Notebook: Pelicans’ Tyreke Evans shows improved 3-point shooting

Associated Press photo by BRANDON WADE -- New Orleans Pelicans forward Tyreke Evans dribbles against the Mavericks in February in Dallas. Show caption
Associated Press photo by BRANDON WADE -- New Orleans Pelicans forward Tyreke Evans dribbles against the Mavericks in February in Dallas.

One of the more surprising aspects of the improved play of Pelicans guard/forward Tyreke Evans has been his 3-point shooting lately.

In averaging 22 points per game since becoming a starter Feb. 28, Evans has shot 39.1 percent.

“I’ve just been working on it,” Evans said. “I’ve always known I can shoot.”

When Evans came to the Pelicans from the Sacramento Kings in the summer, the biggest knock on his game was that he was not a good outside shooter. When it came to 3-point shooting, that certainly was borne out.

Coming into this season, Evans was a career 26.9 percent from behind the arc. One season — 2011-12 — he shot 20.2.

And this season, he is shooting just 21.8 percent, even with the encouraging recent showing.

Coach Monty Williams said he thinks Evans’ big March is a case of his being better of late at his specialty – driving to the basket.

“He gets open looks, because teams don’t want him to drive by them,” Williams said. “So he just has to knock the shot down.”

Williams challenged Evans more than a month ago to improve his overall outside shooting. Like good players who don’t shoot well, Evans’ mechanics come into question. For instance, on his mid-range shots, he leans back a bit, and the ball is more to the right instead of straight above his head when he releases it.

“We’re going to try to spend a lot of time with him this summer, try to refine his shot a little bit, because there are some things that he can improve upon,” Williams said. “I like the fact that he’s not afraid to take those shots, especially at the end of the (shot) clock.”

No, you start

Williams has been flip-flopping centers Greg Stiemsma and Alexis Ajinca for about two months now.

Mostly, that has been due to matchups. Stiemsma is bigger and stronger and Ajinca, 7-foot-2, is longer and more athletic.

However, Ajinca has played relatively well since the Pelicans’ game March 19. Against Utah on Friday, he scored nine points but had team highs of 10 rebounds and three blocked shots and helped the Pelicans with his activity against Jazz center Enes Kanter and power forward Derrick Favors.

It appears it may be a good idea to commit to Ajinca as the starter for the rest of the season, which could help his development. However, Williams says Ajinca plays better off the bench.

“For whatever reason, he’s able to see the game for a few minutes, then come in and bring the energy and force that we want him to bring,” Williams said. “I’ve talked to him about it. He’s not comfortable starting, which is tough on your pocketbook. A lot of starting centers get paid.”

So Williams puts Ajinca in a position where he’s comfortable. However, that doesn’t always bode well for Stiemsma, who has mostly been a career backup.

“Greg isn’t all that happy about starting, either,” Williams said. “He likes coming off the bench, but he knows he gives us a level of toughness and know-how to start games.”

Idle minds

Backup center Jeff Withey is bearing the brunt of starting center Jason Smith and forward Ryan Anderson’s being out injured for the rest of the season.

Withey, the team’s only rookie, has been the target of their hazing all season. That activity has ramped up lately. On Thursday, while in the locker room right after practice, he found out his Mercedes 550 CLS had been wrapped in Saran Wrap by the duo.

“I was expecting the worst,” Withey said. “At least they didn’t ruin my car. I tried to have fun with it. It’s just Saran Wrap.”

After practice March 11, Withey had to sing “Happy Birthday” to Anthony Davis in front of the team. Withey, whose birthday was four days earlier, belted out a rendition that showed he’d at least been working on it.

Eric Gordon came away laughing. “Must-see TV,” Gordon said. “That was awful.”

Withey said he doesn’t mind being sent out for food and the like. The hazing “is a rite of passage,” he said.

“The thing is, I’m 24,” he said, with five teammates being younger than he is.

The worst came during a flight to a recent road game.

“I had to wear a penguin suit on the plane and walk through the airport,” he said, shaking his head.

Anderson also had the words “Sweet Pea” cut out in wood and attached to Withey’s locker.

“I’ll be glad when (the season)’s over (April 16),” Withey said.