Tomase: Tyreke Evans exactly player Celtics need to solidify position atop Eastern Conference

John Tomase
January 09, 2018 - 1:16 pm
Tyreke Evans

Nelson Chenault/USA Today Sports

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At some point between now and March 10, the Celtics are going to spend $8.4 million on a player with an expiring contract to bolster their lineup. That player could help put them in the Finals.

That player should be Tyreke Evans.

The Memphis shooting guard is exactly what the Celtics need for their second unit: a versatile scorer who can create his own shot, convert in isolation, and play multiple positions.

He also fits the criteria of players the Celtics can target with the exception they received after Gordon Hayward broke his leg in the opener: he's in the final year of his contract, with no options, and due to hit free agency after the season. The exception expires on March 10.

With the Grizzlies spiraling towards the Western Conference basement -- point guard Mike Conley hasn't played since Nov. 13 after injuring his Achilles -- Memphis is expected to be an active seller before the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

And no player makes more sense to move than Evans, a one-year rental on a paltry $3.3 million contract who doesn't fit Memphis's future, but possesses real value to a contender.

Evans has turned back the clock to 2009, when he debuted with the Kings as the No. 4 overall pick and earned Rookie of the Year honors by averaging 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game.

Thanks to injuries and the general dysfunction endemic to Sacramento, Evans' numbers dropped for each of the next four years. Multiple knee surgeries limited him to just 65 games in 2016 and 2017, leading to his low-risk signing with the Grizzlies last summer.

All Evans has done since is re-establish himself as a bonafide NBA scorer. He's averaging 19.7 points -- his highest total since his rookie year -- and shooting a career-high .416 from 3-point land.

At 6-foot-6, he has spent the bulk of his career at shooting guard and small forward, but he played some point for John Calipari at the University of Memphis and he has played it again this year in relief of Conley. His college years are relevant, because Celtics boss Danny Ainge reportedly loved his game and considered trading up to acquire him.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported that the Grizzlies hope to obtain a first-round pick for Evans, which sounds optimistic. A second-rounder seems more likely for a rental. The Celtics probably won't have one this year -- it goes to Oklahoma City if it's in the top 55 -- but they potentially hold two each in 2019, 2020, and 2022, along with their remaining boatload of first-rounders.

Evan is worth pursuing, because his skills fit Boston's needs. He's not necessarily explosive -- he finishes below the rim -- but he's crafty off the dribble, he knows how to score by shielding defenders with his body, and he has extended beyond the 3-point line in impressive fashion. As recently as four years ago, he shot just .221 on 3's, but this year's .416 is on a career-best 5.3 attempts per game. His release includes a backwards lean that helps create space.

The Celtics run more isolation plays than any team in the East outside of Cleveland, thanks not only to Kyrie Irving on the first unit, but Marcus Morris on the second, and Evans excels in such situations. He's averaging over a point per possession in isolation, which rates ahead of Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he rarely settles. Most of his shot attempts are either layups or 3-pointers, which is the definition of efficiency in the modern NBA.

He's also turning out to be a capable point guard, averaging 5.5 assists since Conley's injury. His vision and size make him a weapon in the pick-and-roll, which the Celtics have run effectively with Marcus Smart throwing lobs to Al Horford and Daniel Theis. Evans has also beaten defenses over the top with long, pinpoint outlet passes all season.

The 12-27 Grizzlies stink, but that hasn't stopped Evans from posting some eye-popping numbers since the start of December: 32-7-7 in a win over the Lakers, 30-7-11 in a win over the Clippers, 29-13-5 in a one-point loss to the Thunder, and 31-7-12 in a close loss to the Cavaliers.

Add some underrated defense -- advanced metrics say the Grizzlies allow nearly five fewer points a game when he's on the floor -- and he sounds like an ideal fit for the Celtics.

It just so happens they not only have a need for him, but they possess the resources to acquire him. Evans' services will be in demand from other contenders, but don't be surprised if Ainge strikes. It simply makes too much sense.

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