Tyreke Evans’ debut season with the New Orleans Pelicans certainly didn’t go as planned, but it also didn’t go as you likely believe. As the team’s pricey free agent signee in summer 2013, Evans was expected to help lead a young team to respectability in a loaded Western Conference as and contend for Sixth Man of the Year honors. A rash of injuries to key players not only kept the Pelicans in the conference cellar, however, but also complicated Evans’ acclimation to his new role and surroundings.
So lost amid his mostly disappointing campaign, though, was Evans’ revelatory performance in March and April. Back in the starting lineup and playing without the injured Jrue Holiday, he assumed primary playmaking duties for New Orleans, putting up numbers that bespoke his Rookie of the Year season with the Sacramento Kings in 2009-2010. Evans averaged 19.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 6.4 assists on 49.9 percent shooting in the final two months of 2013-2014, numbers that bely his season-long statistics. And unsurprisingly, he started every game but one down the stretch of last season.
In his hometown of Chester, PA and partnering with VSP Vision Care to provide free eye-care for residents and host a basketball camp for youths, Evans took time from his busy, charitable schedule to talk with Dime.
Dime: Along with VSP Vision, you’re helping provide free eye-care for citizens of your hometown, Chester, PA. Is there a specific reason why eye-care is the cause you’ve chosen to promote?
Tyreke Evans: Yeah, definitely. I just think it’s real important for people, and especially for kids that are in school. I’ve been working with VSP for five years now, and one of the reasons why is their commitment to diversity and their commitment to help people get eye-care that maybe otherwise couldn’t. And I think the kids – it’s cool for them to get their eyes checked and see me. It’s amazing how they come in here and we have things set up for kids to get glasses and pick them out right there on the spot, so I just think it’s a great thing to do.
D: You’re also hosting a youth basketball camp in Chester for the first time – in the past you held one in Sacramento. What are you most looking forward to about getting on the court with the kids from your hometown?
TE: I’m looking forward to that the most, I think, because it’s my first year having a camp out here – like you said, I had one in Sacramento before. So to have one here in my hometown I think is a pretty good thing to do. I always wanted to do something like that since I got into the NBA – try to figure out a way to bring the camp to my hometown – because they don’t really have too many people out here from Chester making it to the NBA. So it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and with VSP giving me some help setting it up I’m getting the chance to do it.
D: Is there something specific you want to teach or instill in these kids? Maybe something that wasn’t taught to you growing up? Like you said, you guys didn’t have a local NBA star when you were growing in Chester.
TE: Yeah, definitely. I got my AAU staff in there with me, the guys who coached my AAU team to help me with the kids, too. A lot of kids come in I know with their fathers or brothers with them or something like that, so I’m bringing my shoes and everything (laughs). I’ll be out there with the kids playing one-on-one, doing drills, just working with them and helping teach them about the game. I’m really excited about it.
D: Switching gears to basketball now, is there a certain aspect of your game that you really worked to develop or hone this offseason?
TE: Definitely. I’ve been in the gym with our shooting coach doing extra work, going extra hard, and I think I have it where I want it to be. It’s a different shot now: not too much movement and keeping my elbow straight. We’ve done a good job with that so far. I was in the gym playing with my brother at 12:00 just now, and my shot just feels really smooth. So I’ve been working on that a lot and I’m excited about using it this year.
D: You really, really came on down the stretch last season in March and April. Was that due to you just getting more comfortable playing with the Pelicans? Or was there anything more specific that contributed to your success late in the season?
TE: I think it was a little bit of both. My first year, new coach, new teammates, so it wasn’t easy. And I was coming off the bench and I was never really used to that. So once I started starting and getting real comfortable, things really came on for me and I just started to play like I always played back in Sacramento.
D: You kind of play a different role for the Pelicans than the one you did with the Kings because, frankly, you guys just have a lot more talent in New Orleans. Playing with Jrue Holiday is probably a big adjustment for both of you – two guys that thrive with the ball in their hands. What do you need to do so that the two of you can coexist to the best of your abilities?
TE: The first thing is that I just think we both need to run the floor. It doesn’t matter who has the ball. But I think when we run… We got a young team – Anthony Davis can really get up and down the floor with the guards. When we do that we don’t have to worry about setting up too much, so we want to try to push the tempo this year a lot and really get in transition.
D: You already touched on this a bit, but you guys lost Al-Farouq Aminu in free agency this summer, opening up a starting spot on the wing. Are you anticipating starting this year? And how much does starting or coming off the bench matter to you personally?
TE: I mean, it’s just gonna be what coach decides in training camp, you know? Just what he wants. He might want us all on the floor at the same time or he might want one of us to come off the bench. I haven’t exactly heard what’s gonna happen, but I got to be ready and hopefully my team is ready, too. So really I’m just looking forward to getting back in training camp with those guys.
D: A lot of your teammates missed a bunch of time last season with injuries: Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and Jrue Holiday were all out for significant chunks of the year. How much harder did that make your acclimation to New Orleans?
TE: Man, a little bit because we were definitely missing the guys that were out. It all happened so fast with everybody: Jrue had to get surgery, Ryan messed his back up, A.D. went out a few games. So it definitely was tough, but we finished the season out on a good, strong note, and hopefully we can get everybody back healthy this year and try and make that push to the playoffs.
D: Speaking of that push, you guys had a really solid offseason bringing in Omer Asik and not losing multiple players of great value. You’re obviously talented at every position – a young team that’s on the rise. Do you have any specific goals in mind for this season?
TE: Definitely. With picking up [Omer], I think he’s a piece to the puzzle that gonna bring a lot to the table. Just his effort defensively, setting screens and getting people open, rebounding the ball, and putting Anthony back at his natural position of power forward. I think he’s the perfect guy for us and I’m happy we got him. With him coming and all of us healthy, I definitely think we could make a push to the playoffs, but we just got to continue getting better.
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