So the draft is on Thursday and I’ve finally made it to the ledge of my decision--ready to make my pick. Making your final prediction days before the draft only to watch Sam Presti pick someone directly out of left field is an annual tradition of mine, and I'm sure this year will be no different. Assuming there is no movement and Presti doesn't orchestrate a trade, the question remains: Who should the Oklahoma City Thunder select with the number 21 pick in the 2017 NBA draft!?
I’m shaking a bit, my knees are rattling, and looking over the ledge I’ve got some sweat starting to build, but I reach down at my side and lift up my OSU pistols, whisper to myself “what the hell” and start firing away like Yosemite Sam (in this case Pistol Pete)--shouting into the abyss for the the cowboy--Jawun Evans!
Last season, Jawun Evans led the Oklahoma State Cowboys to an unexpected 20-13 record, after finishing 12-20 the year before, and made an NCAA tournament appearance. They lost to Michigan 92-91 in a close game following Evan’s 23 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds. But the fact remains: Jawun is a beast.
Evans is also an undersized point guard at 6’0 and 177 pounds, but boasts an impressive 6’5.5 wingspan. He has a high motor, strong mentality, plays aggressive, and is exceedingly entertaining--Thunder fans will love him. Further, Evans had a usage rate of 32.7% last season and was the engine of the 4th ranked offense in the country. He was a one man show in college basketball last season, and there is one thing he does extremely well--run an offense.
Size? We talking about size?
One of the largest knocks on Jawun is that his size will limit his ability at the next level, and teams and scouts are riding that hard--incorrectly I believe--just like they did before the draft of Kyle Lowry (pick 24), Isaiah Thomas (pick 60), Darren Collison (pick 21), and Jameer Nelson (pick 20) just to name a few.
Sure, Isaiah Thomas may be the biggest outlier in the last 15 years, but we live in an NBA landscape where a 5’9 guy just averaged 29 points a game and led his team to top seed in the eastern conference. To me, the critique on size is just smoke and mirrors outside the lottery, because I’m watching a ton of players, on a consistent basis, have success in the league at that size.
As I type this sentence, every GM in the NBA is doing everything in their power to get smaller, and develop small-ball lineups to compete in the modern NBA. Big men with little to no outside shooting presence are slowly getting pushed to the side. As the league continues to shrink and depend more on small-ball lineups, I believe these small guards should excel and be even more successful. Jawun Evans is smaller than the typical point guard, but as the league shifts I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be able to come in and be the spark plug this Oklahoma City bench needs.
Juwan & Russ?
Another critique that echos through Thunder Nation like a broken record is, “But he can’t play next to Russ.”
Even if he can’t, so what? If the second unit does it’s job, why should he need to stay in the game when Russ checks back in? Also, if Derek Fisher can play next to Russ, why in the world can’t Jawun Evans. Let Evans live… and let’s all never speak of Derek Fisher again.
Is Jawun 60% CP3?
The largest player comparison Evans is receiving around the league and front offices is Chris Paul. I know, how ridiculous and blasphemous--right? I thought that at first too.
Let’s breakdown how they match up.
Just on surface statistics, CP3 at Wake Forest measured at 6’0 and 178 pounds with a 6’4 wingspan. He averaged 15.3 points on 45% shooting, 6.6 assists, 47% from behind the arch.
Jawun is leaving Oklahoma State with 19.2 points on 44% shooting, 6.4 assists, and 38% from behind the arc. Obviously, the three point shooting is the major difference here with CP3’s 9% higher conversion rate, but the size and the surface statistics are extremely comparable.
Just like Paul, Evans is outstanding at creating separation from his defender, shifting and adjusting on the fly through pick-and-roll situations, and having the patience to read a defense--correctly and on time. I think every Thunder fan remembers the time CP3 used the high pick and roll to absolutely bury the Thunder in Game one of the 2014 second-round series with the Clippers. Jawun may not be able to do that, but he has the ability to read what the defense gives him and make the correct basketball play--especially in the pick-and-roll.
In my mind, where Jawun gets interesting as a prospect is with his defensive upside as a backup point guard--because I don’t question his offense. Of course he will be at a certain automatic disadvantage defensively while dealing with the monster starting guards in the west, but if he will be tasked with holding down the fort and running the offense while Russell gets his Gatorade, I think he can make good strides defensively and disrupt plays against opposing second units.
My favorite aspect of Chris Paul’s game is his quick hands and pesky defense. Coming out of Wake Forest he averaged 2.4 steals per game--Evans at OSU averaged 1.8. Both players have long wing spans for how small their frames are, and Evans’ wing span is an inch and a half longer. Draft Express lists “Pesky Defense” as the number three strength of Evans entering this year's draft. In an interview at his pro day, Jawun admitted he models his game after Chris Paul, and spends a lot of time watching film on him.
My mind could be playing tricks on me, but If the Thunder can get a player with 60% of CP3’s ability to run their second unit, which I think Jawun Evans most certainly represents, I’m sold. What if he is 75%?
Leader of the Dust Bowlers
Running an offense, playmaking, and executing the high pick-and-roll are all directly in Jawun’s wheelhouse--it’s his bread and butter. Last season at OSU, Evans had an assist percentage of 43.6%, and a usage rate of 32.7--both of which are the highest in the draft.
Evans also gives this team another thing they desperately need--especially when Russell goes to the bench—a ball handler that doesn’t have an issue creating contact and getting to the free throw line.
He averaged 7 free-throw-attempts per 40 minutes last season. Obviously, after scoring 19 points-per-game last season at OSU, Evans can put the ball in the hoop, but it’s his decision making that really opens the door for his role in Oklahoma City.
Nick Prevenas wrote on NBAdraft.net, “Evans finished in the top 10 in assists last season, despite being the only player in that list to average fewer than 30 minutes per contest (29 mpg). His assists per 40 minutes nearly mirrored Lonzo Ball's. Put Evans in a Mike D'Antoni-style attack and surround him with skilled 3-point shooters, and he'll make the right play 9 times out of 10.”
Josh Riddell and Julian Applebome on Draft Express described Evans as a guy that can make all the “right passes on the move to get his teammates involved and has a good feel for the game to decide when to pass and when to look for his own offense.” Hearing comparisons like those make me giddy, and ready for the Thunder to call his name on Thursday night. I start to think of all the shooters we can put on the floor with the second unit.
If we could give Evans’ the proverbial “car keys” to the offense and run pick-and-roll schemes with Kanter and Sabonis, while also having Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott camped out beyond the arch, I believe OKC could solve their second unit scoring drought.
Last season, when Russell checked out, often times there would be 4-5 minute stretches where OKC’s offense was as dry as a desert, and I often referred to them as the Oklahoma city “dust bowlers.”
As good as Enes is in the low post, it’s tough to swallow that the only game plan our talent level currently allows is to dump the ball to Enes and pray he passes to Alex at the top of the key for an open look or makes an incredible low post move for two points--over and over.
Jawun Evans solves this problem and is dynamic, not only in transition, but also in the half court with the ball in his hands. I think he could be the rainfall the second-unit “dust bowlers” need to end their drought and become more of an asset to the team as opposed to a liability when the “King of the Prairie” goes to the bench.
If Jawun is still on the board when the Thunder gets put on the clock Thursday night, I think Sam and his team should take a real hard look at addressing our biggest problem in OKC, the backup point guard spot, and solve it by adding Jawun and his skill set to the current misfit roster in the desert—the dust bowlers need him.