Evans Ready for New Role – and Winning

The comparisons are inevitable now that Tyreke Evans has been signed to play the role Lance Stephenson held last season for the Pacers.

The comparisons also are weighted in Evans' favor, statistically at least. Evans is an inch taller, a year older, and 30 pounds lighter than Stephenson, none of which matters much. The box score numbers are far more important, and rather telling.

When extrapolated over 36 minutes per game, Stephenson last season averaged 14.7 points while shooting .427 from the field, .289 from the 3-point line, and .661 from the foul line. Evans, meanwhile, averaged 22.6 points while shooting .452 from the field, .399 from the 3-point line, and .785 from the foul line. Stephenson also averaged 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists, while Evans averaged 5.9 rebounds and 6 assists.

Stephenson's Player Efficiency Rating was 12.4, below the league average of 15, while Evans' was 21.1. Stephenson's Win Share extrapolated over 48 minutes per game was .045, while Evans came in at .126.

That's why Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard is comfortable with losing Stephenson, who was wildly popular with most of the Pacers' fan base since returning for his second chapter with the team, and excited about the acquisition of Evans.

Evans is coming off a season in which he averaged 19.4 points over 30.9 minutes in 52 games for Memphis. He was held out of several games — 20, according to Pritchard — when he was able to play as the Grizzlies went with younger players in their 22-60 season. He had injury issues in previous seasons, however, playing 25 games in 2015-16 and 40 games in 2016-17.

Evans rarely smiles and keeps his word count to the bare minimum. That's in sharp contrast to Stephenson, who grew into a favorite of fans and media for his emotional play during games and his glib interviews after games.

Asked Friday if he has any health concerns going forward, he leaned into the microphone and said, "Nope. I'm fine."

Kevin Pritchard, Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, Nate McMillan

Pritchard said his staff researched Evans' medical history and current status, and has no concerns with his health. He also has no concerns over Evans' ability to contribute next season as a backup and occasional counterpart to Victor Oladipo.

"You have to have two guys who can make plays," Pritchard said. "A lot of times we saw in the playoffs last year, with Victor in the pick-and-roll, they can take him out of his best thing. If you have two playmakers on the court with shooting and being able to space, it's tough to defend.

"I see Tyreke in a role where it's not so much his statistics. What makes him special is I think he can make everybody around him better."

Pritchard talked with Evans' coach from his college career at Memphis, John Calipari, before offering a one-year contract. From that, he was convinced not to be fooled by Evans' quiet demeanor.

"He's a very quiet guy; sometimes that comes off as a little aloof but he's not at all," Pritchard said. "He really cares. (Calipari) said he's one of the most competitive guys he's ever been around. He's hyper-competitive."

Evans is also willing to play off the bench, a new role for him. The fourth pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, he's started 408 of the 525 games in which he's played, and most of his non-starts were health-related. Pritchard said he didn't have to sell Evans on playing off the bench.

"Not one bit," he said. "We told him, 'Here's your role, does that interest you?' He said, 'Yes, I'm in.' I think in his mind he's going Boy, I've been scoring a lot of points and doing a lot of good stuff against starters, this is going to be fun."

Winning also would be fun, and a change of pace for Evans. He's been on a playoff team just once in his nine NBA seasons, and that resulted in a first-round sweep while with New Orleans in 2015. He kept an eye on the Pacers throughout the season, and liked what he saw.

"The whole team looked like they wanted to win, watching those playoff games, battling Cleveland that last game they should have won, the fight they put in," he said.

"I like to win. Good game, bad game, if we're winning and everybody's on the same page, that's all I care about."

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