It seemed inappropriate for a player whos found instant chemistry and contentment with a blue and yellow team, so it was enough to make one wonder if there was a hidden meaning.
Count that as the only ill-fitting moment for Evans related to the Pacers season-opening victory over Memphis on Wednesday. Coming off the bench, he contributed 14 points, six assists, four rebounds and just one turnover in his 23 ½ minutes.
I think Doug is a great addition and when he plays with confidence, hes just a great player. Hes so much more than just a shooter and thats what people dont realize about him. Hes pretty athletic and he guards people pretty well. He has a chance to really compete for a lot of minutes this year. I think Kyle OQuinn is going to be a big help for me and Domas because hes such a vocal guy and hes actually a really good defender. He challenges us in practice every day. And Tyreke is just… He’s just so good, man. Hes such a great pick-and-roll player. Hes still so underrated. I think hes great. I think he joined us because he wanted to be part of a great culture and thats definitely something we have here in Indiana.
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More than that, he provided several ah-hah moments that no doubt made some new friends within Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He put it out there for all to see, making the sort of instinctive plays that result from honing your game on a playground rather than a basketball camp.
MT: It was a lot of dedication, and it definitely took a team of people to make that happen. But, more than anything, it was a lot of work. I did this because there was a point last season when I just felt dead out there on the court – I felt so drained and I wasnt myself. I knew a lot of that was due to my eating habits and me not taking care of my body as well as I shouldve been. I think the biggest was just me wanting the best for myself, and my team obviously wanted whats best for me too. Once we got to the point where we started putting together a plan and we knew I had to make some big changes, we realized it was something that had to be done over the offseason. Then, we just executed the plan.
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“Ive always admired his game from afar, just seeing some of the things he can do,” Thad Young said following Thursdays practice at St. Vincent Center. “He has a great ability to make guys around him better. Hes grown and matured over the course of his career and hes been able to make sure guys are involved in the game.”
MT: Vics confidence is contagious, man. His confidence in himself and his confidence all throughout last season really helped us get through a lot. I mean, Ive never seen Vic in a bad mood. Never. His winning attitude and confidence and all that stuff is really contagious and everyone is ready to fall in line with him. With that being said, Vic is also really good at being able to flip that switch too. Hes this goofy person whos really fun to be around, but then once he gets on the floor? Everything changes and if youre competing against him, he wants to rip your heart out.
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While the Pacers had an effective pick-and-roll tandem with Lance Stephenson and Domantas Sabonis last season, the Evans-Sabonis pairing could be an upgrade, based on the micro sample size of Game 1. Like Stephenson, Evans has the size to see over defenses and the knack of getting a pass through traffic. Unlike Stephenson, he doesnt attempt a crowd-pleasing flair while doing so.
Flair, in fact, has no part in his persona, either on the court or off. While hardly friendless, and always pleasant, he tends to keep to himself and speak through his actions. His summation of his performance on Wednesday?
“Tyreke averaged 19 points last year (for Memphis) so everybody has to respect him,” Sabonis said. “That makes it easier for me to screen his man and then he makes his decision.
Evans might present a blasé demeanor, but hes clearly excited about having an essential role with the Pacers. And why not? Hes got a total of four playoff games to his credit, from his brief time with New Orleans in 2015. Hes not accustomed to winning, and not accustomed to positive team cultures.
The moment when Sabonis picked him up off the court midway through the fourth quarter meant something to him. Hes on his fifth stop in his 10th NBA season, and never experienced that brand of school spirit.
Evans impressed in his Pacers debut, scoring 14 points and dishing six assists (Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images)
“Theres a big-time difference,” he said. “Just the energy we have as a team. Were always helping one another, picking one another up.
“The organization is just amazing. Its one of the best organizations Ive ever played for, just the things they do and how they do it. Everythings a team thing and its about the players. Its definitely the best organization Ive been with.”
The most used bench lineup on Wednesday included those four and Thaddeus Young, a 6’10 power forward. With that much height, it is hardly surprising they grabbed the lion’s share or rebounds — 73.9 percent — when they shared the floor.
Evans arrived in the NBA from a different avenue than most players coming into the league these days. While most have been coached in school and AAU programs and often have been tutored by specialists, Evans game evolved from the asphalt and the lessons he learned from his older brothers.
Sabonis and Evans ran the pick and roll heavily to get possessions rolling and set up their teammates. Domas displayed the basketball IQ he is known for by switching up picks when the Grizzlies were aggressive and finding space to do his damage when given it.
One of them, Eric, who played point guard for Cheyney State, taught him about ballhandling in traffic and how to react in the open court. “Making me crafty, playing east and west,” Evans says. “When I get the ball I try to make the defense work. If they cut one way I try to go another.”
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Another brother, Julius, described as a playground star in their hometown of Chester, Pa., worked with him on shooting, a late-arriving feature of Evans game.
He can certainly score the ball, Pacers Head Coach Nate McMillan said of Evans after the blowout win. … but not only was he scoring but he was setting up teammates and getting guys really clean looks. My challenge to Tyreke is to defend and rebound. If he does that, were going to have to find him minutes.
So hes been coached, but he does things that arent taught in the traditional coaching environments. Especially the things that can be done in the open court or in pick-and-roll situations.
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“Hes like a great running back in football, able to plant his feet and change direction and avoid people,” legendary coach Bob Hurley from St. Anthony High School in New Jersey told The New York Times when Evans was in high school.
Like many players who evolved from the playgrounds, Evans has a reputation as a “gamer,” a player who doesnt take practice as seriously as a coach might like but rises to the occasion when the lights come on. He doesnt deny it.
“Definitely,” he said. “Practice is not really my thing. When the lights come on, thats when I really come out and play.
“I still go hard and play the right way (in practice), but when the game is on it counts more so Im more active.”
Pacers coach Nate McMillan smiled skeptically when Evans admission was presented following Thursdays practice.
Told yes, McMillan talked of the need to practice hard all the time, the mistake of thinking you can “flip the switch” and play better in games than in practice.
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McMillan can afford to be patient, and even forgiving In Evans he has the ideal first guard of the bench, one who can play three positions and play with anybody because of his multiple skills. Evans stands 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds. He weighs five pounds more than 6-foot-8 Bojan Bogdanovic, the same as 6-8 Young and only about five pounds less than 6-10 TJ Leaf and 6-8 Doug McDermott.
Evans can overpower smaller defenders and beat the taller defenders off the dribble. He can find open teammates more easily because of his height and finish around the basket in traffic because of his bulk, as he displayed on Wednesday.
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Besides, he appears to be conforming to his new environment. While he didnt stand out in the four preseason games and wasnt talked about much during training camp, some people who watched every practice claim he had been the best player. The way to make friends in any environment is to fit in, and Evans is doing that by playing harder in practice and doing the dirty work in games.
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“The knock on him was that he doesnt play defense,” Young said. “But in training camp, once we explained to him what our culture was, he was all for it. The biggest thing for him, and a lot of guys who come to a team with a different culture, when they see the four guys theyre playing with playing defense and getting after it as hard as they can, it makes them want to help their teammates.
Young and Victor Oladipo were voted captains by the players on Monday. Oladipos selection wasnt surprising, because he won the Backbone Award selected by players after last season for his positive attitude and had organized an off-season workout in Miami.
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Young, though, is much quieter and less prominent than Oladipo. His selection was less obvious but equally telling.
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“It just says a lot about my character and professionalism,” he said. “Id say Im well-respected by a lot of guys around the league, and my teammates definitely showed it. Im very happy and enthused.
“I just try to lead by example, which is through my play on the court. When something needs to be said, I say it. You have some people who say stuff to say stuff. I dont say stuff to say stuff. I say stuff when it needs to be said. And I get guys to believe in what we do.”
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Mark Montieths book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, “Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis,” is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.
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