By: Christian Dudley (@ChristianDudley)
Though the Memphis Grizzlies sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, you cannot place blame on Tyreke Evans for the team's poor record.
In a new era of Memphis Grizzlies basketball, a sweet connection was formed to start the 2017-18 season.
Via free-agency, a one-year Memphis Tigers alum returned to Memphis to play for the Grizzlies. He chose 901.
On a bargain deal, Tyreke needed a place to show he can still play at a high level. What better way than to return to a city in which is much like a second home for him?
Memphis began 2017-18 with a league-best record of 6-1. They had defeated the Golden State Warriors along with two victories over the Houston Rockets. The team seemed destined for greatness.
Much like the game of basketball, the NBA season schedule is full of runs -- both highs and lows.
The Grizzlies have endured a losing streak of 11 consecutive losses. Shortly after, they have experienced another five-game skid. They currently stand at 12-27, equalling the fourth-worst record in the entire NBA and the second-worst record in the Western Conference.
There has been a head coaching change, a disgruntled All-Star center (Marc Gasol), growing pains while developing youth, and much more. Though the team started strong in October, it is fairly clear to see why the Grizz are having these difficulties halfway through the regular season.
However, not all is bad. There are a couple reasons for Grizz Nation to retain excitement.
Take a look at Kobi Simmons. He is a two-way contract player who has been making quite the impact as a backup point guard in recent games, including a 17-point showing in 30 minutes of action off the bench versus the Golden State Warriors on December 30th.
Thus, looking over the course of the full season up to this point, the biggest and brightest spot involves Tyreke Evans.
Evans was initially cemented as the Grizzlies' Sixth Man. It did not take long to see that he would be a major contender for the league's Sixth Man of the Year award.
That plan changed entirely once Mike Conley became sidelined to allow an Achilles ailment to heal. With few options available, Tyreke Evans took charge as the team's primary ball-handler and playmaker. Though 'Reke has the ability to play small forward, he has a niche for creating on offense.
Saying Tyreke Evans has been "important" to the Grizzlies does not do him enough justice. He has produced 20 20-point performances for the Memphis Grizzlies, including four 30-point showings.
Getting to the rack at will has been perhaps the most entertaining component of Evans' game in a Grizz uniform. Speaking of drives, Tyreke ranks 17th in the NBA in drives per game with 12.5, which is higher than All-Star forces Jimmy Butler (12.2), Kyrie Irving (11.9), and LeBron James (11.0).
This exemplifies where the bulk of the Grizzlies' offense derives. Opponents are having to clamp down on defense on 'Reke, given he has displayed a 41.6% accuracy from beyond the three-point arc.
Memphis' offense is at its best when Evans is on the floor. Their top-four lineups in terms of offensive production all include Tyreke Evans in some capacity. It is not just on paper; it is very evident while watching the Grizzlies at work.
Though No. 12 may score 49.8% of the time on drives, this draws defenders off the perimeter and frees up Evans' teammates for open looks. The struggle is Memphis ranking 26th (35.2%) in three-point percentage this season. It would make sense for Tyreke to be even more selfish on drives given the odds of him putting the rock in the basket. He passes to a teammate on 32% of his drives.
'Reke has displayed a solid all-around game his entire basketball career. Averaging 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists in his Rookie of the Year award-winning inaugural NBA season in 2009-10, returning to full health has put him back on the same track. He has produced 19.7 points (team-high), 5.1 rebounds, and 4.7 assists (team-high) as a Grizzly.
Tyreke Evans has been the Most Valuable Player for the Memphis Grizzlies -- even more so than Marc Gasol. It is painful to think about the possibility of 'Reke being a one-year rental as he is again a free-agent in the summer of 2018. His current deal of $3,290,000 per the year is an absolute steal -- perhaps the best in the league.
If you want to cast a vote for any Memphis Grizzlies for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game prior to the January 15th deadline, Tyreke Evans should be your top choice. He may be your only valid choice. Vote daily!
Thank goodness for 'Reke because who knows how much more frustrating this season would be if he would have signed elsewhere in free-agency.