Not much more can be said about the offensive tribulations of Wisconsin forward Ryan Evans. But this is an emotional topic for Badger basketball fans, so forgive me if I get long-winded anyway.
First, the background. For the season, the redshirt senior is shooting 39.7% from the floor, including his 8.7% mark on 3-pointers, and just 39.8% from the free throw line. What hurts the most is that Evans leads Wisconsin in both field goal and free throw attempts, which has almost cornered the Badgers into inefficient offense during Big Ten play (0.98 points-per-possession) when they normally are exemplary. It will come as no surprise that Evans has the lowest offensive rating on the team while using up the most possessions by a wide margin.
Grumbling and angst among fans is reaching a fevered pitch that coincides with the Badgers dropping three of their last four games. In that span, Evans has fallen into an even deeper slump -- hitting 19% of his two-point shots and 16.6% on 3-pointers. Not to mention his nine turnovers in the last three games.
Evans needs to take baby steps to get his shot selection back on the right track. Paging Dr. Leo Marvin!
The first requirement is to cut out 3-pointers entirely. I can't think of any shot on the court that wouldn't be better for Wisconsin's offense, and statistics back up the critics 100 percent on this.
The next step would be eliminating his tunnel vision. Evans forces too many shots when he is determined to post up. Dribbling around, mixing in shot fakes before pulling up from 10 to 18 feet out is equally unsuccessful. His best efforts are when he takes advantage of a defender right away off the dribble and gets to the rim. But those opportunities are rare.
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Thanks to the play-by-play analysis magic at Hoop-Math.com, I can tell you that 60% of Evans' field goal attempts are two-point jump shots. Yet, besides 3-pointers, these attempts are his least effective. Evans is making only 38% of these on the season, which is about the same clip as last year. Right along with Traevon Jackson, this the lowest percentage among UW's current starters. A little more--no, a lot more--self-awareness would help.
I've long advocated for Evans as a spot-up two-point jump shooter, especially on the baseline. Of course, even those shots are falling less frequently for him now. However, again using Hoop-Math.com, I can tell you nearly half (44%) of the two-point jumpers that Evans actually makes are assisted. This statistic tells me that he is still effective in catch and shoot situations.
Don't call me an Evans apologist; just know that you can't kick him to the curb without a solution in place. For all his warts, Evans does a few things well that get swept under the rug too quickly when looking at his shooting percentage.
Anyone who tells you Evans doesn't play good defense is flat out lying to you. All you have to do is look at Tuesday's game against Ohio State. Deshaun Thomas poured in 25 points, but how many came against Evans? Nine. And three of those came at the free throw line after a bogus shooting foul. In fact, Evans forced four Thomas misfires outright, and made him pass out of the block on two other occasions. With only two buckets coming in transition or on loose balls, most of Thomas' points (12) came with Evans on the bench or when switched to a different defender.
Also, did you know Evans is third in the league in rebounding at 7.5 rebounds per game? He grabs a defensive rebound on 22.8% percent of opponents' misses, which ranks 86th in the country.
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So if you are willing to accept that Wisconsin's problems with Evans are mainly shot selection and accuracy, the next question is who should be taking more shots at his expense?
The easy answer is Sam Dekker. The freshman has taken a little more than half of the shot attempts that Evans has. Only 17% of his field goal attempts are two-pointers and none of his makes are assisted, which suggests he might be a good candidate to take the shots that Evans is taking in that situation.
Unfortunately, Dekker shoots 36% on such shots, worse than Evans. The fact that Dekker also doesn't take many two-point jumpers also suggests he's hanging around the 3-point line too much or isn't getting the ball inside the arc. For instance, when was the last time Dekker posted up on the block? It just doesn't happen. The one good thing about Evans' post-up game is that it is the only consistent time the ball isn't being swung around the perimeter. So, without even going into Dekker's deficiencies as a defender compared to Evans, maybe No. 15 is not the answer.
Other Badgers who rarely spot up inside the arc include Mike Bruesewitz (12% of his FGA), George Marshall (18%) and Ben Brust (20%). Let's ignore Marshall, who is young, comes off the bench, and shoots a poorer percentage than Evans. That leaves Bruesewitz and Brust as prime candidates to create more mid-range offense. Both players are shooting 45% on two-point jumpers this season, much improved from last season.
Brust, you'll notice, has become almost an afterthought in the offense. Part of that is scouting -- Big Ten opponents know to lock him down. But the execution is made simpler for the defense because Brust is an undersized 2-guard who can't dribble drive and pull up over taller defenders that easily. As a result, Brust hits a few threes each game if there's a breakdown in the defense. If hanging around the perimeter is tolerated of any player, though, I suppose it would be Brust.
Now Bruesewitz is another matter. The guy likes to mix things up and has a knack for hitting big 3-pointers from time to time. But where is the rest of his offense? Shooting only 1 out of every 5 shots from inside the arc is a travesty for a 6'6" senior banger. Again, Bruesewitz seems too content to sit outside, waiting for a kick-out or (to his credit) feeding the post.
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Are you noticing a pattern here? Seem familiar? It should, because weakness in the mid-range game is basically the same conclusion we came to last season, when Evans was scoring 11 ppg on 44% shooting alongside Jordan Taylor, both marks a career high.
For Wisconsin to be effective, Brust and Bruesewitz need to be more dynamic offensively, and I wouldn't mind seeing Brust take a few more shots. Dekker has proven he can stroke it, but he must be more willing to take his talents closer to the basket.
The bottom line is Evans is going to continue to take these shots until someone else proves capable of taking (and making) them. Whether it's Bruesewitz, Brust, Dekker or even Berggren inside, we haven't seen it yet.
Evans needs the help of his teammates to break out of this slide. Only then will we see a more efficient and less frustrating version of the Fresh Prince. Baby steps toward change might be slow and painful, but nothing could be worse than not trying something different.
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