Bernstein: Contrast is context for Jacob Evans, Warriors

Despite many expecting him to contribute right away, Golden State Warriors first-round draft pick Jacob Evans has had more DNP’s (10) than points scored (7) in his young career.

Evans earned a reputation as a defensive stopper in college at Cincinnati, but his still-broken offensive game has kept coach Steve Kerr from using him very often.

In Houston, meanwhile, Evans’ former Bearcats teammate, Gary Clark, is already an NBA rotation player. Clark, an undrafted rookie, just signed a partially-guaranteed three-year deal with the Rockets due in large part to his own tenacious defense.

How Evans and Clark have started their careers shows the way team fit can influence player development: The franchise a rookie lands with often determines whether he initially soars or stumbles. While the Warriors have gotten immediate contributions from a few rookies in recent seasons, their rotation has been less accommodating to first-year players needing an extra bit of time to refine their games.

With an All-Star-loaded roster chasing a third straight NBA championship, and reliable veterans like Shaun Livingston and Jonas Jerebko in tow, there simply isn’t room for shaky newcomers to gain their footing.

Evans was likely never going to get NBA buckets right away. He shot 43 percent from the floor and 37 percent from 3-point range as a junior at Cincinnati, and scouts knocked him for being too passive at times and not having secondary traits to turn to when his jumper faltered. Evans is shooting 18.8 percent overall with Golden State.

His early-season struggles contrast the positive first impressions made by other Warriors youngsters of recent vintage.

Patrick McCaw averaged 9.2 points per 36 minutes in his first 10 career games in 2016, helping him secure a permanent role that season. Jordan Bell averaged 17 points and 9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes in his first 10 career games in 2017. Second-year wing Alfonzo McKinnie put up 16.5 points per 36 minutes in his first 10 games with Golden State this year.

Evans has not hit his stride in the same way, averaging a meager 3.3 points per 36 minutes and posting a negative-11 net rating through 17 games. As a result, he’s spent two games with the G League Santa Cruz Warriors and been a coaching staff project between NBA contests.

“What he’s doing every day on the court [in practice] with [assistant coach Willie Green] is really starting to translate,” Kerr said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to put him out on the court.”

Houston offers a different set of circumstances for its rookies, with the departure of Carmelo Anthony and missed time by Chris Paul and Gerald Green granting plenty of opportunities. Clark, at times as offensively deficient as Evans, has been given enough rope to work through his struggles and flex his defensive muscle.

Clark is shooting just 28.9 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from distance, but he’s still playing almost 17 minutes per game. He averages 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steal per 36 minutes, figures that rank third and sixth, respectively, on his team.

“He’ll have his bad ones; he’s a rookie,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters in November. “There will be ups and downs, but he deserves all the confidence we can give him.”

This is not to say the Warriors are by any means a toxic setting for newcomers, or that the high bar for consistent playing time is unwarranted. Time spent in the locker room and on the bench with defensive stalwarts Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala could help Evans long-term, and he still has plenty of time to work on his shot outside of game situations.

But Evans is certainly in a tough spot as a rookie, particularly after a slew of second-round picks found success in Golden State before him. Fortunately for Evans, the average NBA franchise is built much more like the Rockets than Warriors, and if he fails to break through in the Bay Area over the next couple of years, he’ll probably enjoy more wiggle room elsewhere.

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