Evans an intriguing scoring guard Pistons land on 2-way deal

Keenan Evans was No. 2 in Big 12 scoring to Trae Young, the No. 5 pick in June’s draft
Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

LAS VEGAS – The Pistons believe they netted two first-round talents with a pair of second-round picks on draft night. Without expending even that much, they’ve added a third perhaps undervalued rookie, Keenan Evans.

Evans was a standout in the loaded Big 12, joining the likes of No. 5 pick Trae Young and two high second-round picks – West Virginia’s Jevon Carter and Kansas’ Devonte Graham – on the all-conference team.

They were the top four scorers in the league, Evans finishing No. 2 to Young at 17.6 points a game, ahead of both Carter and Graham at 17.3 each.

Oh, and Evans did that despite playing on a broken toe suffered during conference play. Without the injury, would Evans – who was invited to the NBA draft combine but couldn’t participate – have been drafted?

“For sure,” he nods. “Yes, sir. Oh, yes. For sure.”

The Pistons signed Evans to a two-way contract agreed to hours after Evans had committed to attending Summer League with the Golden State Warriors, an organization with a pretty good track record for spotting guards that can play.

Evans underwent surgery to correct the injury on April 6 and has been rehabilitating in Dallas. He arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday, but he’s yet to be cleared for full basketball activity.

“Right now, getting back into shooting, making a couple of moves but nothing serious,” he said. “I’ve still got some time left on the table. I don’t know exactly when I’ll be back, but hopefully in the near future. I’ll be back before (training camp) so I can get in good shape, well enough to compete in training camp.”

As applies to most Texas Tech players, Evans wasn’t a high-profile recruit coming out of suburban Dallas in the class of 2014. But he got on the court as a freshman, averaging 18 minutes a game, and became a three-year starter while leading the Red Raiders to an 11-7 conference record in the league regarded as America’s toughest in 2017-18.

Evans shot 47 percent from the floor – an outstanding number for a guard – despite suffering a dip in his 3-point shooting as a senior. After draining 43 percent of his 3-point shots as a junior, Evans fell off to 32 percent as a senior.

“It was one of those things where I kind of got off to a rough start, started picking it up and then the injury happened and I shot worse after that,” Evans said. “It was a bad season of shooting from three.”

There’s no reason to believe his senior season 3-point shooting wasn’t an aberration or that he won’t be a solid or better 3-point shooter in the NBA with a little development time and skills focus.

Evans fits today’s NBA and is about as intriguing as it gets for an undrafted player with a proven record of college productivity at the highest level. He’s got size – 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-5½ wing span and 8-foot-2 standing reach that’s just one-half inch off of that recorded by second-round pick Bruce Brown – nose for scoring and an ability to worm his way into the paint.

On that last count, he’s been influenced by a few familiar names. Evans averaged 6.7 free throws a game last season and made 82 percent.

“I’ve watched players like James Harden, Chris Paul – the best of the best – Russell Westbrook,” Evans said. “They get to the free-throw line a lot. That’s easy points. It stops the clock, everybody catches their breath. It definitely helps.”

As a two-way player, Evans is obligated to spend most of his season in the G League with the Grand Rapids Drive. He gets 45 days with the Pistons, though time before the G League season starts in November or when it ends doesn’t count against that number. When he’s cleared to get back on the floor, his focus will be adjusting to the NBA 3-point line and hitting the weights to add strength.

The Pistons have plenty of options ahead of Evans, who could wind up playing either backcourt spot. They added Jose Calderon in free agency to play behind Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith at the point and there’s Reggie Bullock, Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway at shooting guard. And that doesn’t even include the two second-rounders, Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown, whose Summer League performances already have made the Pistons more convinced of their futures.

So if all goes well, Pistons fans won’t see much of Evans in 2018-19. But without committing anything beyond a modest two-way contract, they’ve added a prospect with a chance to make his mark somewhere down the road.