LAS VEGAS -- Tyreke Evans knows what it says next to his name on the roster and he doesn't care. He knows he's listed as a point guard and is expected to be the Kings' starter at that position on opening night. But he also knows he can play shooting guard and small forward -- and he may have to do just that as part of a versatile Sacramento offense.
"I just look at myself as a basketball player," Evans said before Thursday's preseason game here against the Lakers. "I don't want to box myself in."
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Evans, the No. 4 pick in the draft after one season at Memphis, is among the most intriguing rookies in part because few know exactly how to label him. He even admits he didn't know what to call himself during predraft workouts.
It's understandable. Evans has played point guard consistently for less than a year, switching over to the position 11 games into his freshman season at Memphis. Evans nearly put up a triple-double in his first start at the point, and the Tigers didn't lose another game until falling to Missouri in the NCAA tournament.
He further allayed any concerns about handling the position with his performance in the NBA Summer League, where he had 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists against the Warriors and fellow rookie guard Stephen Curry, andfinished with 33 points, nine rebounds and seven assists against the Bucks and another lottery pick at point guard, Brandon Jennings. He's gone on to start all three preseason games at point guard, averaging 13 points, 5.0 assists and 5.7 rebounds while playing 33.3 minutes per game, second most in the league.
"Once I got on the floor, it was same as every other game I had played in," said Evans, who had 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in a 98-92 loss to the Lakers, during which Kobe Bryant defended him for much of the first half. "I thought I'd be nervous, but I think I'm ready for this moment."
Even if Evans hadn't adjusted as quickly as he had, his sheer athleticism and potential would already be a drastic improvement over Beno Udrih, last year's starting point guard. Udrih seemed lost most of last season and came to symbolize the state of a team that finished with the NBA's worst record.
Sacramento is not asking Evans to be a prototypical point guard in new coach Paul Westphal's offense. Instead, the Kings want him to be a playmaker and a defender who will be called on to facilitate when necessary. Westphal has also pushed Evans to improve his conditioning (he cramped up Thursday) and develop a consistent jump shot.
"He just needs to play the way he plays. We're not going to ask him to be the orchestrator of all things for this team," said Westphal, who likens Evans to a combination of Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle, his backcourt tandem in Phoenix when he led the Suns to the Finals in 1993. "We have a lot of offense that is initiated by many different people. He's not being asked be the second coming of Bob Cousy. We're asking him to attack and make the right decision when the defense adjusts to his attack."
Evans says Westphal's offense is actually easier to run than Memphis' because of spacing that allows for more open shots. But growing pains are to be expected when a 20-year-old rookie gets the keys to an NBA team. Evans ranks in the top 15 in both assists and turnovers (3.3) during the preseason, which highlights his ability to be a playmaker, but, at times, also a poor decision-maker.
"Turnovers are always going to be an issue," Westphal said. "I'm sure he'll have some games where he turns it over more than he and we would like to, but it's all part of the learning process. You don't learn without being aggressive, and if you're aggressive, you're going to make some mistakes."
Evans displayed his versatility Thursday against the Lakers. He was all over the floor, stealing the ball from Lamar Odom one moment and then dishing it to Spencer Hawes in traffic for an easy layup the next. He also showed his aggressiveness by scoring on a couple of runners in the paint as he darted threw the Lakers' front line of Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest and Odom.
"Tyreke can play three positions, but I've never seen a point guard like him," said Kings assistant coach Mario Elie, an NBA guard for 11 seasons. "He has a 7-foot wing span, can handle the ball real well, post up, make good decisions and finish around the hole. Once he develops his jump shot, he's going to be really hard to handle."
While Evans is soft-spoken on and off the court, answering questions in a sentence or two and taking instruction from coaches while nodding his head, his ability to lead the team has already been evident.
"Every time he walks out on the court, the veterans treat him with respect, as if he knows what he's doing," Westphal said. "There's only one or two guys a year who come into the league with that kind of presence. He looks he's been in the league for several years already. He just has a demeanor that inspires confidence from the coaching staff and other players.
"He certainly isn't a classic point guard, but he's going to make defenses make difficult decisions. Almost no point guard has the size to compete with him inside. Teams are going to have to figure out what to do with this guy."