Western Kentucky isn’t exactly a school known for producing basketball talent – the most notable college player to come from that school is Courtney Lee, currently of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Another Hilltopper that has flown under the radar despite winning the dunk contest a few years ago – the Utah Jazz’s very own Jeremy Evans.
Evans came into the NBA as a specialist – he could jump out of the gym. As the 55th pick in 2010, drafting purely on his vertical was a pretty safe bet by the Jazz front office. For the first three years of his NBA career, Evans didn’t show a lot beyond his insane leaping ability, flashy dunks, and the fan-favorite “early-oops.”
Towards the end of last season we saw the development of a jump shot, but nothing that denoted stability or consistency. However, the Jazz gave him an extension following the 2011-2012 season, so the coaching staff and front office obviously saw something in Evans that they liked.
Evans is now playing well, averaging 6.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Not spectacular but far improved stats for a third-string big man, which Evans is. He’s also seeing more minutes this season than he ever has before – 19 minutes per game in the 48 games he’s played in. Evans is doing a great job of maximizing his playing time and showing coaches and fans that he deserves some court time.
The particularly impressive thing about Evans is the fact that he’s 6’9”, but only weighs 197 pounds. This is detrimental to his defensive abilities, but we’ll get to that later on. For Evans to be able to play at his high, energetic level on the offensive end of the ball, but still remain injury free, is pretty impressive. Evans has a penchant for high-flying acrobatics, and his light frame certainly helps him literally elevate above his competition.
One more aspect of his game that is even more surprising is his field goal percentage, and he’s hitting 53.9% from the field. When a player gets as many dunk opportunities as Evans does, they’re bound to have a higher field goal percentage, but Evans still manages to retain his efficiency even when he takes his game outside the paint.
Late second-round draft picks rarely turn into serviceable players, but Evans has become a player Jazz coach Ty Corbin depends on. The one serious knock on Evans’ supporting-role play is his defense.
Evans is a smart defender who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. His problem is the fact that he doesn’t weigh 200 pounds. At 6’9”, Evans’ natural position in the NBA is the power forward, and sometimes even the center spot if Corbin decides to play small ball. Evans is at a disadvantage, though, because larger and more powerful forwards are able to just bully him physically on both ends of the court.
Evans has found a way to work against his size advantage, however. He’s appeared in 48 games and has 35 blocks. That translates to 1.4 blocks per 36 minutes, a respectable mark. Evans’ length and superior leaping ability help him to really work around the size disadvantages defensively.
He’s had struggles offensively against the really big frontcourt men in the league – Nikola Pekovic of the Minnesota Timberwolves shut Evans down offensively when Minnesota and Utah matched up.
For where he’s come from, and the work he’s put in, Evans is a very impressive player. He’s able to contribute at a good level and be a dependable rotation player when he needs to be. Determining where his ceiling is at is difficult but if he continues making strides he’ll have a nice career in the NBA.
Evans has all the skills, and he’s a smart basketball player. He’s a great teammate, and the fact that he can hop out of the gym gives him the potential to always throw down a highlight dunk.
Next season will likely be the most critical for Evans in terms of development – he’ll need to work his way into more than just 50 or so games in order to prove that he can keep up the improvement we’ve seen from him so far. If Evans can do that, he’ll be a great asset to both the Jazz and the fans with his acrobatic dunks and smart play.