There's nothing Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban do better (partying aside) than find wayward NBA veterans that Rick Carlisle can quietly turn into quality rotation members. It happened for Brandan Wright and Vince Carter, for Devin Harris, Al-Farouq Aminu and DeShawn Stevenson. If everything goes according to plan, it'll happen for Jeremy Evans, too.
Evans, the 6'9 27-year-old former dunk champion who spent five years with the Utah Jazz, is the latest scrapheap find for the Dallas Mavericks. He's a human springboard, with his game resembling SLAM BALL more than the Earthbound NBA game. He's thin, wiry and quick, and importantly for the Mavericks, he's the only player on the roster who fits a profile of need.
In Tuesday's preseason opener against the Denver Nuggets, Evans shot 1-of-4 with four rebounds, two blocks and two assists in 21 minutes. His alley oop deflection and immediate recovery to block the shot showed exactly how his athletic gifts can translate onto the court.
Jeremy Evans straight up devours shots pic.twitter.com/2nfQth1tVF— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) October 7, 2015
More interesting, though, has been an experiment that Evans said he and Carlisle discussed even before a contract was signed this summer. The Mavericks want to make Evans a 3-point shooter and on Tuesday, Evans launched three of them, mostly off of pick and pop situations. While he didn't make any, all three were open and rimmed out.
In Utah, Evans attempted 10 three-pointers, hitting 2-of-5 last year. Add that shot to his game, though, and visions of Al-Farouq Aminu immediately spring to mind. Evans is a more natural four, playing slightly bigger and stiffer than Aminu, but he's capable of dribbling in a straight line and adequately defending most small forwards. Evans is not a shot creator, but he can make simple plays, like this baseline drive and kick for a Devin Harris triple.
This was one of Jeremy Evans' best plays on Tuesday, creating a three for Harris. pic.twitter.com/yJ9ofBCbtq— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) October 7, 2015
Aminu is one analogy. There are also clear similarities to Wright. The Mavericks would like him to be some fusion of the two, especially given the fact that they're playing Evans at small forward, power forward and center so far through training camp.
That's not something to take for granted. Every NBA player can learn plays, but committing three different positions into his instinctive memory -- when training camp started just last week -- has been a challenge for Evans.
"My main focus was coming in, trying to make sure I didn't forget the plays," Evans said in the locker room after the game.
While he's been working on it all summer, Evans didn't seem confident about his 3-point shooting yet, either: "It's going to take time. I feel like coming here, I feel like a rookie, there's so much I have to learn to step in. I've learned a lot already. I've got a long way to go."
One of the biggest losses this offseason, and one that has barely been discussed, is Tyson Chandler's offense. Defense was his calling card, sure, and replacing his presence with Zaza Pachulia and Samuel Dalembert is akin to replacing a family pet with a beanie baby. But Chandler's rolls to the rim will be missed, particularly because that very action scared a defense. The ball didn't always come his way, but Chandler's speed and finishing ability meant that the weak side defender had to crash.
Pachulia will have some value on pick-and-rolls, especially when he's catching about six or seven feet from the basket, setting up a short floater or a quick kick to the corner. Dalembert isn't completely ineffectual either, although his hands are suspect. JaVale McGee can theoretically replicate a pick-and-roll threat, but he's theoretically been able to do it his entire career and it's only really manifested itself once. Also, he won't start the season healthy.
Evans is smaller than Wright and too lithe to consistently grind in the interior. However, his ability to suck defenses in with his rolls to the rim could be a huge factor this season. Dallas has more shooting in their starting five than they've had in a decade, but shooters only get open looks when their defender leaves them. An Evans roll down the lane, if proven to be a damaging force over the first weeks of the season, could do that like Chandler and Wright did before him.
Of course, there's a lot more to rolling to the rim than being athletic. Evans isn't gifted with Wright's absurd finishing ability, as very few are. There hasn't been enough time to see whether he has the knack of knowing when to slip a screen and when to stay, when to hold up when crashing into the lane and when to sprint directly at the basket. There are reasons Dallas signed him cheap this summer.
But like Carlisle said after the game on Tuesday, good things happen when Evans is around the ball.
"When he's on the court, there's positive activity," Carlisle said. "He gets his hands on balls. He blocked two shots. He changed two or three shots."
If Evans can hit an occasional 3-pointer -- even 30 percent on wide-open looks -- then his value skyrockets. If he can seamlessly switch to different positions in the front court while threatening to tear down the rim around the basket, then the Mavericks have found their new Swiss army knife forward.
There's a long ways to go until Evans proves he can do any of that. Through one game, though, you can't help but be intrigued.