Alvin Gentry recently told Zach Lowe on a podcast that Tyreke Evans would not be ready to return to the lineup at the start of the season, which is a huge blow to the Pelicans' hopes to return to the playoffs after a down year.
Evans was effective for the Pelicans last season during his limited playing time. New Orleans will have to hope that he makes a relatively quick recovery if they hope to get back on track for the playoffs. While Tyreke is not as key to their success as Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday, he will play an important role in a New Orleans offense that lost two important scoring threats in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.
Despite having spent some time at small forward for New Orleans during the past three seasons, Evans is more effective as a ball-handling guard. Something that he may get more of a chance to do with the departure of Eric Gordon.
New Orleans may have planned to start Evans at small forward given their lack of wing depth, but the additions of Buddy Hield and Solomon Hill may have changed their roster decisions. The best roster fit for Evans seems to be a high-usage 6th man, given that he is most effective with the ball in his hands.
With Jrue Holiday is likely to return to a full-time starting job next season, Evans will get precious little opportunity to play to his strengths when in the starting line-up. Although his 3-point shooting improved dramatically last season (he shot 38.8% from three, a far cry from his career 29% mark), Evans will have to show that those numbers are sustainable if he is going to start in New Orleans.
Evans' role will probably be determined by how the Pelicans decide to use Anthony Davis. If New Orleans starts Davis at power forward, that would make the small forward spot a competition between Evans and Solomon Hill. Slotting Davis in at center, however, would likely put Hill at power forward, giving Evans the start at the wing. Tyreke might be at a disadvantage against some of the bigger small forwards in the league, but playing at the three will give him a decent speed advantage over his competition.
Evans is at his best when he can drive to the rim and create opportunities for his teammates. He has averaged 6.6 assists per game in each of the last two seasons, but did so last year in nearly four fewer minutes per game. Tyreke has a tendency to over-dribble and hunt for his own shot, but is a canny passer who can create looks from behind the 3-point line, for midrange jumpers, and for backdoor cuts stemming from his drives:
Tyreke's game is definitely helped by the rangy offense of Anthony Davis. Davis is a great lob target, shooting 58 for 70 on lob attempts. He also shot a decent 42.4% on midrange jumpers on a healthy number of attempts. The combination of those two skills allows him to be a target in both the pick-and-roll and the pick-and-pop, and Evans is more than capable of finding Davis in either situation. If Davis can continue to improve his 3-point shooting (he shot 32.4% last season, the first year in which he took more than 12 attempts), he may be able to create even more space for teammates to cut and drive.
A skill that may help Evans more than anyone else on the Pelicans' roster.
Evans is a creative driver with a knack for scoring around the rim. He took 56% of his shots from within 5 feet of the basket last season and may have more space around the rim depending on whether Anthony Davis plays more minutes at center or power forward next season.
The Pelicans lost their two best spot-up shooters in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, which may create some spacing concerns for New Orleans and Tyreke will have to continue to build on his 3-point shooting from last season to help generate better looks for his teammates. Still, his passing touch and driving ability will create looks on their own, and Jrue Holiday is a solid 3-point shooter who will benefit from defenses collapsing on Evans' drives to the rim.
The biggest concern for Tyreke going into next year, as has often been the case in his career, will be his ability to stay healthy.
The losses of Gordon and Anderson will hurt the Pelicans, but rookie Buddy Hield will be a strong spot-up option early, even as he develops the rest of his offensive game to find a role in the NBA. New Orleans will miss Tyreke at the beginning of the season, but if he returns to health he will have an opportunity to shine.