From the time he arrived in Seattle for training camp last September, Reggie Evans
has carried with him a little extra piece of motivation. It’s a chip on his shoulder, courtesy of the 29 NBA teams that passed on him during all 57 picks of last June’s NBA Draft. “I expected to get drafted,” he said all the way back at media day. “I was a little disappointed.” Though a lot has changed for Evans in the past five months, as he’s proved he belongs in the NBA, his attitude hasn’t. Not being drafted “makes me work even harder,” Evans says now.
Still, going undrafted might have been for the best thing for Evans. He was able to find a situation here in Seattle that fit him almost perfectly, with the team in need of rebounding help and thin in the frontcourt. “It’s a real good situation,” Evans agrees. “I’m playing, I’m starting, so you can’t beat that.”
Evans brings energy to the Sonics with his aggressive pursuit of loose balls.
Initially, Evans wasn’t even thinking about a starting job. Instead, he was merely hoping to make the team as he battled in training camp with invitees Miles Simon
and Kei Madison
for the final roster spot on the Sonics. Given the chance in preseason, Evans put up excellent numbers – a team-best 5.8 rebounds per game. Over the team’s final three preseason games, he was even better, averaging 7.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in 24 minutes. As a result, Evans not only made the team, he was named starting power forward for opening night. “Right now, he is probably playing better than any of our big guys,” Sonics Coach Nate McMillan
explained to the media at the time. Evans started against the Phoenix Suns, making him only the second Seattle rookie in a decade to start on opening night (Desmond Mason
, in 2000 against Vancouver, was the other).
Evans’ time as a starter was brief, with Vladimir Radmanovic claiming the starting job at power forward by the time the Sonics headed out on their first road trip. Evans only played 121 minutes in the month of November, but he did not let his time on the bench discourage him as it might other players. “I’m an understanding person,” Evans explains of his upbeat attitude. “I’m going to do whatever it takes for the team to win.”
That patience and positive attitude paid off during the month of December. In order to improve the team’s defense and rebounding, McMillan re-inserted Evans into the starting lineup and he started all 14 games in the month. Evans started to make a name for himself during the stretch, averaging 2.6 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 50% from the field. Included in those averages was a career-high 17 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 16.
Despite the performance, Evans faced another setback shortly into January. With center Jerome James coming off of the injured list, the Sonics were forced to de-activate Evans. He went from starting and playing 21 minutes against the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 3 to on the bench and watching for the next 10 games. “The coaches talked to me,” Evans recalls, “It’s just a rookie transition I have to go through.”
When he was activated near the end of January, Evans showed no signs of rust. In his first game back, he grabbed nine rebounds in 24 minutes against the Golden State Warriors, one of the NBA’s best rebounding teams. Four nights later, he followed that up with six points and 12 rebounds in a victory over Chicago.
Evans has led the Sonics in rebounding since the All-Star break.
By the All-Star break, Evans re-established himself as the starter at power forward. He has started all 22 games since the break, averaging 8.3 rebounds and grabbing double-digit boards seven times. Lately, even Evans’ offense, the less developed part of his game, has been much improved. Just a 49.6% free-throw shooter for the season, Evans has shot 67.7% during the month of March. He has been a greater factor in the Sonics offense, culminating in a career-high 11 points and his first career double-double against the Washington Wizards on Mar. 26.
However good Evans’ rebounding numbers are – he currently ranks fifth in the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes with 15.9 – he is not a player defined by numbers. Instead, Evans’ value to the Sonics might better be explained by the number of ovations he receives when he exits a game. The KeyArena crowd has quickly taken to Evans’ all-out, high-energy style of play, but he gives all the credit right back to the fans. “We have one of the best crowds in the NBA,” Evans says. “When you have a crowd like that, you want to take advantage of it.”
Sonics fans have also appreciated Evans’ refreshing attitude. Despite starting 48 games, he understands his role on the team and plays within himself. “You’ve got to buy into what the coaching staff wants you to do,” Evans says before joking that otherwise, “You might not be here.” Here in Seattle is somewhere the impending free agent would like to stay after the season. “I like it here a lot,” Evans says. “Hopefully I can still be in green.” The Sonics, for their part, are also looking to retain Evans in the hope that he can build off of his successful rookie season. He reports that the coaching staff has already discussed with him briefly the areas of his game he needs to work on this summer.
If a contract can be resolved, there will be only one thing left for Evans and Sonics fans to settle on: A nickname for him. Evans is known to his friends and family as “The Joker”, a moniker he carried with him to the University of Iowa during his two excellent collegiate seasons. That hasn’t caught on in Seattle, with a pair of nicknames – “The Collector”, for his rebounding prowess, and “The Lawman”, because he patrols the paint – getting heavy use. “I don’t like that picture they’re showing of me with that Lawman,” Evans says with mock anger in reference to a graphic of him as a pioneer-era law enforcer shown occasionally on the KeyArena scoreboard. Other than the picture, his nickname in Seattle doesn’t really matter much to Evans. “They can call me whatever they want to call me up here,” he explains, “but everybody back at home, they only have one nickname to call me.”
In the end, he’s right – the nickname doesn’t really matter. By any name, though, Evans has been a find for the Sonics.