ANAHEIM, Calif. —
A few months ago, many had him marked as a longshot for making an NBA roster.
He barely got drafted, largely because he played center in college with a power forward's game but a small forward's body.
He wasn't, truth be told, even on some teams' radars.
Yet of all the calls the Jazz must make this month, deciding whether to keep or cut Jeremy Evans may be the easiest.
From top to bottom, virtually everyone in the organization adores the late second-round selection from the Western Kentucky University.
"Give credit to our scouts," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said. "They really liked him, and we brought him in and the coaches really liked him."
Do they ever, evidenced by the extensive opportunity he's been afforded this preseason.
Drained by flu-like symptoms, he didn't play in Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
But in five exhibitions, the rail-thin Evans is averaging 17 minutes a game. His 8.0 scoring average tops all those in training camp who don't have fully guaranteed contracts. And only starting center Al Jefferson is averaging more rebounds than his 5.4.
As a result, the biggest question when it comes to Evans is not if he'll make the team
but if he's ready for regular-rotation minutes.
The answer is probably not, at least not yet, especially not with so many opponents relying on veteran-laden lineups.
But he'll get a shot anyway.
"He's earned an opportunity," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said Monday, "to ... get him out there on the floor as we move forward, to see where he is, see how he gets along."
That bid was boosted during an eventful 28 minutes against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, when Evans scored nine points, pulled down seven boards, nabbed a couple steals and blocked one shot.
His confidence-boosting effort started with a strip of burly Craig Smith and ended with teammates on the Jazz bench rising, dancing and slapping hands after a particularly impressive dunk over former No. 1 overall draft pick Blake Griffin.
"He's progressed from the summer league ... to training camp ... and now the next step is playing a regular-season game," said Sloan, who obviously is intent on keeping Evans. "We'll see how that goes. But he's made a lot of good improvements since he came here.
"I think everybody on the team is pulling for him," Sloan added. "He's a wonderful guy. ... He just comes and does his job and doesn't change his personality a bit."
Still humble enough to introduce himself to an interviewer, the native of tiny Crossett, Ark. — population 5,000 and change, down by the Louisiana border — is assuming nothing.
"I'm still not for-sure until I get the OK and I hear it from Coach," he said when asked about his chances for sticking. "So, for now, I'm gonna just keep playing hard."
If what he's shown so far is any indication, Evans won't ever stop.
A rare mix of talent — imagine a Pogo Stick with Paul Millsap's nose for the ball — and genuine willingness to work should see to that.
"He's been a pleasant guy to coach because he's a no-nonsense guy," Sloan said. "He comes and works ... and he wants to get better. He wants to play. He's happy to be here."
He's a jumping jack, eager to prove he's no flash in the pan.
"He's raw. But what he has you can't teach. He contests a lot of shots down there, he can get a lot of rebounds out of his area just off of the length of his arms," Jazz point guard Ronnie Price said. "He's a special kid. He's gonna have a good career, and he's gonna have an opportunity to (play) and give us some good quality minutes."
How many remains to be seen.
From the sound of it, though, Evans could crack the rotation by season's end — much like fellow second-rounder and now starting power forward Millsap earned his rookie season.
And even though in his mind he may not be a roster lock yet, the combination dial certainly seems set to spin.
"All the time he's gotten, he probably deserves more," Sloan said. "Because he's played pretty darn well."
To boot, he has a clue.
"I see an intelligent basketball player," the Jazz coach said. "He tries to understand what he has to do in order to play.
"His technique defensively is pretty good, because he knows what we're doing. You don't have to tell him over and over and over again. If you tell him to do something, and run a play, he just runs it.
"If the ball gets up around the basket, he goes after it," Sloan added. "He's like a rope — he just goes straight up."
With a body that's part Keon Clark, part Tayshaun Prince — skinny legs, less-than-broad upper body — the only question seems to be how high the 6-foot-9 Evans' ceiling really is.
He plays with a big man's mentality, yet hasn't hit the 200-pound mark.
That was both a curse and a blessing in school when Evans used his hops against land-locked bigs, but never did properly develop his perimeter game.
"Here it helps me at the 4 position," he said of his experience as a center, "but also it hurts me at the 3 position as far as ballhandling and my shot."
The Jazz, though, aren't put off by the odd frame.
"His body's gonna get bigger and stronger, I believe, as he gets older," Sloan said. "Right now, that's who he is."24 comments on this story
Of more interest to Jazz brass is Evans' eye-popping proficiency.
In preseason play to date, he's hitting a ridiculous 75 percent — 15-for-20 — from the field. In four college seasons, he never shot less than 62.5 percent.
Combine that with his versatility — he's playing both power forward and small forward, positions that involve decidedly different responsibilities in the Jazz system — and it's little wonder the club is so high on him.
"You never say never," Sloan said, "when you see guys like that."