Unheralded new addition Jeremy Evans takes on heavy responsibility during Mavs’ training camp

DALLAS — Although he was one of the Dallas Mavericks’ unheralded signings this offseason, versatile big man Jeremy Evans has been handed the most responsibility early during the team’s training camp.

The 6-foot-9, 200-pound Evans spent his first five seasons in Utah, coming to Dallas after averaging 3.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 10.8 minutes in 219 games. He also showcased plenty of raw athletic ability, winning the Slam Dunk contest at All-Star weekend in 2012.

Evans, 27, played collegiately for four seasons at Western Kentucky University, averaging 10.0 points and 6.9 rebounds in 34 games during his senior year. He also left as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 224, making him attractive to Utah in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft before being selected with the 55th overall pick.

The Mavericks then inked Evans to a reported two-year deal worth the league minimum this summer, looking to use his rare athleticism to fill the void left by two of the team’s top contributors from last season. And while working the athletic big man at three different positions during training camp, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is already attempting to tap into Evans’ full potential.

“Well, he’s the only guy on the team that we’re having learn three positions, which is hard,” Carlisle said while praising Evans’ versatility following Thursday’s team practice. “It’s a daunting task, ’cause the five, the four and the three are all so different. The five and four are certainly more similar, but three is different than the bigger positions. So, you know, that’s going to be a lot of work and it’s going to be a lot of reps. You know, (Al-Farouq) Aminu ended up doing that last year. It took a while for him to really get comfortable with it, and I suspect it’s going to take a while for Jeremy to get completely comfortable with it. But it speaks to the kinds of diverse abilities we feel he has.”

Evans primarily saw time as a backup power forward in Utah, averaging 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds in 38 games for the Jazz last season. He also connected on 55.2 percent from the field, showing a rare ability to finish above the rim with regularity.

The Mavericks now hope Evans can fill the void of former big man Brandan Wright, who was moved in the five-player trade with Boston last season for the acquisition of four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. But as Carlisle points out, Evans is being asked do much more than just fill Wright’s shoes.

“You know, you’re always going to miss a guy like Wright. You know, particularly from a roll-and-finish standpoint. He’s a very special player, but this is a different year. We wanted to get a couple of younger, athletic guys like that. You know, Jeremy Evans and Maurice Ndour are guys we’re looking at to kind of feel that niche for us,” Carlisle explained.

He added: “I spent a lot of time with [Evans] this summer, so I feel like I got a good head start with kind of what I feel he can do. And look, we’re expanding what’s being asked of him. In Utah, he was playing mostly backup four, and he’d play occasionally five when they went small. But it was not very often. You know, we’re stretching out his shooting range to the three-point line. And he’s made a few threes in his career, but he hasn’t shot that many. And we’re having him learn three positions, so it’s a great opportunity for him. But it is a lot of work.”

Evans, a career 20-percent shooter from three-point range, says he’s up to the challenge, looking to expand on the role that Wright thrived in during his team in Dallas.

Prior to the mid-season trade, Wright averaged 8.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 18.7 minutes an outing while coming off the bench in 27 games for the Mavericks. More impressively, Wright connected on a staggering 74.8 percent from the field, developing a chemistry with Mavs sixth man Devin Harris in the team’s pick-and-roll sets.

Evans will now look to excel in a more expanded role, hoping to add a three-point shot to the above-the-rim finishes that Mavericks fans came accustom to seeing during Wright’s 3 1/2 seasons in Dallas.

“The past eight years I’ve been at the four and five. You know, back in high school, of course, I used to play (on the perimeter). But that’s a big change, especially for the NBA,” Evans explained while addressing his added responsibilities. “You build habits of running into the paint, rebounding and just guarding guys inside, and it’s tough taking a step outside against bigger and faster guys and guys at this level.

“It’s pretty tough, just because you want to come in and do what [Carlisle] asks and catch on quick, but basically I’ve just been trying to do what they ask of me. It’s tough learning (to play small forward). But as far as getting it down, I’ve just got to go over the plays and spend extra time with the coaches. You know, this summer and right now in practice, I feel tremendous as far as knowing that I’m going to knock (outside shots) down. If I shoot it, I feel like now I’m going to make it. So, I feel like now it’s a big change. The coaches, they’ve told me where I’m going to play, and I’ve been in positions where I’m going to shoot the ball. I’ve been comfortable, and I’ve just been taking the shots and knocking them down. I feel like that’s big, because they’re putting me exactly where they want me to be. I’ve just got to stay focused and stay under control, come out and keep working every day. That’s why we’re here to practice.”

Evans admits to being caught in a whirlwind early in training camp while attempting to grasp everything Carlisle threw his way. However, the lanky big man has been able to turn to a former teammate in Harris, who also played in Utah for 1 1/2 seasons after being moved from the then-New Jersey Nets during the ’10-11 campaign.

Harris says Evans is more than capable of thriving in Carlisle’s system, using Wright as an example of how effective the new addition could be this season. With that said, the veteran guard knows Evans has plenty on his plate while playing more on the perimeter, looking to make life easier on the newcomer when the two have been on the court together during practice.

And after forming a chemistry with Wright during their time together, Harris hopes his time with Evans in practice will translate to the games when the regular season gets underway.

“Well, I’ve played with Jeremy in Utah, so I know what he’s capable of. For him, it’s about getting the right timing, because he’s playing multiple positions,” Harris said. “You know, he’s playing some three and some four, so he’ll get it. It’s just more about us being on the floor at the same time and kind of reading one another. You know, he’s got to read my faces a little bit better and kind of figure out what I want when I see different situations, but I think he’s definitely getting better. He’s also asked to do something he’s never been asked to do. He’s on the perimeter a lot more, so I think that’s where his focus is right now.

“[Wright] was my go-to. He was like my bail-out guy and a guy I could always find on the court. We struggled a little bit with (not having Wright), but I think we have something similar with Jeremy.”

Mavs found success with small-ball lineups against Thunder

DALLAS — It was all a dream. At least it started that way.

With starting center Tyson Chandler sidelined due to back spasms entering Sunday’s showdown against the high-octane Oklahoma City Thunder, the Dallas Mavericks knew they’d have to try something different in order to move to 2-0 on their current three-game homestand. Learning shortly before taking the court that he’d be without the services of his starting center, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle didn’t hesitate to shake up his lineup. Carlisle then turned his dream into reality while utilizing several small-ball lineups Sunday en route to a 112-107 win.

In doing so, Carlisle may have created an option that he can return to throughout the course of this season, finding success with a three-guard lineup that featured 12-time All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki at center and undersized reserve guard J.J. Barea at small forward.

“I was taking a nap this afternoon and I had a weird nightmare about coaching against a Don Nelson team. And then I got up and I checked my phone, and there’s a text from [Mavs head athletic trainer] Casey Smith saying Tyson’s out tonight. And so it just got me thinking that we needed to try something different against this team, because athletically and strength-wise we just don’t match up,” Carlisle said of his decision to go small. “It was a bit of a whimsical thing, but I talked to Dirk about it. He was fine with it, and we just took a shot with it. We wanted to come out and be the more aggressive team, and I thought we set a good tone early.”

With Nowitzki at the five, Carlisle inserted Barea into the starting lineup alongside four-time All-Star floor general Rajon Rondo, leading scorer Monta Ellis and new addition Chandler Parsons. The outcome was a quick 11-point lead before taking a 33-26 advantage into the second period.

And with Carlisle’s decision ensuring that the Mavericks (22-10) came out of the gates as the more aggressive team, the move may have also provided a blueprint to be used later this season should the Dallas team again need to utilize a smaller lineup.

“It started with Coach [Carlisle],” Rondo explained. “He shook up the lineup with Tyson being out, and he threw Barea out there. I think that made us the more aggressive team, and that’s how we came out to start the game.”

“Obviously, with Tyson being out, we had to chunk up the game a little bit,” added Nowitzki, who matched his season-high scoring output with 30 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the win. “I mean, we started basically as small as I can remember. Not even Nellie would have started this lineup, probably, with Barea at the three. But it worked pretty well there. You know, we knew we were not going to pound them on the inside, especially with Tyson out, so we tried to spread them out.”

Despite being outshot by the Thunder, 50 percent to 44.3 percent, the Mavericks would sprint to the win down the stretch while converting Oklahoma City’s 18 turnovers into 19 points. The Mavs also made up for a 53-37 rebounding disadvantage and a 60-40 deficit in the paint without Chandler in the interior, equaling the Thunder with 20 fast-break points and knocking down 10 of 31 from behind the three-point arc.

“It was weird,” Ellis admitted. “You know, you’ve got J.J. playing the three, the shortest guy on the team, against a big team like that, that rebounds the ball so well. It was weird at first, but I think we came out with a lot of energy at the beginning of the game. We really set the tone and we just maintained the game throughout the game.”

“Offensively the spacing was unbelievable,” Parsons added. “When we did get stops and we were able to block out and get rebounds, you know, transition with that lineup is pretty potent. You know, I think if everybody’s on the same page and everyone rotates and we help each other out, it’s a different lineup and a good look.”

With reigning MVP Kevin Durant sidelined for the sixth straight game due to a sprained right ankle, Carlisle and the Mavericks locked in on containing perennial All-Star Russell Westbrook.

Matching the Thunder’s athleticism with a speedy attack of their own at both ends of the floor, the Mavs overcame the absence of their anchor inside with a scrambling defense that held Westbrook to 18 points on 6-of-23 shooting. And although Westbrook finished one rebound and one assist away from a triple-double, the Mavs’ ability to keep the Thunder’s go-to scorer from taking over late would prove to be the difference in the game.

“Well, I thought we did a pretty good job, all things considered,” Carlisle said of the defensive performance on Westbrook. “He shot a low percentage and he had to work for all his points. You know, Rondo was working really hard on him, [Devin] Harris was working hard on him, and we were getting good help. He’s very difficult, because he’s so quick. He gets in (the lane) and he can throw in really difficult shots. And at the end, you know, we just were able to lay off on a couple of them and make him just kind of flail a couple of tough ones up there. He missed and we were able to come up with the ball, so that was the No.1 part of the game plan for trying to slow these guys down. We just needed to out-scramble them. And in the end we had enough positive scramble situations and were able to get out of here with a win.”

Note: Returning to action Tuesday night at American Airlines Center to conclude their three-game homestand, the Mavericks will next play host to the Washington Wizards. Dallas leads the season series 1-0 after a 105-102 road win back on Nov. 19. The game will air locally on Fox Sports Southwest at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS (6287) or by visiting Mavs.com.

Injury updates presented by Baylor Emergency Medical Centers:
Tyson Chandler, back spasms, day-to-day