Utah Jazz: Big opportunity ahead for a bigger Jeremy Evans
Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Jeremy Evans isn’t like most people.
Not because he can jump up and touch something nearly 13 feet in the air.
Not because he makes millions of dollars to play basketball.
Not because he is a talented artist, either.
The Utah Jazz forward stepped on the scales Friday morning and got excited when he saw a much bigger number than the previous time he’d hopped on to check his weight.
“I came in this morning and picked up six pounds,” he said, grinning before Friday’s first two-a-day session. “So I’m feeling good, especially during training camp.”
If his beard keeps growing, Evans might even hit the 200-pound mark. The 6-foot-9 player’s current weight: 199.
Here’s another thing that should help the Jazz’s second-longest-tenured player — he was picked a round after Gordon Hayward in 2010 — he feels good during camp.
His coach flashed a big smile when asked about the 25-year-old this week.
“The thing that I’m really excited about this year with him is getting him time on the floor — as a big guy, a small guy, whatever,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “He’ll make plays.”
Or at least have a chance to do so on a consistent basis.
That certainly hasn’t been the case in his first three NBA seasons. Though he’s made a name for himself with his athletic ability, the 2012 NBA slam dunk champion has not been able to crack the regular rotation since being drafted 55th overall out of Western Kentucky four Junes ago.
In fact, Evans’ playing time average has slipped steadily in each of his first three seasons — from 9.4 minutes per game as a rookie, to 7.5 mpg in 2011-12 and only 5.8 mpg in 37 appearances last year.
Evans knows that a golden opportunity lies ahead of him this season, and the springy 6-9 forward is doing all he can to earn big-man minutes behind Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
“He’s so lean and slight in build,” Corbin said. “But, man, he competes.”
Evans has also been fine-tuning his mid-range game and is feeling confident enough to take those shots when they’re available (something coaches have had to convince him to do).
And he’s trying to absorb as much as he possibly can from part-time big man coach Karl Malone. He said it's been "tough" working with The Mailman, but the Hall of Famer is helping him better use his quickness to exploit bulkier bigs.
It's all making Evans feel ready to make his mark.
“For me personally, (I feel) a lot more comfortable, just shooting the ball, doing more on offense,” Evans said. “I love playing defense. Of course, I’m going to block shots, go for steals and help my teammates out.”
The Jazz will have a lot of competition for small-forward minutes between Hayward, Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson, so it’s likely his time will come off the bench to spell Favors and Kanter while giving the Jazz frontcourt a different look. He's mostly worked with the big men during camp.
Wherever and whenever he plays, Evans said you can expect his usual high-octane output.
“I’m going to come in the gym and give it all I’ve got every night,” he said. “I feel like it’s big. I think that helps. Your teammates are watching and they feed off that energy.”
Speaking of feeding, Evans said he’s trying “anything I can do to add weight.” He eats in the players lounge after practice. He takes a plate home. He then enjoys whatever his wife cooks for him. He eats a ton, too — “I love it” — but bulking up is not something his body does.
Corbin jokingly pointed to Evans and the big men doing push-ups before practice at Malone’s command during a morning interview.
“We’re trying to get him bigger,” he said.
If he can become consistent on his jumpers, Evans, a career 64.7 percent shooter, should be able to contribute more often than years past even if his weight remains relatively low.
And he’s grateful for that long-awaited opportunity and confidence instilled in him by Corbin.
“I still don’t want to let him down,” Evans said. “I want to come out and still play hard, still push my teammates and have fun.”
CAMP NOTES: The Jazz will hold their annual end-of-camp intrasquad scrimmage this afternoon at EnergySolutions Arena. Doors open at 3:15 p.m. for the 4 p.m. game, which is free to the public. Friday marked the final day of two-a-day workouts for the Jazz, who've had seven practices since camp began Tuesday. ... Corbin still isn’t given many hints on the starting lineup: "It’s more than just the best five guys to start the game. It’s thinking about combinations.” But will rookie point guard Trey Burke be the starter? “We’ll see.” Corbin said. “He’s working his butt off to be a starter, though. I must say that.”
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