New Orleans Pelicans swingman Tyreke Evans was back at it, working on his jump shot and nailing several shots in a row during Friday’s practice.
He looked tired — but not as much as he was Thursday night, when he played in his first preseason game.
“After the game, my legs felt heavy,” he said. “They were a little sore, but nothing really hurt. I’ll check with the doctors to see how it looks.”
There was no doubt Evans was just what the doctor ordered for the Pelicans in the team’s fifth preseason game, a 120-86 walkover against a team that resembled the Thunder only because the players had “Oklahoma City” on the front of their jerseys.
For the Pelicans, with just two exhibition games left before the real deal begins, having Evans back was what the team has been waiting for. Answers to questions concerning the offense and the team’s overall play often came with a “when we get Tyreke back” tacked on.
His play seemed infectious. It was no accident that 3-point shooter Ryan Anderson had his best game of the preseason: He had 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-7 on 3-point attempts, as he benefited in part from Evans’ drives providing open shots.
Evans’ play raised the question of whether he will play three positions this season. He’ll be the starter at small forward, move to shooting guard when a bigger small forward enters the game and likely finish many games at point guard, where his focus will be attacking the rim.
“I think he’s capable” of playing all three, coach Monty Williams said. “Mentally, it’s a lot, though.”
Evans was held to 20 minutes of playing time because Williams said fatigue could lead to him reinjuring his right hamstring, which he strained before training camp.
Evans gave himself a “C” for his first performance. Replacing injured Eric Gordon at shooting guard, Evans was encouraged by his defense — after not having to guard taller small forwards. He said he could have given more effort, but that’s often the case with someone coming off an injury.
Going forward, Williams said there’s a lot to hone with Evans, no matter how giddy his teammates may be about the prospect of having him in the lineup. With new wrinkles in the offense, Williams has given the team more freedom but keeps hammering home the importance of getting the structure of it down pat. He’s not satisfied with the offensive execution.
“Even though we scored a lot of points, we can’t get caught up in scoring the points but not doing things the right way, developing bad habits,” he said. “So we went over our offense today.”
Just like the offense, Williams said he would like to add polish to Evans.
“The thing about Tyreke that I really like is he’s got toughness, he’s highly skilled,” he said. “What I want him to add to his talent is more discipline and fundamentals.”
Williams and Evans clashed a bit last season, Evans’ first with the team, over discipline in an offense that was more structured. In the end, when injuries decimated the team, Evans got more freedom — with solid results, and hence the excitement over the offense with looser reins and Evans in command.
Still, Williams sees what he sees. Evans, he said, sometimes takes shortcuts.
“I told him about (Michael) Jordan,” Williams said. “The thing that made him hard to deal with was that he was the most talented guy in the league, and he was fundamentally sound. If (Evans) can add that to his game, he’d be really hard to deal with.”
Evans said he can do better but added that he’s more concerned with defense. That’s how the Pelicans get into their new quick offense off the break that has been so successful the past two games, depleted opponents notwithstanding.
“If (opponents) miss, we’re out and running,” he said. “We’re trying not to call as many plays as possible. When we run into those teams like (NBA champion) San Antonio who try to slow us down, we can’t let that happen. We’re depending on our defense to get stops. When we run the floor, we have the advantage on them.”
And, as a 6-foot-6 guard, Evans adds a dimension to make that quick offense even quicker.
“If I can get five or six rebounds a game, (those are) times the big men don’t have to pass after getting the rebound,” he said. “They can just get out on the break.”
The Pelicans announced Friday that they have waived guard Dionte Christmas.
Christmas appeared in 31 games last season for Phoenix, averaging 2.3 points and 1.8 rebounds. New Orleans’ roster now stands at 17.
Gordon, who sat out Thursday’s game with back spasms, practiced Friday, but there was no contact.
Williams said the next full-scale scrimmage with contact will come Sunday.
“We’ll know a lot then,” he said.