Tyreke Evans was supposed to be the secondary playmaker that could help push the Indiana Pacers farther in the playoffs but nothing went according to plan for either party.
After a disappointing season that never lived up to expectations, it’s as hard to see Evans wanting to come back to Indiana as it is to see Indiana wanting Evans back. Both sides are likely ready to move on from this one-year failed experiment.
A combination of a lack of freedom to make mistakes, a lack of rhythm from not having the ball as often, a nagging knee injury that required treatment multiple times and just poor play all contributed to his ineffective, frustrating year with the Pacers.
After being suspended for one game very early in the season for being late to practice (and being late a number of times prior to that), it seemed like Evans was in the doghouse for much of his time in Indiana, never fully regaining the trust of the coaching staff. Tardiness is Nate McMillan’s biggest pet peeve and Evans found out how seriously he takes being on time.
And Evans’s play while on the court did him no favors. He struggled to be consistently productive with major trouble finishing at the basket. He made just 49% of his shots within three feet of the rim according to Basketball Reference (a career low), ranking among the very worst in the league at finishing those attempts. All those misses were nice for Domas Sabonis, who was often in the right place for putbacks on his layups.
Evans, according to NBA.com’s play-type tracking data, made 134 of 308 layup attempts on the season (43.5%). Even though he struggled to finish at the rim, his ability to get to the rim was often helpful for the team as seen by the Sabonis put-backs. The Pacers often were able to get rebounds on these plays after the defense focused its attention on forcing a miss and either get an easy put-back or restart the offense. For a team that often struggled at getting to the basket once Oladipo went down, Evans ability to get to the rim was valuable, even if it wasn’t often successful.
While he shot the 3-pointer at a decent rate of 35.6%, it wasn’t at the same high clip as the previous year of 39.9%. And his overall field-goal percentage was below 40% for the first time at 38.9%. His PER of 11.5 was his lowest ever. Most of his traditional counting stats like points, rebounds, assists were all career lows as well but most of those are due to playing a lot less minutes. To his credit, Evans bought in defensively and played hard on that end. It was the unlikely highlight of his time with Indiana.
This was only the second time in his career that his team made the postseason as he was drafted during this Long Night in Sacramento and only made the playoffs once during his time with the Pelicans. He had a bit of a renaissance year in Memphis while playing mostly as a point guard. While that team was bad, they had a positive net rating with Evans on the floor. Playing more off the ball this season for a playoff team didn’t work out so well for Evans.
“It’s different here. It’s definitely different than Memphis,” Evans said early in the year about adjusting to his role. “The offense is different, the pace is different. In Memphis it was similar to what Golden State runs, here there are more sets. It’s me getting comfortable with that and knowing where people are going to be most of the time.”
Making the playoffs might be the biggest appeal in coming back for Evans.
Early in the season, Oladipo took to playfully calling Evans “John Stockton” because he was being too passive. It seemed to be a challenge for Evans to find his place in the offense and stay aggressive when he needed to be.
J. Michael of the Indy Star reported after the series against the Celtics that Evans wasn’t ruling out a return to the Pacers, but it doesn’t seem like that’ll be his first choice.
Evans missed a few games due to “personal reasons” that were never elaborated on but his brother/manager tweeted about him being misused and that he’d “rather him not play at all” in response to a fan. Evans never said anything himself to indicate he had an issue with how he was being used though he noted many times through the year that it was an adjustment.
Michael included qualifiers to a potential Evans return like him wanting to go to a good team that’ll “let him play through his mistakes and be himself” and “be the player he was in the last two games” of the playoffs when he scored a total of 40 points in his 45 minutes.
“The playing situation was just a little different,” Evans told the Indy Star. “Not how I expected it to be. I feel like I was forcing a lot when I came in.”
His touches compared to previous seasons where way down. And to his point about forcing things, that seemed to exacerbate issues with tunnel vision because he was less likely to give up one of his chances with the ball.
The Pacers got rare glimpses of what they hoped Evans would be like. In the last game of the season against the Atlanta Hawks when many of the starters and rotation players rested, Evans seemed to play with a lot more freedom and scored a season-high 27 points and added 5 assists in only 26 minutes. It was the Evans the Pacers needed, especially after Oladipo went down, but not the Evans the Pacers saw on the floor for the vast majority of the year.
Really, despite his struggles, it was a surprise that Indiana didn’t ever try and give full control of the offense to Evans like that Hawks game once Oladipo was injured. He was the only guy on the roster that could somewhat fill a similar role as a ball dominant playmaker, but he never got the chance.
If Kevin Pritchard and company want to bring him back, the only scenario I’d see it happening would be as a bit of a last resort after striking out on upgrading the point guard position in free agency and both Darren Collison and Cory Joseph both having already signed elsewhere. It’s difficult to see the Pacers even going for this with how poorly he played, but if they’re going to bring him back, they’ll need to let Reke be Reke like they let Lance be Lance.