The injury-ravaged New Orleans Pelicans are getting one step closer to being whole. Tyreke Evans is expected to return to action soon, possibly even this Wednesday when New Orleans faces the Phoenix Suns, although it’s looking like Evans may sit out again.
Getting Evans back won’t change the fact that the team is 3-11 for the season and a return to the playoffs after last year’s first-round exit seems like a long shot. Yet it’ll be hugely positive not only for his teammates but for a front office that might be forced to make some tough decisions next offseason.
The Pelicans kept their team together with the hope of finally seeing how good they could be with everyone healthy. The idea was to figure out if the Jrue Holiday/Eric Gordon/Evans trio was as good together over a long period of time as the numbers suggested. Obviously that was made impossible by Evans’s knee injury until now, but with Gordon looking sharper than at any other point since joining the team and Holiday inching closer to a clean bill of health, they’ll finally have the opportunity to see what they have.
That troika excelled on offense last season, scoring 114 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Evans isn’t a small forward despite having solid size at 6’6″, but he provides secondary ball handling to free Gordon to just be a spot-up shooter and help Holiday make things happen when defenses load up on Anthony Davis. That’s been something that both Holiday and Davis have been missing, as both are posting higher per-minute scoring numbers at the cost of efficiency.
Evans is a bowling ball of a slasher who despite not being explosive or as quick as other players still manages to get to the basket. Last season the Pelicans scored nine more points in the paint with Evans on the court as opposed to off. Their offensive rebounding also saw a huge spike when he was playing. Tyreke isn’t the most efficient of players, but he simply puts the defense in a bad position and allows his teammates to secure a big percentage of the shots he misses, which turn into easy putbacks:
On defense Evans is nothing special, but by simply having him out there the Pelicans will be able to limit the negative impact other lesser players make when they’re forced into big roles. Ish Smith, Alonzo Gee and Luke Babbitt have started games and are all averaging over 20 minutes per game. They’re not D-Leaguers, but they’re not suited to be important rotation players on a playoff team either, either. Evans’s presence will allow Alvin Gentry to finally assign the right roles to them.
Continuity and familiarity also play a huge role on the defensive end, and even through injuries, the core of Davis, Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Ryan Anderson and Omer Asik has that going for them. The real Pelicans — the version that has all of their rotation players healthy — might not be a defensive powerhouse, but they’re not the worst defensive team in the NBA either, as the current incarnation has been.
More importantly, Evans’s return will provide hope for a franchise that needs it right now. The Pelicans have recently strung consecutive wins together for the first time this year by beating the San Antonio Spurs and Suns. They’re ready to give Holiday more minutes after restricting his playing time, and Norris Cole is expected to return to action in early December. If the Pelicans can build some momentum, they can face 2016 with their playoff hopes intact.
Making it to the postseason is obviously the main goal but not the only one. As mentioned, the front office needs to know if they have a good enough core that can grow next to Davis. Gordon and Anderson are on the last year of their contracts, while Evans and Holiday have one more guaranteed season left after this one. The time to make decisions is approaching, and general manager Dell Demps surely wants to be as informed as possible before choosing a course of action. He needs everyone on the floor at the same time.
We’re only 14 games into the season, but for the Pelicans, there’s a sense of urgency that’s hard to shake. Not only do they need everyone healthy to start racking up wins and keep fighting for a playoff spot, but the entire roster’s future can be decided in the next few months.
Tyreke Evans is no savior. He won’t turn a franchise’s fate around on his own. What he can do for New Orleans is offer an immediate on-court boost and a glance at exactly how bright the future is with the team in its current incarnation. It might not seem like much, but it’s exactly what the Pelicans need.