The NBA’s Most Improved Player Award has been designated for young stars on the rise in recent years, with the six of the last going to Kevin Love; Paul George; Goran Dragic; Jimmy Butler; C.J. McCollum; and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
My favorite for the award in 2017-18 bucks that trend as an 11-year NBA veteran, playing for his third franchise (and fourth stint with an organization), Tyreke Evans.
Evans is averaging 19.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game — 23.0, 5.9 and 5.3 per 48 minutes. He ranks No. 30 in Real Plus-Minus, ahead of such noteworthy names as Andre Drummond, DeMar DeRozan and Bradley Beal. The NBA’s Player Impact Estimate has him ranked No. 17 in the league. All told, it’s Evans’ best season since he was a breakout rookie star for the Sacramento Kings in 2009-10, a hot start followed with immediate and injury-plagued regression.
If Tyreke Evans’ career resurgence is news to you, it’s understandable. He plays for the Western Conference’s last place team, the Memphis Grizzlies. This development only fascinates me so much because I’ve worked a pair of Grizzlies games against the Clippers and Lakers — which, ironically, Memphis won both of.
The veteran standout on a last-place team is a tough sell for a national award, especially given the award’s followed a pretty standard trend for much of the past decade. Should Tyreke Evans be moved before the NBA trade deadline, however, he’ll have the opportunity to make the nation take notice.
Evans’ name surfaced in trade rumors late last month, with one Sporting News report stating the Memphis front office already garnered interest from prospective buyers for the combo-guard.
Among the organizations mentioned in association with Evans are the Sixers, Celtics and Thunder, albeit all purely speculatively. Still, it’s likely any team looking for the guard’s services is doing so to bolster for a Playoffs run — which, if he is moved, would be the first for Evans since 2014-15. That was his second season with the New Orleans Pelicans, and another rejuvenating year for his career after declining production at the end of his Kings run.
2014-15 was also Evans’ last healthy season. He played in 79 regular-season games, a career-best. Evans has suited up for 38-of-39 Grizzlies games in 2017-18, putting him on pace to break that mark. I covered the Dec. 27 Memphis win over the Lakers, in which Evans dropped 32 points despite missing the previous game with knee soreness. He said afterward he was focusing on “getting [his] body right,” but “wanted to help [the] team.”
His play thus far should assuage durability issues.
Tyreke Evans as an option off the bench — where he’s played from most of the season in Memphis — gives a contender like Boston an immediate upgrade. He could function in such capacity as a quick-burst scoring threat a la Vinnie Johnson for the Bad Boy Pistons, while providing a more well-rounded contribution in comparison to a contemporary: the Rockets’ Eric Gordon.