Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| Feb. 3, 2005
In a league whose minimum salary is in the high six figures, the notion of a "blue-collar player" seems somewhat antiquated. If that player exists, however, he would have to be Seattle SuperSonics forward Reggie Evans
Evans wasn't drafted by the Sonics, or anyone else either, but three years into his NBA career, Evans already has 128 starts under his belt, including all 41 games he's played this season. Only six of the 57 players picked ahead of Evans in 2002 have started more games.
Evans pulls down another rebound.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty
But Evans' work ethic developed long before he was passed over by the NBA, or even before he had to go the junior college route, playing at Coffeyville JC, before playing Division I basketball at Iowa. It began in the projects of Pensacola, Florida, where Evans' father was in and out of jail and his mother had to support the family. Evans credits his mother's dedication with inspiring the same trait in him.
"I think what made me a better player was really just growing up, watching my momma go to work and everything, working hard," says Evans. "What I went through in the past and how I had to come up - and when I still look at my momma to this day, that's what makes me a better player, that's what makes me work even harder."
Evans' game reflects his attitude. He isn't blessed with great speed, size or shooting ability, though he is quick for a power forward, which gives him the ability to help press full court. Evans is a good defender, one who has mastered at a young age the subtle art of frustrating opponents and goading them into mistakes. Still, if someone was asked to explain why Evans is in the NBA, the answer would be simple: Rebounding. And no major area of the game is as dependent on effort as is rebounding.
"It's all just a lot of hard work," confirms Evans. "That's it, just a lot of hard work."
Few players have worked harder on the glass than the Sonics starting power forward, who has earned the nickname "The Collector" in Seattle for his rebounding prowess. Early this season, SUPERSONICS.COM ranked Evans as the third-best rebounder in Sonics history. As a rookie, Evans led the Sonics with 6.6 rebounds per game, but this season, he's taking his rebounding to a new level.
Evans ranks 20th in the NBA this season with his career-high average of 8.6 rebounds per game. However, his per-game average is wholly inadequate to explain just how good Evans is as a rebounder. Only three players in the NBA's top fifty in rebounds per game play fewer minutes per game than Evans, including his backup, Danny Fortson, who is tied for 49th at 6.2 rebounds per game. On a per-minute basis, Evans leads the league, pulling down 18.2 rebounds per 48 minutes - better than one every three minutes he's on the court.
Even per-minute statistics don't quite do Evans justice. The best way to rate rebounding is to look at the percentage of total rebounds a player grabs while he's in the game, known as his rebound percentage. Only five players in the league pull down better than one in every five misses - twice the league average of 10 percent, since there are 10 players on the court . Two of those players are Evans and Fortson, and Evans is far and away the NBA's leader in rebound percentage at 23.4%.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Evans' performance on the glass this season would rank as the 12th-best rebounding season since 1973-74 (when the NBA started tracking opponent rebounds, making this kind of calculation possible). Only three other players - Dennis Rodman (owner of the six greatest rebounding seasons since 73-74), Fortson (the best single-season rebounder who has never been married to Carmen Electra) and Jayson Williams - have rebounded better than Evans is this season.
So, given all that, it's pretty surprising to hear Evans say he's no rebounding role model (as opposed to not being a role model off the court, like Rodman).
Evans demonstrates he does, occasionally, box out.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty
"I advise somebody not to watch me," Evans says. "If you want to watch somebody rebound the ball, do not watch me, because I do not box out. I don't do any of that kind of stuff. I don't do the fundamentals of rebounding."
Let's recap here: Evans is 6-8, which is about two inches shorter than the ideal power forward. He's a good, but not extraordinary, leaper. He doesn't block out. So how exactly is he arguably the greatest rebounder on the planet at the moment? Besides effort, Evans cites his instincts.
"That's really what makes me a rebounder, just instinct, really," he says.
That brings us to the first explanation for why Evans has been such an improved rebounder this season - his baby daughter?
"I've got to keep an eye on her," Evans says. "Sometimes she makes a sudden move; I make sure I catch her real quick. That carries on to the game. It's helped me out."
So too has the number of physical big men Evans has worked against in practice this year. His training-camp battles with Fortson were chronicled by SUPERSONICS.COM last October, and rookie Nick Collison - who also ranks in the NBA's top twenty in rebound percentage - has provided another foil, along with holdovers Jerome James and Vitaly Potapenko.
"They make me work even harder," says Evans. "Danny, he's strong, I've got to learn how he works. He likes to use his lower body to get rebounds, so I've got to try to work my way around that. Vitaly, he's got a strong upper body, so I've got to learn how to work around that. It's great that we have a lot of big bodies in here that are not afraid to bang. It gives me all kinds of different ways to learn so many different people's styles in trying to rebound. It carries on to the game and makes it a lot easier."
Even during games, Fortson motivates Evans to crash the boards even harder when he comes up with a big rebound while Evans is watching on the bench.
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"I get real hyped when I see Danny," Evans says. "Like in the Sacramento game, he got the offensive rebound, knocked it back in there and got the and-one. I was happy, I was going crazy. I get more hyped when Danny gets an offensive rebound and goes back up with it strong."
The results have been tangible. Evans averaged 9.2 rebounds during the month of January, tying his career high with 17 boards in 26 minutes - one of six double-digit rebounding efforts during the 12 January games he played. He started off February equally well, pulling down 15 rebounds at Sacramento.
The really frightening thing is this: Evans knows there are still more rebounds for him to grab.
"I may do well, I may have good rebounding nights, but there still may be that one rebound messing me up that really affects my team," he says. "Even in college, I would get a lot of rebounds [he led NCAA Division I with 11.9 rebounds per game during the 2000-01 seson], but there would always be one that would get me. I've just got to be able to obtain it, all the way."