A bigger upper body. An improved mid-range jumper. More confidence. More minutes.
That’s the recipe for a player like Jeremy Evans to continue debunking a myth and shaking a reputation.
Before this past season, Evans was more Utah Jazz sideshow than NBA talent. At least that was the narrative. He was looked upon as nothing but a dunker, a 6-foot-9 forward who happened to be able to run and jump.
Evans would never say it directly — he’s too polite — but the tag bothered him. He worked hard to make it out of the obscurity of Western Kentucky to the league, and from the league to Utah’s actual playing rotation — which he finally broke through and accomplished during 2012-13.
“It was huge to actually get minutes this season,” Evans said. “I finally got to play and I tried to take advantage of the minutes I received. People said the same thing, that all I could do is dunk the ball. A lot of times, people get labeled when they first get to the NBA. So it was great to be able to show I could do some other things.”
Finally liberated from garbage time, Evans responded with a career year. He averaged 6.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He provided production as the fourth big man in the Jazz rotation. He played a career-high 66 games and averaged a near double-double per 36 minutes.
Almost as important, Evans was a rock in the lockerroom. One of the most-liked players on the team — he is one of Gordon Hayward’s best friends — his jovial nature and consistent smile helped keep the Jazz together through one of the toughest seasons in the history of the franchise.
“I leaned on Jeremy a lot,” Hayward said. “We’ve gone through a lot together.”
The question now for Evans is how does he expand on this season. Next season is the final year of his contract, which means he enters fall camp with a lot of pressure to perform. He’s proven that he can play in the NBA. Now he has to prove his staying power in the league.
“I have to work on my entire game,” Evans said. “I have to get stronger, I have to keep putting on weight and I have to keep improving.”
Like many of his teammates, Evans’ role on the Jazz has yet to be defined going forward. There will be a new coach and a new system. Depending on draft and free agent movement, there could be more or less competition for a spot in the rotation next year.
And Evans is still a tweener of sorts: too slight to really play on the interior, yet not skilled enough with the ball in his hands to play on the perimeter.
But he’s a valuable role player, a high-octane athlete with a jump shot. A rebounder and rim protector. Those don’t exactly grow on trees.
That’s what the Jazz saw a few seasons ago, committing a three-year contract to him. Now, both parties are starting to reap the benefits.
Jeremy Evans file
• Entering his fourth season with the Jazz.
• Averaged career highs in points (6.1) and rebounds (4.7)
• Played a career-high 66 games, starting four.
• Played at Western Kentucky.