SAN FRANCISCO – Of the seven players drafted by or for the Warriors between 2012 and 2018, only one has locked down a firm spot in the rotation.
While Kevon Looney has become an integral part of the team’s fabric, five of the others are playing elsewhere, if at all, as Ognjen Kuzmic, Nemanja Nedovic, Damian Jones, Patrick McCaw and Jordan Bell came and went.
Which brings us to the seventh man, Jacob Evans III, who was drafted 15 months ago and played a total of 204 minutes in his rookie season. The 6-foot-5 University of Cincinnati product enters training camp with a high goal set for himself in hoping to become the team’s third guard, replacing Shaun Livingston, who retired after five seasons in that role.
“Yeah, for sure,” Evans said Wednesday. “It’s a new team. I’ve had a year under my belt, so I know the offense pretty well. None of what we’re doing is really new, so I just want to add more to my game. I feel I have an advantage, a good chance of being that third guard.”
That would make him the first guard off the bench, replacing D’Angelo Russell or Stephen Curry. Another candidate is rookie Jordan Poole, whose forte is scoring, whereas it has become apparent that Evans, at this stage of his career, is more natural at point guard.
If Evans can’t crack an eight-man rotation now, when there are no fewer than three vacancies, the team’s player personnel department may have to craft an explanation for its poor record of drafting productive talent for the franchise.
The feeling among the Warriors, however, is that Evans is ready to join Looney as a recent Warriors draft pick who establishes a solid role with the team.
“I think he’s going to emerge this year,” coach Steve Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area this week. “That’s my belief.”
Evans, 22, certainly looks more self-assured. Often without rhythm and lacking flow – as well as shooting poorly – in brief appearances as a rookie, he made incremental improvement late last season and then looked like a player in command during Summer League games in July.
In informal summer workouts and the first two days of training camp, Evans is starting to flash the potential the Warriors saw when selecting him in the first round, No. 28 overall. He now looks as if he belongs in the NBA.
“Jacob has got a different kind of confidence on the floor right now,” Curry said. “He’s understanding how he can impact the game on both ends of the floor.”
Evans has scoring ability, but that component is no higher than fifth among his assets, behind defensive awareness, passing, court vision and two-way basketball IQ. He brings many of the same qualities, minus the athleticism, the Warriors lost in trading Andre Iguodala – someone Evans studied as a rookie.
“I tried to watch everybody – Andre, Dot (Livingston), Kevin (Durant), Steph, Klay (Thompson),” Evans said. “I can’t mimic the way they shoot, but I can mimic their work ethic. I can learn from their reads. They did different things on the court, and there was something I could learn from all of them.”
Evans took note of the clever ways Curry separates from defenders, the way Thompson uses his body to create space on one end and limit it on the other, the way Iguodala “was always alert and in the right spot” on defense and the way Livingston communicated and found ways to position his teammates on the floor.
Watching wasn’t always easy for someone who started every game as a sophomore and junior before declaring for the draft. Evans didn’t have many opportunities to play and wasn’t very effective when he did. He shot 34 percent from the field, including 26.7 percent beyond the arc. In the G-League, where he received considerably more playing time, those numbers rose to 43.7 percent and 30.5 percent.
It was Evans’ defense and court feel, however, that allowed the Warriors to maintain faith.
“I’m not going to compare him, in terms of accomplishments, to Shaun and Andre,” Kerr said. “He’s not as long. But he’s a basketball player. And he learned by watching those guys.
“With Jacob, it’s much more than, ‘Did he make his shots?’ That’s what everybody seems to look for. But It’s more about his defense, his awareness on the weak side and his playmaking. And I agree that he needs to play more with the ball.”
The opportunity Evans wasn’t ready for last season now is available. Can he seize it? Perhaps. He surely needs to, for the sake of the Warriors and their talent evaluators.