Pelicans’ young reserve may see more opportunities until Evans returns
For 19 games, New Orleans Pelicans second-year guard Austin Rivers has been working hard while playing a lesser role.
His best stint came during the Pelicans’ first road trip out West, but that was mostly coach Monty Williams sending a message to backup point guard Brian Roberts, whom he felt needed to play harder.
With key reserve guard/forward Tyreke Evans having sprained his left ankle during the second quarter of Friday’s home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it created a void.
Evans is expected to miss one to two weeks, according to a team release.
Heading into Wednesday’s home game against the Detroit Pistons, Williams stopped just short of saying Rivers would assume Evans’ role. Evans’ drives to the basket have been key in getting open shots for teammates, such as 3-point shooters Ryan Anderson and Anthony Morrow.
“Austin may get a shot to do some of that,” Williams said. “He’s capable. Austin has got the ability to do some of the stuff that Tyreke does. ... Tyreke’s certainly good at attacking the basket and finding guys.”
Rivers, the 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft, said it’s a role for which he is prepared. He said, like Evans, he can attack the rim well.
“That’s what I do,” said Rivers, who has averaged 3.4 points and 1.2 assists playing in 12 of New Orleans’ 19 games. “That’s my biggest attribute — being able to score inside, get the other team in foul trouble. And I can attack and (pass), just draw the defense.
“I’m going to be in attack mode the whole game Wednesday, every time I get in the game.”
Rivers said that while watching from the bench, he has learned another trait from Evans that should help him offensively, whether scoring or passing.
“(Evans) runs the floor,” Rivers said. “Every time we play defense and a shot goes up, once we get the rebound, he gone. That’s how he gets most of his points. He doesn’t get a lot of points in a set offense.”
Rivers struggled last season as rookie starter filling in for Eric Gordon, who was injured. Rivers came on some after the All-Star break and began to play better near the end of the season, but he broke his hand against the Los Angeles Lakers. This season, with the team having brought in Evans and Morrow, the minutes have been scarce, but he remained upbeat.
“I told you I’d get a chance to play,” Rivers said. “It’s the nature of the NBA. Guys get hurt. So I’ve got to be ready to play now.”
Even before Evans was injured, Williams had wanted the second unit to play better, offensively and defensively. With Evans out, Roberts said, that’s now the case even more, and that mimicking Evans will not be easy.
“I think the whole second unit as a whole, we have to pick up the slack, and we have some big shoes to fill while he’s out,” Roberts said. “It’s not on one person. The whole second unit has to come in ready to work.”
The injury, no doubt, changes the dynamics of the second unit. Evans, 6-foot-6, is a strong driver who finishes well. He was averaging 14.3 points on 44.7-percent shooting while also drawing fouls.
“He was playing really well the last few weeks or so,” Roberts said. “His aggressiveness is hard to kind of mimic with any other player. What he brings is something different, but I think guys can bring what their game is and help the team. You have to pick and choose your spots (for drives).”
With four days between the Oklahoma City game and Wednesday, Williams gave the team Saturday and Sunday to rest. After an encouraging three-game sweep of opponents on the road, the Pelicans lost home games Wednesday and Friday against Dallas and the Thunder. Now they want to bounce back strongly for the next two games, against Detroit and on Friday against Memphis, with a spate of road games coming up after that.
“We had a number of guys who were banged up,” Williams said. “Sometimes, you just need a break from the gym, from me. And rarely do you get these opportunities during the season where you get four days off in between games. As a coach, you want to get in and practice. I decided to do the opposite of what I wanted to do, just to make sure we take advantage of these breaks.”
However, he and his staff worked on put a couple of wrinkles in and on better execution defensively, he said.
“We’re getting open shots,” he said. “We sometimes take bad shots that lead to (opponents) fast-break opportunities.”
Williams said center Greg Stiemsma, who has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, has started riding a stationary bike, which is indicates the knee is getting better.
However, Williams said, based on having had the injury, he doesn’t expect Stiemsma to return for another few weeks. The stability in the knee has to return, Williams said.
Stiemsma injured the knee Nov. 12 against the Lakers while setting a screen. He will likely miss six to eight weeks.