The modern NBA is filled with players who think they are better than they really are. These players believe that the only thing holding them back from superstardom is their coach not playing them enough minutes, or their teammates not getting them enough shots, or their being in an offense unsuited to their skills. One could - but won't - list countless examples.
Evans doing what he does best - rebounding.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty
Amidst all these players is a shining exception in Seattle SuperSonics forward Reggie Evans
. Despite starting 60 games last season and nine this year, including the last five, Evans understands that he'll never be a go-to guy on offense or a big star. Instead of pouting, that just makes him work all the harder on defense and on the glass to help the Sonics win.
"My main thing is whenever Coach Nate (McMillan) calls my name, just be ready," says Evans. "Get something going for the team. Get a winning atmosphere out there. Let's win.
"We've got to buckle down. We can't play at just one end of the court, it can't be on the offensive end of the court. We're one of the highest-scoring teams in the NBA. That's not our problem. We need to just buckle down, D up, have fun, and do what we've got to do."
In his Pro Basketball Prospectus: 2003-04 Edition, author John Hollinger notes that no player of the same age is statistically similar to Evans, explaining that while many players develop into the mold - strong rebounder, good defender, low scorer - very few enter the league that way. It's an apt description. Evans may barely have 2,000 minutes of NBA action, but he plays and acts like someone much more experienced.
That 23-going-on-33 mentality was reflected in how Evans handled limited playing time early this season. After opening the year as a key part of McMillan's rotation, Evans saw his minutes per game drop each month until he averaged just 11.5 in February, despite making six starts. During the month, Evans recorded four DNP-CDs (did not play - coach's decision).
Like any competitor, Evans wants to be out on the court. But he was mature and accepted McMillan's decision in the name of the team.
"I'm not really worried about opportunities or anything like that, I want to win," Evans explains. "That's my main focus - do whatever it takes to win. Doesn't matter if I'm playing or on the bench, cheering guys on, I've only got one goal in mind, win, that's all."
Despite his relative inexperience, Evans has also begun to master the tricks of the trade for a player of his ilk, how to bother opponents by pushing, poking and prodding - when the referee isn't watching, mind you - in the name of frustrating and aggravating them.
Last season, in one notable matchup, Evans goaded Minnesota All-Star Kevin Garnett into a technical foul. This year, Chicago's Tyson Chandler (who was eventually ejected) and Memphis' Bo Outlaw have been T'd up for their frustration with Evans. Others, including Outlaw's teammates Pau Gasol and Lorenzen Wright and Sacramento's Vlade Divac, have been driven the point of distraction by Evans. That effort is something that can't be found in Evans' modest statistics.
Outlaw's technical is perhaps the most remarkable, given he is known to play the same style as the Sonics forward. Evans aggravates even other aggravators.
"Oh, shoot, that's fun," Evans says about pestering players on defense. "I did that a lot last year, I did it this year too. It's fun, getting in somebody's head, because a lot of these guys, you've been watching them play in the NBA, growing up, and when you get in their heads, that's lovely.
"I'll take that any day, (if you) get up under somebody's skin, take them out of their game, they get a technical foul or they have to come out, that's love all day."
Opponents aren't the only ones who have taken notice of Evans' efforts.
Evans has been opportunistic on offense.
"Being a pest, he's always nagging," McMillan told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
earlier this season. "For most guys, they get tired of it. Normally it's a small guy doing that. But when you've got a 6-7, 6-8 guy doing that and it's every possession, and it's on both ends of the floor, it's like, 'Get him out the game,' or 'Get him off me.'"
That kind of performance helps give the perimeter-based Sonics an edge they lacked before Evans teamed up with center Vitaly Potapenko in the starting lineup. Evans is not an enforcer, but his presence is felt in the paint.
"They're very physical, but I don't really care about people being physical because I'm physical," Evans said when recently inserted into the starting lineup against the Utah Jazz. "I like that, I like to bump and grind. I'm not a finesse type of player. I'm not the type of player that likes to shoot threes. I have to bang, I have to get down there and bang a lot, so they fit right into my style of play."
Evans may play like an NBA veteran, but he still has the motor of a youngster. Evans is not the kind of player conventionally thought of as exciting. He's not a big dunker, and behind-the-back passes are certainly out of the question, but Evans can get the crowd in the game anyway, whether that be with full-court pressure, a key offensive rebound or by taking a charge.
Hearing the roar of the crowd has been even more rewarding for Evans lately.
"It feels real good, because I haven't been really playing as much, so I just want to go out there and give the crowd what they've been missing and just be a part of them," he says.
For all his other skills, what keeps Evans in the starting lineup is primarily his rebounding. Evans led the Sonics with 6.6 rebounds per game as a rookie and was amongst the league's best rebounders on a per-48 minute basis. He has not been quite as effective on the glass this year, but still ranks in the league's top ten in rebounds per 48 minutes with 14.9.
It was specifically because of rebounding that McMillan went back to using Evans as his starter, as he did for every game after last season's All-Star break.
"Rebounding," McMillan said succinctly.
"We needed rebounding. We gave up 20 offensive boards (the night before) - not to put that on Calvin (Booth), but Reggie's one of our better rebounders, and I said, 'Look, that's what we're going to go with'. If we're weak somewhere, we've got to change it, we've got to make changes."
Lo and behold, the Sonics, who have been outrebounded by an average of more than four rebounds per game this season, grabbed more rebounds than their opponents in each of their next three games with Evans in the lineup. So not only does Evans know his role, he also fills it nearly to perfection.