Former Slam Dunk Champ Jeremy Evans Works Toward NBA Return

There are two different angles to Jeremy Evans’ maiden EuroLeague campaign with Turkish club Darussafaka Tekfen.

On one hand, he was the top performer for his team in two different competitions (EuroLeague and Turkish League) while showing some significant progress.

On the other, there was the fact that Darussafaka finished at the bottom of the EuroLeague standings.

“I think I did OK for myself,” Evans told TBW following the loss to Greek side Olympiacos Piraeus that concluded the EuroLeague season for both clubs. “Of course, I always want to win games.”

It was Darussafaka’s 25th loss in 30 games during the EuroLeague regular season. The team that won the 2018 EuroCup under now-departed coach David Blatt finished at the bottom of the standings, never managing to become remotely relevant in the competition.

Some upsets, like the home wins over Olympiacos or Baskonia, were nothing more than flashes

All these were hardly Evans’ fault. Dacka wasn’t exactly quality-packed or EuroLeague-ready, lacking players from its EuroCup-winning roster of 2017-2018. Team leader Scottie Wilbekin, for example, left to sign a lucrative deal with Maccabi Tel Aviv and was never replaced. Halfway through the season, the club decided to shift its attention into developing its young Turkish guys.

“It was a tough season. Obviously not a success for my team. But I learned a lot. I got comfortable playing EuroLeague basketball,” Evans told TBW.

“Comfortable” is an understatement considering Evans’ production numbers in this entirely new venture—the best league outside the NBA. (Evans previously had a very brief stint with Khimki Moscow in Russia so this is technically his first full-time European experience.)

Over 27 EuroLeague games, Evans averaged a team-high 13.81 in PIR (NBA’s PER), which ranked him seventh among forwards in the competition. He scored 9.7 points on 55.49 percent True Shooting, tallying 5.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over 25:58 minutes.

Evans became a potent two-way nuke for Dacka. A dunking sensation via pick n’ roll finishers or off-the-ball cuts to the basket, plus a feared rim-protector, he 2012 Slam Dunk champion executed all sorts of assignments with seemingly endless energy.

“I came here to also try and work on my game, inside and outside,” Evans said to TBW. “Being a good teammate as well. Setting screens. Running the floor. Helping on defense. Blocking shots. Trying to stop big guys. Doing a little bit of the dirty work. Just trying to be aggressive. And being a good teammate.”

Evans’ bread and butter? Outhustling opponents on both ends and using his skyscraping leaping skills. Even in the game against Olympiacos, (theoretically the most indifferent match of the season for Dacka), Evans showed notable effort and made some rather impressive highlights. Just check this block straight out of NBA Jam:

Or that putback hammer:

These are all characteristics that the 31-year-old Evans had displayed in the NBA with the Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks from 2010-18. He was famous for being a high-octane, leaper with a spectacular above-the-rim game. Always a question, though: Will he ever sufficiently pair his hydrogen-packed athleticism with decent shooting range to add offensive versatility?

Well, there now might be an answer to this.

Evans began with a paltry 29 of 93 3-pointers in 39 games for the 2017-2018 G-League. This season, he finished his debut EuroLeague with a more than respectable 37.9 percent on 2.1 attempts per game. In the Turkish League, where Dacka is currently fighting for a playoff spot, Evans has shot 16 out of 42 triples so far (38.1 percent), apart from averaging 11.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.2 blocks for a team-high 17.75 PIR.

He’s been particularly solid at making the three after the pick n’ pop.

“I’ve been trying finding spots to take shots and getting more comfortable shooting the 3-pointer,” Evans explained. “I’ve done a way better job on being ready to shoot. You know, guys here can play pretty good defense. They can be tough so it can be tough finding your own shots. But I’ve been working on both my inside and outside game.”

NBA teams that were once skeptical may now reconsider the 6’9″, 200 lb. Evans.

“I’m sure they are watching. See that I developed my 3-point shot,” Evans hopes.

After all, his main goal for the summer, when he becomes a free agent, is returning to the NBA.

“Of course. That’s always the first option. Going back to the NBA,” Evans said. “But I’d be happy to come back and play in Europe. I’m having a great experience and a great time in Turkey. Love the city (Istanbul). People are great. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”

Playing in Europe bears certain challenges, especially for American players, who have rarely been overseas. These include being so far away from your home, family and friends; having to live in a new environment; learning to operate on a foreign brand of basketball, systems, and rules; adapting into a different lifestyle Off the court.

“I feel this helped a lot. I had a couple of injuries so teams were looking to see if I was healthy.  It’s tough for guys coming from America. It’s different. You have to learn to adjust. Some guys can’t do it. It shows a lot, to be here be without family and play the game you love.”

Evans had a mission and the EuroLeague experience with Darussafaka has been a beneficial journey for him, especially if he can capitalize this summer by earning an NBA contract again.

“I think that everything plays a big part in me getting more ready,” Evans said.


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