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Finding the right NBA comparison for Jacob Evans

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Jacob Evans has been compared to more than 15 current and former NBA players by various sites around the internet, including both Draymond Green and Patrick McCaw (somehow). How do we make sense of all this?

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Southern Methodist Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most interesting things about Draymond Green’s path to NBA championship stardom around draft time is that not only has his rise affected how everyone sees positionality but there’s also a considerable bit of mythology around where he was as a prospect.

Just reading a few articles around the web, people seem to want to forget that there were some serious questions around Green’s game. Scott Rafferty wrote an article for the Sporting News in 2016 describing why Draymond Green fell to the second round and received mixed reviews after the draft. These tidbits probably summarize the overarching them of the article while provide good context for what just happened in the 2018 NBA Draft:

Even his current head coach Steve Kerr was worried that, despite being a jack of all trades, “(Green) was going to be a master of none.”

[...]

Green and Curry have a lot in common. Despite being All-Stars with an NBA title to their names, it’s hard to define either of them by a specific position. Curry is a point guard by nature, but he functions as a combo guard within Golden State’s high-octane system. Green plays the role of a power forward (he spent 80 percent of his minutes at that position last season, according to Basketball-Reference) but he’s a hybrid of three positions and functions best as a small ball center.

While versatility is highly regarded in the NBA Draft, it can be a daunting task to find a role for Swiss Army Knife players like Green because it’s difficult to project how they’ll fit in at the next level. It’s why 3-and-D wings are in such high demand. Having someone who can defend multiple positions and knock down open 3-pointers will fit into any system regardless of what else they can bring to the table. Green, on the other hand, has created a new position all by himself while simultaneously ushering in a new era of basketball.

Throughout Rafferty’s article back then — which is one of the better things written about Green as a prospect — he noted a number of reasons why Green was underestimated leading up to the draft: his defense wasn’t NBA Defensive Player of the Year level in college, his jumpshot was not what it has been since joining the NBA, he was used differently at Michigan State than he has been with the Warriors, and he had been working to lose weight since before he entered college. You just can’t measure basketball IQ and work ethic; you can’t really blame people...maybe everyone?...for simply not seeing that Green would be that great.

That’s how a reputable site like DraftExpress projected Green’s best case scenario as Ryan Gomes; NBADraft.net had Luke Harangody (!!!) and Jared Dudley while at least one other site had Lamar Odom. Surely, you’d be able to find a longer list if you spent even more time searching the web.

And that brings me to Jacob Evans, a draft prospect who was highly touted for his versatility and has been compared to Green on multiple occasions — versatility is so difficult to project that a college wing who mostly played on the perimeter is being compared to a former college power forward who mostly played in the post.

Breaking down that Draymond Green comparison

If we’re honest, this comparison probably has something to do with the fact that Green helped scout and vouched for Evans; once the Warriors drafted him, Evans’ qualities that resonated with Green just became a lot more salient.

To be clear, Mychael Urban of 95.7 The Game made it very clear that beyond some surface or narrative similarities comparing Evans to Green sounds like a bit of a stretch — he’s definitely examining the proposition more than making a projection. But Evan Sidery of Bright Side of the Sun also noted some statistical similarities that illustrate the shared versatility between the two.

The last wing drafted to average at least 13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists (excellent 1.8 AST/TO ratio for wing), 1 steal, 1 block while also shooting +37% from deep is actually Green himself. Like Green, Evans is very compatible in almost every lineup combination. He has the possiblities of becoming a secondary playmaker who can play 1-4 easily down the line.

As tantalizing as this comparison is, this is where Rafferty’s analysis of Green-the-prospect comes in handy: Green was mostly an interior player in college, he worked on his game quite a bit to get to what he is now, and it’s probably just plain unfair to compare him to a guard beyond those aforementioned intangibles.

It’s a credit to Evans that his intangibles are so highly regarded that people are even inclined to mention him in the same sentence as Green, but can we maybe find some former college players who better resemble Evans’ style of play?

Surveying the web for the best NBA comparison for Evans

Since the draft ended, I’ve been collecting as many player comparisons as I could find for Evans just to get a better sense of who he is as a player. Obviously, these NBA comparisons have limits, but they’re useful in establishing a baseline for how a college player’s style of play — not necessarily production — will translate to the NBA.

I compiled a list of nearly 30 NBA comparisons from around the web — a number of analysts provided a best/worst case comparison (and in some cases multiple) — but I narrowed that list down to 15 that were either most prevalent or most substantive.

Evans NBA comparisons

Site Comparison Link
Site Comparison Link
The Sports Daily Caron Butler Projecting NBA Draft prospects: Jacob Evans
Bleacher Report Courtney Lee Jacob Evans Scouting Report
James Kemmerer Courtney Lee NBA Draft big board
Connor Bruno, 95.7 Duluth Courtney Lee NBA Draft: Complete First Round Review
Down the Drive Danny Green The Definitive Jacob Evans NBA Draft profile
The Brook-lin Doug Christie NBA Prospect Preview: Jacob Evans
95.7 The Game Draymond Green Newest Warriors shares a lot of similarities with Draymond Green
BSotS Draymond Green The Jacob Evans archetype will be in high demand
NBA Draft Room Eric Gordon Jacob Evans Draft Profile
Model 284 Gerald Henderson Model 284 Similarity Score Tool
538 Blog Gerald Henderson The most promising players in the NBA draft
KNBR Iman Shumpert Five prospects linked to the Warriors
Jacob Evans Jimmy Butler Versatile Jacob Evans could be perfect positionless player for the NBA
NBA Scouting Report Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Player profiles: Jacob Evans
Sports Burd Kentavious Caldwell-Pope NBA Draft Profile: Jacob Evans
The Five by 5 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Jacob Evans profile
NBADraft.net Maurice Evans Jacob Evans
The Internet Pat McCaw Twitter
Liberty Ballers Robert Covington (poor man's) Prospect breakdown: Jacob Evans
SI Thabo Shefolosha Jacob Evans Scouting Report
CBS Wes Matthews NBA Prospect Comparisons
The Ringer Wes Matthews 2018 NBA Draft Guide
Jacob Evans NBA comparisons from around the web

Obviously, there’s a lot going on there, but a few preliminary notes:

  • I included Evans’ own comparison — or aspiration? — of Jimmy Butler because I found it to be compelling for a number of reasons. I’ll be coming back to that one.
  • Doug Christie is another comp that I found really intriguing on a few levels. Unfortunately, we don’t have quite the college data for Christie that we have for others so it’s really hard to compare him to a 3-and-D wing — for context, Christie shot 232 shots in his three-year college career and Evans shot 462 in his three years, almost exactly twice that.
  • It’s worth noting that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was also a physical comparison that ESPN’s Jonathan Givony made (see excerpt via Reddit). The Five by 5 went into more detail about the combine athleticism results, noting that, “Evans posted a 35.5” max vertical, with a 28” standing vertical. Not terrible numbers, but not great either...Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (34.5” max vertical, 29” standing vertical).”
  • FWIW, Courtney Lee is actually the type of player that first came to mind when I was watching highlights of Evans. Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report summarized that best: “He could mirror Lee, who has stuck around the NBA for years without being an advanced one-on-one scorer. Like Lee, Evans will try to score off zero to one or two dribbles. In the meantime, he’ll move the ball and add defensive toughness.” Yet Lee was more turnover prone and had a lower free throw rate in his junior season at Western Kentucky — Evans could be a bit more dynamic than him with the ball, but I’ll come back to that as well.
  • The two statistical models there — 538 Blog and Model 284 — came up with very similar comparisons. Both had Gerald Henderson among their top comparisons (a 99.9% match for Model 284). Also satisfying for me: Lee was a 99.2% match.

Yet something that almost immediately jumped out at me about all those comparisons was that Evans has been knocked for sometimes disappearing on the offensive end and I seemed to recall that most of those guys were high usage players in college.

And that’s what makes the Patrick McCaw comparisons particularly interesting, even if it stems at least partially from talk of whether Evans will be taking McCaw’s minutes.

How well do the Patrick McCaw comparisons work?

Although it hasn’t been a particularly popular comparison outside of Warriors Twitter, McCaw and Evans have a few similarities that go beyond the feeling among Warriors fans that we’ve nabbed a steal of a wing.

As Danny Leroux of The Athletic noted at the end of his in-depth breakdown of Evans’ game from his exploration of Synergy, “There are certainly general parallels to Patrick McCaw, including correlations between their final college seasons.” Perhaps the most interesting parallel relative to all those other comparisons is that both Evans and McCaw are on the lower end of the usage rate continuum.

The following is a table of the six lowest usage rates among all the comparisons that I found around the web for Evans, including two that I didn’t mention in the table above: 538’s comp of Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Go Blue) and Bright Side of the Sun’s mention of Delon Wright.

NCAA stats for Evans comps

Player School Combine Height Wingspan USG% TS% 3p% FT% College-Reference link
Player School Combine Height Wingspan USG% TS% 3p% FT% College-Reference link
Patrick McCaw (soph) UNLV 6'6.75" 6'10" 20.30% 0.591 33.6 77.4 Stats
Jimmmy Butler Marquette 6'7.75" 6'7.5" 21.30% 0.587 34.5 78.3 Stats
Jacob Evans Cincinnati 6'5.5" 6'9.25" 22.50% 0.543 37 75.4 Stats
Tony Snell New Mexico 6'7.25" 6’11.5” 22.80% 0.528 39 84.3 Stats
Delon Wright (soph) Utah 6'5.5" 6'7.5" 22.80% 0.619 35.6 83.6 Stats
Tim Hardaway, Jr. Michigan 6'6.25" 6’7.5” 23.70% 0.538 37.4 69.4 Stats
The lowest junior season* usage rates among comps found for Evans around the web (sorted by usage rate in ascending order). (*All stats from junior season based on College-Basketball Reference statistics unless otherwise indicated)

Interestingly, McCaw had the lowest NCAA usage rate in his final season, a year less than many of the others who were juniors...followed by Jimmy Butler — I don’t know how well-versed Evans is in advanced statistics, but he might be on to something there. We can certainly discuss more statistics than those, but the usage and true shooting percentage stats get at this criticism of Evans as someone who’s not likely to become much a creator of his own offense.

Many of the guys on that original list of comparables were high usage guys in college (25% plus) and have ended up being very much the way Wasserman described Lee in the NBA: not “advanced one-on-one scorer” who “try to score off zero to one or two dribbles.” That’s not a bad thing, but it reflects a reality for many pro players: guys who were The Man, or at least a primary scoring threat, turn into far more limited role players in the pros.

That’s what makes Butler and McCaw being the only guys from that list of comparables with a usage lower than Evans interesting: they’ve been almost polar opposites in terms of their abilities to create offense in the NBA.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics

Among players on the Minnesota Timberwolves who played more than 10 games, Jimmy Butler led the team in usage percentage (24.9%) while McCaw’s usage (12.8%) put him near the bottom of the Warriors’ roster; in plain English, Butler was a go-to option offensively for the Wolves (despite what D-Rose truthers might tell you) whereas McCaw was very much an afterthought. And that supports ESPN’s Kevin Pelton’s point that usage rate is not all that predictive in making the leap from college to the NBA. So yeah, we probably shouldn’t limit Evans to the list of similarly low usage players.

But what does translate well to the NBA, according to Pelton? Blocks and offensive rebounds. And this is where Evans separates himself from the entire list.

According to College-Basketball Reference, no other player on this list has a block percentage of at least 3.7% and an offensive rebounding percentage of 5.2% as Evans does — players in that group that I guess you could call elite athletic guards aren’t guaranteed pro success, but many simply didn’t have the versatile skillset that Evans does either.

Butler was a dominant offensive rebounder at Marquette, averaging 8.5% in the two years he was there, but not so hot in the block percentage department. Delon Wright also separates himself with an strong college block percentage of 3.7 in his freshman year, but is trailing Evans in offensive rebounding at 4%.

Where do we go from here?

Independent of whether those are good block and rebounding marks for Wright, when you look at the whole picture — blocks, rebounds, usage, height (though not wingspan), defensive mindset — it’s not hard to see this description of Wright from Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer eventually applying to Evans:

At 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds with a 6-foot-6.5 wingspan, Wright has the length and athleticism to match up with players at multiple positions, and he’s gotten the defensive assignment on John Wall in the fourth quarter of both games. He’s a smart player who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, whether it’s making the extra pass on offense or the right rotation on defense.

Like Rozier, Wright came into the NBA with questions about his jumper, which is why he fell to the no. 20 pick in the 2015 draft.

While Evans is not billed as a point guard, he did play it in high school and has been noted for initiating offense at Cincinnati — that’s just a bit different than starting at point guard for the Toronto Raptors at times during this past year as Wright did this past year. And that brings us full circle to that original Draymond Green comparison: comparing players as versatile as Evans (...or Green...or Wright) is extremely difficult because it’s hard to know what role they’ll settle into. But maybe we can just hope that Wright creates his own niche in the league, just as his new teammate Draymond Green did.

Poll

Who’s the best NBA comparison for Jacob Evans?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Courtney Lee
    (104 votes)
  • 3%
    Danny Green
    (40 votes)
  • 0%
    Delon Wright
    (9 votes)
  • 3%
    Doug Christie
    (32 votes)
  • 5%
    Draymond Green
    (54 votes)
  • 1%
    Eric Gordon
    (15 votes)
  • 1%
    Gerald Henderson
    (20 votes)
  • 1%
    Iman Shumpert
    (17 votes)
  • 9%
    Jimmy Butler
    (96 votes)
  • 3%
    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
    (33 votes)
  • 0%
    Maurice Evans
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    Patrick McCaw
    (28 votes)
  • 1%
    Robert Covington
    (14 votes)
  • 1%
    Thabo Shefolosha
    (13 votes)
  • 0%
    Tony Snell
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Wes Matthews
    (20 votes)
  • 5%
    I’m not sure
    (54 votes)
  • 46%
    LET JACOB EVANS BE THE BEST JACOB EVANS HE CAN BE!!!
    (492 votes)
1051 votes total Vote Now