Tyreke Evans watches a lot of NBA basketball. He knows many of his NBA basketball-playing peers don't use their free time that way, "but I can't help it," he told CBS Sports. So when he watched the Indiana Pacers play last season, whether it was in a tightly contested regular-season game against the Boston Celtics or a heartbreaking loss to the LeBron's Cavaliers in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs, he noticed their mindset.
Evans saw a hungry team that played with heart. They were unquestionably led by breakout star Victor Oladipo, but they played together, they had chemistry and they didn't care who they were playing against. This is what anybody who actually tuned in to Pacers games was rewarded with, and it is how they shocked the league by winning 48 games after many of us analysts predicted they'd tank.
It was of particular importance to Evans, though, as he would become a free agent in July. He was looking for a team that, win or lose, always competed like maniacs.
"Victor is a problem, and everybody that was with him never backed down," Evans said. "They just played hard the whole game. They put up a fight. Once I seen that, I knew that was a good fit that I could go over and help. Just adding another guy that can create, help those guys out. That's why I chose it."
On the phone after a preseason practice, Evans said that Indiana is aware of the idea that it can't sneak up on anybody anymore, but he never sounded worried about the players being up for the challenge: The Pacers, in his estimation, are capable of grinding their way to the top of the East. This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity and flow.
CBS Sports: You think there's any truth to the idea that the Pacers can't surprise teams like last year, so you have to start off knowing everyone's going to be ready for you guys now?
Tyreke Evans: We talked about it in the meeting the first time we met. We all feel like we can be No. 1. We feel like the East's open. A lot of people know Boston is good, but we feel like we can beat any team and compete with any team. Our mindset every night is to go out there and just play with heart, knowing that we can win the game. We don't look as nobody, no team, as better than us. That's what I like about this team. We go with the mindset that we can compete with anybody we're playing and we can win any game if we play hard.
CBS: On an individual level, you had a great season last year, but it was a weird situation in Memphis and you almost got traded. Are you looking forward to a more normal year?
TE: Yeah, definitely. I've been in some tough situations. Two contract years. But I feel like this organization, they bond well. Just the owners and things like that. I really lost faith in a lot of owners because of situations I've been in, but I have faith with these owners. They seem pretty upfront and I like that. Just everything around here, the organization is just amazing. They treat everybody the same, not just one guy. I feel like I'm in a real nice situation this year, so I'm going to take advantage of it as much as possible.
CBS: A lot of people see your role as taking some pressure of Victor, whether you're sharing the court with him or leading the second unit. Do you see it that way?
TE: Definitely. I mean, I did it on teams multiple times. This is my 10th year -- hate to say it, I'm getting up there. But I pretty much understand the game, I know when to turn it on, you know? Just having me over here, I think it's going to be an extra booster to take the load when Vic's out. Or when we're in together -- I've played with Vic before, I know what kind of player he is. He's not selfish. He plays the right way and I play the right way.
CBS: People are raving about Myles Turner and the shape that he's in. What have you seen from him?
TE: Just his mentality. He seems focused. I didn't really see the body before and after, but he's definitely in shape. He's working hard. The sky is the limit for him, man. A young kid -- I guess he's a 7-footer or more maybe -- he's worked hard. He comes to practice and works. He's a good guy, a good teammate. It's just all about the work you put in on the court. Just being physical in that paint and still being able to knock down that shot, that's going to make the game easy for him even more.
CBS: Domantas Sabonis is such a smart player, what's it like running pick-and-rolls with him now?
TE: Oh man, we talked about it last night. He's like, "Man, I missed you out there." [Evans missed Thursday's game with a sprained ankle.] In practice, we have a good connection. Man, he knows the game. He's been around the game for a long time -- you know his dad being in the league, he's a student of the game. He's been taught well. You can just tell. My basketball IQ is pretty high and I think his is, too. Just from him being around the game for a long time and having the proper coaching and somebody to teach him, he plays the right way.
CBS: You've become a better, more prolific 3-point shooter -- when you started consistently hitting 3s off the dribble, could you tell pretty quickly the scouting report has changed? How did that change your life as a playmaker and attacker?
TE: Man, it's crazy. It changed a lot, man. It means so much, I wish I could have did it earlier in my career. But hey, it takes time. I never gave up on it. Just knowing that if teams go under I can knock that shot down, it helps my game out a whole lot. Hitting two 3s a game -- I'm going to be aggressive getting to the rack and fast break points and whatever comes along with it -- but just hitting those extra shots helps a lot. It takes a lot of load off my body. I'm confident with it. That's the most important thing. I think -- always, I could shoot, but just being confident, knowing that it's going in and trusting my work in the offseason, that's the biggest thing for me. In the game, it's natural.
CBS: So when you get a big guy guarding you, and you know he's worried about you driving but you can also hit that 3 now, what's going on in your head?
TE: I'm just reading the situation. Usually when I was in the league, they're backing up back to maybe near the foul line and I'm at the top of the key and I'd still try to drive it. But now in my career, they're up. So it gives me an advantage, especially with a big man. If he backs up, it's simple: I'm going to shoot it. If he's up close and makes me drive it, I'm going to drive to the basket and create. It just makes the game easier for me. That's what that shot did for me. And I finally realized that in Year 8, 9, 10. That's when I really started to realize it.
CBS: You have limited playoff experience -- what would a long playoff run mean to you?
TE: It'd mean a lot. I mean, like you said, I haven't had a long playoff career. But I've been in that situation, and the intensity is different. That feeling is just different from regular season. One thing I do know is that when you're on a good team, you better start the regular season off [treating] every game like a playoff game. So we're trying to get our minds set for that: getting better and better and preparing ourselves for that run.