Raptors Have Nice Mix With Reggie Evans, DeMar DeRozan
Before we move on to the Raptors part of our programming, it's worth noting that the Kings are 3-1 to start a season for the first time since the 2003-04 campaign. In truth, they could easily be 4-0 after giving up a late lead at New Jersey on Friday (other wins vs. Minnesota and Cleveland). In reality, the "Beat LA" chants that were booming afterward in anticipation of Wednesday's Lakers game in Sacramento were certainly spirited but just a tad south of sane.
We shall see what these young Kings can do against the two-time defending champs, but I'd advise against using the same second-half comeback script they've been performing so well lately. Not going to work in this one.
At this juncture, though, the Kings are better off than the 1-2 Raptors, who play seven of their next nine games on the road against the likes of Utah on Wednesday followed by the Lakers, Portland, Miami, and Orlando, to name a few. Reggie Evans is a rebounding machine, as we'll discuss in a moment here. As for the collective bunch, bouncing back from the loss of Chris Bosh to Miami over the summer isn't going to be quite so easy.
Evans the Glass-Eater is Back
As Reggie Evans pointed out somewhat defensively afterward, anyone who looks at the free-agent-to-be's "track history" (sure, it's track record, but you get the idea) isn't surprised by this.
Forty-nine rebounds in three games for the nine-year veteran -- starting with 15 apiece against New York and Cleveland and 19 more against the Kings. While it's true, as Evans said, that his career-high level playing time (31 minutes per game so far) is a factor, his three-game pace for rebounds-per-48-minutes is 24.8 while his career average is 16.9.
The fact that he's getting that sort of time is certainly surprising, though, as Toronto signed 23-year-old forward Amir Johnson to a five-year, $34 million deal last summer and Raptors coach Jay Triano has proceeded to play him a combined 44 minutes in three games while Evans is starting. Still, the notion of Evans as a glass-eater is not a new one.
He has always played at a frenetic pace (yes, dirty too) and absolutely smashed the boards, earning floor time in Seattle, Denver and Philadelphia despite the total lack of offensive skills because his style can be contagious and because it creates second-chance opportunities. Just ask Triano.
"Reggie's special," Triano said. "He plays hard and he knows that's his way to stay in the game and get us second chances, and he did. And that's what he does. He rebounds the basketball and tries to earn second chance points for us."
While Evans will always be a quandary for coaches who can't stomach playing a one-trick pony player (as if one-way scoring types aren't the same thing, only opposite), I can honestly say I've never seen him do what he does as well as he did last night. And that includes the 2005 Kings-Sonics, first-round playoff series I covered in which his instigating ways were a big part of the Seattle win in five games.
The modern-day Evans is in phenomenal shape, having recovered from the foot injury that limited him to just 28 games last season. The physique and physicality is the end-result of what he said was his hardest-working offseason yet. And while that claim is certainly an NBA cliché', this one passes the smell test, so to speak.
Immediately after last season, Evans headed straight for the Andrews Institute for Orthapaedics and Sports Medicine that is in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla. He spent late-April, May and June rehabilitating his left midfoot-sprain that was suffered last preseason, kept him out until Feb. 10 and limited him from there. He ramped up his routine from July until training camp, made drastic changes to his diet, and thus looks far even better than the Reggie Evans of old.
"I went hard," the 6-foot-8 Evans said of his summer. "I lost about 15 pounds (he's 255 now), lost about five percent body fat (he's 8.5 percent now). I wanted to be lean.
"The sixth of July I went into the athletic part (of his training), where I just worked out and tested the (foot) out. I was working in the hot sun. That'll make a man out of you."
On Monday, Evans -- who stopped Kings forward Carl Landry on a number of late possessions but lamented how his defensive duty took him away from the boards -- had media members marveling at his energy and the fact that he looked like a 30-year-old who was heading toward his 25th birthday. But from the sound of it, he left the most lasting impression on Kings rookie DeMarcus Cousins.
Early in the fourth quarter, the whistle blew and Evans' arm remained wrapped around Cousins' waist for a few seconds thereafter. Cousins was clearly perturbed, and he tossed Evans' arm aside and apparently said something to the Raptors forward. Evans quickly walked back Cousins' way and had a few words of his own to share, with Cousins wisely listening without retort.
"He just made a comment to me, and I was just (saying), 'I'm not one of them (people) that you can say something to and expect to back down,'" Evans explained. "I'm not that type of person. This is the wrong tree you want to bark up, basically. I don't know what you're track history (is) or whatever, but this is the wrong tree you want to bark up on. It was just to let him know and get an understanding that, 'Hey, don't go there.'"
To Cousins' credit, he moved on from the moment and might even have been inspired by it. While he finished with just four rebounds in 17 minutes while playing with foul trouble early on, 10 of his 16 points came in the final quarter. Afterward, Cousins sought out Evans for a standard NBA half-hug.
"It was cool," Evans said of the exchange. "It's just respect. When I was his age, I talked noise to the older guys, Karl Malone and guys like that, and I looked up to those guys. I'm not saying he looks up to me, but I still respected (Malone) and I still admired them for what they did. It's just him respecting me. Trust me, it was all good. Everything was all love. I like DeMarcus' game. He's got a bright future."
As for Evans, he might have more of an NBA future left in him than any of us realized.
DeRozan on the Rise
When DeMar DeRozan was taken ninth overall by Toronto in 2009 after one year at USC, there were some who said his slotting didn't befit his potential star power.
He showed some of that flash on Monday, tying his career high with 24 points on 7 of 12 shooting against the Kings. With Bosh skipping town to join LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with the Heat, DeRozan is atop the list of players whose profiles were raised as a result (if not the projected win total). From this vantage point, he is on my short list of young stars to keep an eye on in the coming years, as he arguably had the most raw talent coming out of college and certainly appears to be improving his skill-set.
"Once (Bosh) left, I took it that it was going to be a challenge that I had to develop more and get better," DeRozan said. "I've got a long ways to go. I'm just trying to get better every game, every practice, every workout, be the best player I can be.
"I definitely feel my game has come a long way. I'm just trying to get better every day and try to improve my game- - every aspect of my game. Ballhandling, and definitely my shooting, being able to come off screens more and knock down shots and getting to the free throw line more."
A young player's fit with his respective coach is huge, of course, and DeRozan said his pairing with Triano is going well so far.
"The fit (with Triano) is perfect," he said. "He's definitely pushing me to play that way, to play up-tempo, push the ball, making me feel comfortable."
With 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter, DeRozan reminded us why he was a finalist in last year's Slam Dunk Contest (however unimpressive that event may have been). He blew by Kings small forward Omri Casspi on the left baseline and lifted off before Kings center Samuel Dalembert could even think about meeting him in the rafters. It was DeRozan's finish that I didn't see coming, as he almost seemed to have a mid-air, secondary lift that led to the emphatic finish and a one-point deficit (109-108). And the dunk was off of the wrong leg, no less.
"I was just trying to attack the rim," he said of his dunk. "As soon as I saw the weak side (defender) turn their head, I tried to attack the basket and get fouled, get easy points. I jumped off the wrong leg."
As for whether the Compton-native will take part in the Slam Dunk Contest again when it takes place in Los Angeles this February during All-Star weekend, DeRozan said he hasn't decided yet.
"I don't know," he said. "It's back home. It might be fun. I don't know. We'll see how I feel."
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