It’s hard to find more likable guys in the NBA than Jeremy Evans.
The 5th-year Utah Jazz forward has always been extremely popular among fans. The combination of his personality, his art, his dunks and his always-happy demeanor make it so the guy has nary a detractor, or so it seems. But will that get him on the court?
Evans comes in at #11 on SCH’s JazzRank which, frustratingly for the mega-athlete, is probably right where he is: just outside the 9 or 10-man rotation. After finally earning regular minutes in 2013-14 (18 minutes per game), Evans is back to looking up at four or five guys ahead of him on the depth chart, depending how involved you think Steve Novak is going to be on a night-to-night basis.1
For his first three years, Evans was a statistical freak, someone with off-the-charts efficiency because of small sample size, elite athleticism and basically no attempts outside of arms length from the basket. Everybody wondered how his stats would hold up in regular minutes against bona fide NBA guys. In 1200+ minutes last season, Evans provided his supporters some nice talking points. More than anything, he proved he could do more than dunk.
The added versatility cost him from an efficiency standpoint. He went from an unearthly .659 True Shooting % in his first three seasons to a more pedestrian .549 last season, almost perfectly average for a power forward. That’s because he went from having two-thirds2 of his makes come on dunks to having just 33.7% last season — and that’s OK.
The general trend in his FGA distribution is an outward shift. In 18 minutes a game, it’s impossible to be a novelty player, only running backdoor for lobs. He had to diversify, and he did just that.
It’s just not sustainable for a player with regular minutes to take two thirds of his shots in the immediate basket area, so it makes sense that this number has dropped down under 50%. He had to add a mid-range component — 11% of his shots — and he shot 42.1% on those shots, bringing up his career average from that range.
The real problem here is that now a whopping quarter of his shots are coming on long twos. That’s a range where, at 33% last year, he actually regressed, and shot well below the league average of 39.5%.
He still managed to protect an above-average PER (16.3), but he didn’t do so hot with other advanced metrics. According to ESPN’s new Real Plus-Minus, a stat that uses box score inputs to attribute what happens on the scoreboard to players, Evans cost the Jazz, especially on offense3. Traditional plus-minus corroborates: 82games.com has the Jazz surrendering 7 points for every 48 minutes of Evans’ run.
Why? Perhaps because teams are comfortable living with Evans taking jumpers, so it’s hard for the team to be as offensively successful when he’s out there. Opponents stay glued to him when he’s around the lane, but if he’s out on the floor, he’s usually just not helping spacing at all. Here are a couple of examples.
On this one Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t just suck in a little. He actually goes to the opposite side of the lane leaving Jeremy completely unguarded on the weak side. Vince Carter is now playing a sort of zone/safety defense, covering both Evans and Gordon Hayward and letting Dirk roam free. The ball wound up coming to Jeremy for baseline jumper and he missed, vindicating the defensive gamble by the German.
This time Evans is on the strong side, and most coaches never want help coming in from the strong side, but in this case Kevin Love decides it’s OK. The Wolves aren’t worried about the weakside shooters — or they think they can get back to them if there’s a reverse or a skip pass — and they’re essentially leaving the Jazz no option but to settle for an Evans jumper. That’s exactly what happens. Evans floats up to give the guard a clear passing angle and winds up taking an off-balanced jumper.
But more importantly, look at the defensive spacing at this moment. Except for the on-ball defender, every Minnesota player is standing with at least one foot in the paint (and he’ll be in the paint in about a half second, as he follows Trey Burke in on the drive). When the defense is comfortable leaving your guys and literally having all five players guard the lane, it’s hard to operate effectively. Plays like this are probably a huge part of why Evans’ present-day arsenal doesn’t quite accomplish the spacing the Jazz need.
So where does that all leave Evans?
His role at the current moment has just as much to do with Novak and Trevor Booker, as well as the emergence of Rudy Gobert. Those three make it a crowded big man rotation. Along with the starting bigs, that’s five guys fighting for 96 minutes, before we even mention Jeremy.
Evans might have to be OK with being the insurance guy4. So far in the preseason, he has appeared to be the odd man out. Aside from a 9-minute run on Monday (when he chipped in seven points and four rebounds), he just hasn’t been in the picture. A pair of 1-minute outings and a pair of DNPs.
For what it’s worth, Kevin Pelton’s SCHOENE — a projection system based on objective factors — thinks Evans could do 13 & 10 on a per-40-minute basis, and post value above that of a replacement player. It’s just unclear if he’ll get enough playing time for those per-minute numbers to add up to anything substantial.
And then there’s the question of how he fits into Quin Snyder’s pace-and-space system, especially given the lack of respect we saw demonstrated above. If Evans had a burgeoning three-point shot or a better passing game, I think he could challenge for some backup minutes. But his three-point rate is non-existent (0.9% 3PAr) and he hasn’t yet shown an ability to set up teammates. That’s probably his ticket to entry for the next step of his NBA evolution, the step that could entitle him to a rotation job, once and for all.
Until then, Evans probably figures to play spot duty. It pains me to say it, because Jeremy is legitimately one of the nicest guys and a huge fan favorite. I don’t think I’ve met a single person who isn’t rooting for Evans to some degree on a personal level. But the reality is that, right now, he’s either the 5th or 6th guy in a 4-man rotation: a ridiculously popular deep bench player.