Tyreke Evans didn't disappoint the thousands of fans who chanted "ROY," donned giveaway t-shirts, and held up sticks with cardboard cutouts of his likeness on an evening dedicated to promoting his rookie of the year candidacy. With a variety of vintage spin moves and acrobatic circus shots, he put up 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a blowout victory over the playoff-bound Toronto Raptors, becoming his first Kings rookie to record a triple-double in the Sacramento era and the first in frachise history since Norm Van Lier of the Cincinnati Royals on November 5, 1969.
While Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors has improved dramatically as he's adjusted to the speed and physicality of the NBA, Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks gained national acclaim after scoring 55 points in mid-November, and Darren Collison has stepped up admirably for the New Orleans Hornets in the absence of All-Star Chris Paul, no rookie has come close to matching Evans' remarkable consistency. He's produced with an almost robotic invariability in the boxscore, ranking first in scoring (20.3), second in assists (5.5), and fifth in rebounds (5.0) among first-year players. And unlike any of the other contenders, he isn't in the midst of his best month, but in the midst of a historic season, in which he's 17 games away from entering the elusive 20-5-5 club that includes only Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James.
After some critics figured he'd face an early transition period while he learned the nuances of running an NBA offense, and others once chastised the Kings' decision pass on Ricky Rubio in the draft (oops!), Evans has instead looked astonishingly more like an established veteran than a rookie finding his way. At 6'6" and 220 pounds, he has already established himself as one of the league's best at getting into the lane and finishing around the basket, oftentimes holding his own layup clinics in the final minutes of close games. On the defensive end, he's averaged 1.5 steals per game and put constant pressure on opposing guards with his length and lateral quickness.
It might be nitpicking to expect more from a rookie who can already break down defenses, score, pass, and rebound, but the biggest knock on Evans has been his outside shooting. While he's converted 60% of his attempts at the rim, he's made just 40% of his shots from beyond 10 feet and 25% from three-point range. Yet, his scoring breakdown — as well as the unorthodox fadeaway motion on his jumper — is reminiscent of LeBron James' during the reigning MVP's rookie season, in which he shot 42% before upping his field goal percentage to 47% in his second year.
In fact, without going so far as calling Evans "the next LeBron" — a moniker that should've been retired after the short-lived career of Harold "Baby Jordan" Miner — a comparison of the two players' phenomenal first-year campaigns shows that in addition to outshooting him, the Kings rookie has nearly matched James, who stands a full two inches taller, in every other key category:
Perhaps most importantly, Evans has similarly led his team to more wins than the previous season, and has put them on the right track after several forgettable seasons. Barring a major upset, he'll not only become the first King to win the Rookie of the Year award, but he'll join Ralph Sampson (51 disappointing games from 1989 to 1991), Mitch Richmond, and Chris Webber as the only ROY winners to even play on the team in the Sacramento era. To paraphrase Rakim, it's been a long time, the Kings shouldn't have left you, without a strong rook to clap to.