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Utah Jazz basketball: Big man Jeremy Evans' game, confidence growing

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 6:16 p.m. MDT

Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes, right, tries to shoot past Utah's Jeremy Evans during a preseason game on Wednesday.    (Associated Press) Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes, right, tries to shoot past Utah's Jeremy Evans during a preseason game on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Jeremy Evans is capable of doing amazing things with his athleticism.

Just ask up-close-and-personal witnesses like Gerald Wallace, Ronny Turiaf and the NBA Slam Dunk contest — and let's not forget his Camaro and Gordon Hayward, diverse objects he's jumped over for fun.

Jumping into a regular rotation spot with the Utah Jazz, however, is one thing Evans hasn't been able to do yet in his career.

The Western Kentucky product understands why. The Jazz have had a logjam at both of his forward positions, and still do. He realizes his game and body are in need of fine-tuning, too.

When given chances, though, Evans has made a case for extended opportunities while simultaneously making some ridiculous highlights.

His sensational series Wednesday — in which he blocked Turiaf's shot, then dunked on top of the new Clipper, then raced down court to thwart a fast break by tipping a pass — caught the sports world's attention. The video has been plastered all over the Internet and ESPN.

Los Angeles Lakers center Robert Sacre (50) and Utah Jazz forward Jeremy Evans, right, collide at the basket during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas) (Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press, Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press) Los Angeles Lakers center Robert Sacre (50) and Utah Jazz forward Jeremy Evans, right, collide at the basket during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas) (Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press, Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press)

But Evans' coach and teammates have been noticing more subtle things about the third-year player's game — continual improvement, increased defensive effectiveness, sharper shooting and overall self-esteem boost.

"His confidence is building more," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said.

This is where Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin sees Evans has progressed: "His understanding of how to play, when to use his athletic ability, how to use it against bigger, stronger guys than him, how he has to be quicker to get around those guys, recover and not let them get on his body."

Evans signed a three-year deal in the offseason, so it's clear he's in the organization's plans. He even has a longer contract than anyone on the team, his coach included.

Even so, the recently married 24-year-old — along with fans and TV highlight producers who crave watching his energy and airborne exploits — are left wondering when he'll be able to find a consistent role other than 12th man.

Last season, Corbin lamented not being able to work Evans into more games. The NBA Slam Dunk champ only appeared in 29 of 66 games, averaging 7.5 minutes, which was two minutes less than his rookie year.

This year, Corbin hopes to find time for Evans, even though minutes might be difficult to come by at the power forward position this season with Millsap and Derrick Favors ahead of him there and at the small forward spot with Marvin Williams, Hayward and DeMarre Carroll already in line for minutes there.

"His desire to get better," Corbin said, "has been huge for him having a chance to get on the floor."

Evans has averaged 3.0 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.4 swats in the preseason, but he is 12th in the team in minutes played (12.6 per game).

"It's a long season, and Jeremy's certainly deserving of minutes, the way he comes in and practices every day, the way he gets on the floor, the effect he has on the game," Corbin said. "He deserves to get some minutes, and we'll continue to try and figure out ways to get him on the floor."

The 6-9 athlete said he's trying to figure out aspects of his own game and learn how to adapt to playing against bigger, stronger power forwards. Because of the 194-pounder's slender size, he might be better suited for a small forward role, but Corbin points out that he has more experience as a power forward.

"Right now," Evans said, "I'm still trying to find myself."

His new contract affords him time to be patient in growth, but he maintains a sense of urgency on the rare occasions when Corbin sends No. 40 to the scorer's table.

"I feel like every time he puts me in I have to take advantage of my time," Evans said. "So whenever my name's called, I just try to be ready."

And if he doesn't get in?

"Coach makes the decision," Evans said. "(But) if Derrick or Paul's playing, I'm right there with them. It feels like I'm playing, just sitting there cheering them on. I feel like that's the best thing for the team."

Millsap believes his teammate's jump shot will come along as he continues to build confidence by doing what he does best — block shots and dunk. The Jazz starter thinks the whole team would play better if everybody emulated Evans' energetic output.

"Effort, that's what we need," Millsap said. "We need more guys like that to bring effort to our team."

Al Jefferson has noticed how Evans is picking up the Jazz's offensive system better, especially at the small forward spot. The veteran center was also very complimentary of his defensive game.

"He's a great defender. Guys have got to know what they're doing coming in the lane when he (is) in there," Big Al said. "He (is) a good rebounder. So I think he's a plus when he's out there."

That was certainly the case during that tremendous 10-second stretch Wednesday in Los Angeles when his freakish hops and hustle kicked in.

"My phone's just been blowing up," Evans said, smiling about the big reaction he's received.

Millsap called the sequence "amazing." Jefferson said it seemed like he was watching a basketball video game. Evans laughed at his cousin's response.

"He just told me," the forward said, "I should have gave my jersey to Turiaf."

That can be arranged. Not only do the Jazz play the Clippers again tonight at EnergySolutions Arena, but Evans and Turiaf share the same agent.

JAZZ NOTES: Point guard Jamaal Tinsley (game-time decision) was sent home from practice early Friday because of lingering pain from having a wisdom tooth extracted on Thursday. … Mo Williams (adductor) and Derrick Favors (knee) aren't listed on the injury report and will be available. … Millsap on what he told Blake Griffin while the two jawed with each other following a big slam by the Clipper forward: "I just said, 'Good dunk.' " Millsap then joked that he was chewing gum to explain his mouth's extra movement.

Email: jody@desnews.com

Twitter: DJJazzyJody

Jazz on the air

Preseason

Clippers (2-2) at Jazz (3-2)

Saturday, 7 p.m.

EnergySolutions Arena

TV: NBATV

Radio: 1280 AM, 97.5 FM

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