull in 12 rebounds and dish out 4 or so assists?

Looking at his stats historically, you wouldn't think so.

He's never even averaged an assist a game over a whole season, nor has he averaged even 6 points.  Yet he's averaged more than 3 field goal attempts per game, and has been a bit turnover prone during his career, especially in extended minutes.

In fact Evans is a player who has always been a bit of a paradox.

He is a rebounding monster, one of the best in the league on a per minute basis, yet he's such a horrific free-throw shooter and all-around offensive player, that it negates his rebounding value, and as a result, he's averaged below 20 minutes a game for his career.

He's always been seen as simply a role player, someone who can come in and do the dirty work on the glass and maybe change the tone of a game.  But starting material, he is not.

However it looks like the Toronto Raptors will be starting Mr. Evans at the 4 beside Andrea Bargnani when the season begins.

Is that a good thing?

Originally I didn't think so.  Yes, I get that he hopefully offsets Andrea's rebounding woes, but considering how little Andrea plays inside on offence, Evans' low-post malaise and free-throw shooting woes leave a gaping hole on O down low for the Raps.

Couple this with Evans' propensity to force the issue on O, we've all seen some of his beautiful post-up attempts, and I wondered if anything was better than an Evans-Andrea combo, even starting Joey Dorsey or moving Linas Kleiza to the 4.

But as mentioned, the second half of Sunday's game made me rethink my stance simply because Evans was so valuable in that win.  Yes he dominated the glass, and along with Amir Johnson simply destroyed Phoenix's interior, but he also made great decisions with the ball, decisions that resulted in easy baskets for the Raps, or opened things up ala the "hockey assist," where Toronto eventually scored on the ensuing possession.

In fact the offence ran through Evans much more than Andrea Bargnani.

Andrea took the shots sure, but if you watched Toronto's offence, it was Evans playing the "roll" man off pick-and-roll scenarios.  Bargs' screen-and-roll involvement right now seems to be only at the 3 point line, where afterwards, if the 3 point shot isn't there for him, the offence is reset, and that's when Reggie gets involved.

Because of this, it's absolutely crucial that Evans makes good decisions with the ball.

In the first half, this wasn't the case and his 3 turnovers on the night mostly came during this stretch.  Sometimes Reggie tends to get into his "bull in a china shop" mode, and simply puts his head down and tries to force a play. This obviously is when Evans is at his worse, and you could see the results in the first half as Phoenix raced out to a big lead.

But in the second half, by limiting his offence, and focusing on finding cutters and shooters, Toronto's offence was awhirl with motion, and the Suns had no answer.

Now Evans is no Pau Gasol.

But is he a worse option than Chris Bosh?

Last year based on John Hollinger's "assist ratio" stat, that is to say the percentage of player's possessions that turn into an assist, Bosh barely ranked ahead of Amir Johnson, and was 35th in terms power forwards ranked by this metric.  Evans played under 500 minutes last year and thus didn't qualify for the list, but during the 2007-08 season Reggie and Bosh posted virtually the same "assist ratio."

The same was true in earlier seasons so as a passer, one could argue that Evans was on par with Bosh even in limited minutes.

The advantage though of having Evans at this spot instead of Bosh is that he doesn't need offensive touches. Therefore he can look to facilitate things without dominating the ball and holding up the offence.

Provided he does of course do this.

Like Kris Humphries, Evans can be quite effective when he sticks to what he does best.

That means grabbing rebounds and if an easy put-back isn't there, taking the ball back out, dishing to a guard, and resetting the offence.

He did this many a time on Sunday, and it provided the team with extra possessions, something that has statistically been positively correlated to increased team wins.

Therefore I'm not as down on the Reggie Evans starting experiment as I once was.  It's something I'll be watching closely in the remaining pre-season games, but if Evans can be a factor on the glass, play solid D, and make good decisions on offense, then suddenly he becomes a big boost to Toronto, even with his free-throw shooting woes.

Interestingly, when going through the data on power forwards from previous seasons, one of the top passing players was none other than the Raptors' Jorge Garbajosa.  Fans and the team alike have lamented his loss and while it's always been his solid defence and basketball acumen that are mentioned, I think it's his passing ability, especially on the interior, that this team really has missed.  He simply made the game easier for his teammates, similar to a Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom.

Will Evans become a sort of better rebounding, worse offensive version of Garbajosa?

I'm not going to go that far.

But I do think it's safe to say that should Evans put in nightly performances like the one he submitted against the Suns, this Raptor team will much a lot more competitive than many people think.

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