For Jeremy Evans, the 2013-14 season is when he needs to take the next step in his career. He needs to go from bench warmer to rotation player.
Evans is 25 years old, listed at 6’9″, and is the 2012 Slam Dunk Champion; yet Evans has only played 895 minutes in 115 games during his three-year NBA career. He shoots 64.7% from the floor, a great number for any player. In four years at Western Kentucky, Evans became the Hilltoppers all-time block leader with 224 swats – but Evans appeared in only 37 games last season for the Utah Jazz. He was drafted 55th overall, but has somehow managed to keep a roster spot for his entire time in the league. Not many players taken that low in the draft who play in only a handful of games every season manage to keep a job in the best basketball league on the planet. So why has Evans stuck around Utah this long?
Well, for Evans, the sky’s the limit. No, not just because he can hop out of the gym when he goes up for an alley-oop; rather, Evans actually has a stellar arsenal of basketball moves that regularly impress his teammates and coaches. In the first preseason game against the Golden State Warriors, Evans unleashed his jump shot, sinking a few nice jumpers all over the court. After the game, Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said he’s been waiting to see that shot from Evans in a game for three years now.
Evans really does have a lot of potential as a player – so what does he need to do in order to take his game to the next level, and become a dependable rotation player?
“It’s all about confidence,” Evans said last week at practice. “I’ve been working on my shot a lot and it’s all about confidence. I have to be able to hit my jumper and if I’m open I need to take it.”
Evans hit the nail on the head – succeeding in the NBA is all about confidence. A player could have the talent of Michael Jordan, but if that player doesn’t have the confidence to take a shot or drive for a layup, that player is never going to live up to his potential.
Evans is slowly growing in his confidence, though; his game against the Warriors showcased his jump shot, and that translated into an extended run in Utah’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, where Evans saw 21:51 of action.
Confidence is only part of Evans’ focus, however; he also said that, “My focus is on defense and playing good team basketball. If I do those things well, then I know I can earn minutes to be out there.”
Those are encouraging words to hear from Evans. No matter what level of sports someone is competing at, learning how to play within what a team wants from you is a huge part of becoming the best player you can be. Evans seems very ready and willing to accept his role with Utah and do what he needs to in order to help his team progress.
“I can fit wherever the coaches want me. I know what we’re trying to do so it’s just on me to make plays when I have the opportunity,” Evans said.
Once again, what Evans said really stuck out to me as bearing the hallmarks of a kid who really knows what he’s doing out there on the basketball court. Evans said he has to make plays when he has the opportunity. Realizing that he’s in charge of the plays that he makes, and therefore the time he sees on the court, is a huge part of developing into a solid player.
So does Evans feel like he’s ready to move on and up his game?
“I think so. With the help of my coaches, I’ve put in a lot of work this summer and through training camp,” Evans said.
That work was evident in Evans’ performance against the Portland Trailblazers Wednesday night in Salt Lake City. Evans had 7 points, 2 assists, and 4 rebounds in 19:56 of action. While he didn’t exactly stuff the stat sheet with big numbers, I did notice some very encouraging aspects to Evans’ game. He looked as comfortable as I’ve seen him in a while on the offensive end of the floor; he was making the right pass, playing within the system, and taking open jump shots when he should have.
“I missed that first one, and I was like, I’m not shooting that second one, you know. But I had my teammates and coaches talking to me, saying, you’re gonna miss shots, you gotta take em,” Evans said after the game Wednesday. “I hate missing shots. I was always a high percentage guy in high school and college, so when I miss a shot, it takes a lot out of me.”
But my favorite postgame comment from Evans that I think really shows he’s moving forward as a player was when I asked him how he feels in the offense.
“I feel like now, I’ve got it in my mind that I have the ball, they have to guard me, just like on the other end [of the court]. I have to be a threat,” Evans said.
If Evans is thinking in that mindset, that he’s a threat on both sides of the court, then he’s already taking great strides towards becoming a better, more dependable rotation player. While his development may not be happening at the rate some fans would like to see, it’s safe to say that there is plenty of development out of Evans right now. This upcoming season is only an opportunity for him to showcase his talent, and really make a name for himself on the Jazz.