The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as it relates to their backcourt. They’ve got Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon all qualified to start. Holiday is the likely starter at the point, with Gordon likely to start at shooting guard (if and when healthy). That means the two possibilities for Evans are starting at small forward or coming off the bench as sixth-man-chucker-extraordinaire.
Although Evans is listed on the ESPN.com depth chart as the starter at small forward, it seems like a bad fit. Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Anderson couldn’t stop the fourth-graders at your local elementary school (they could, but you get the point). The Sacramento Kings tried to put Evans at small forward and had disastrous results.
Here are the three players on a per-36 minute basis from last season:
STARTING SMALL FORWARD
If the Pelicans decided to start Evans at small forward, they’d be trotting out a small-ball lineup that could feature Ryan Anderson at power forward and perhaps even Anthony Davis at center. More than likely it would be Greg Stiemsma or Jason Smith, but I can dream! Could that team defend? Could that team rebound? If a team is going to go small, they need someone on the court who is an elite defensive rebounder. They simply don’t have one.
As far as Evans is concerned, he’s gotten much better at doing more with less. His usage rate dipped every season with the Kings, from 26.2 percent in his rookie season, down to 22.3 last year. 82games.com shows that Evans put up an efficiency rating of 18.8 and allowed 16.9 as a shooting guard. As a small forward, his efficiency dipped to 16.6, while he allowed 15.0 to his opponents.
Playing next to Holiday and Gordon means that Evans will not have a bevy of playmaking opportunities (or shots, for that matter). But, Evans got much better with his shot selection in 2012-13 and had a very respectable shooting line of .478/.338/.775. He’s gotten comfortable not being the main playmaker and could blend in nicely on the offensive end.
The nice part about Evans is that at 6-foot-6, he can play and defend three different positions. That means he could get legitimate minutes off the bench by backing up both guard spots and the small forward spot in a pinch. The problem with this scenario is that it’s very difficult to turn it on when you’re the point guard, then turn it off when you’re the small forward.
I’m not implying that Evans would have to play passively at the small forward, but he would certainly be playing a different style of game and would have different responsibilities that would affect his production.
Regardless of that, the Pelicans don’t have a lot of quality depth in the backcourt. They’ve got Brian Roberts and Austin Rivers as backups. That’s not exactly the jackpot of bench depth. If Evans came off the bench, the Pelicans could look at playing Anderson at small forward with Davis at the power forward. Or, they could bring Evans in with Davis and start Al-Farouq Aminu for his defense and energy plays.
OR THEY COULD START HIM AT SHOOTING GUARD
I’d be willing to bet the casual basketball fan would look at Holiday, Gordon and Evans without even considering starting Evans at the small forward. It’s true that Gordon is (was) an electric scorer who once averaged 22.3 points per game. However, that was before Gordon’s injury and he showed no signs of that player in 2012-13, when he averaged 17 points per game.
The truth is, Evans is a much more efficient player who brings more to the table than just scoring. He shoots a much better percentage, rebounds at a higher rate and can defend bigger guards.
The Pelicans are lucky to have a player like Evans, regardless of how they use him. He got a bad reputation out in Sacramento but the fact is, he’s an excellent player who seems to have really figured it out last season. My vote? Start him and bring Gordon in off the bench.