Reggie Evans would like to say there is a science to it, that in the seconds before setting a bone-jarring ball screen he is crunching data in his mind—Who am I screening? Who am I screening for?—and preparing proper technique. But really, it's a lot simpler than that. "I just want to hit somebody," says the 6'8", 245-pound Nets forward, "and if he gets through, I want my guard to come back so I can hit him again." Over a 10-year NBA career with five teams, Evans became the Picasso of the pick; any list of the league's top ball screeners invariably has him at or near the top. "He's an amazing screener," says Warriors guard Jarrett Jack, a former teammate of Evans's. "He knows how to do it without giving it away, so when he gets you, you remember it."
Evans's career as a walking wall began in 2002, when he signed with Seattle as a free agent out of Iowa, where he twice led the Big Ten in rebounding. On the first day of camp, coach Nate McMillan told Evans that he didn't need another scorer; he needed someone to do the dirty work. No problem, Evans said; he was no stranger to it. Growing up in the projects of Pensacola, Fla., Evans started playing in pickup games when he was 10, usually with men in their 20s. "[McMillan] said if I rebound, defend and set picks, I'll have a long career," Evans recalls. "He told me, 'I wasn't a scorer. But go look up in the rafters, and you will see my number.'"
A good pick, says Evans, "is like an assist that doesn't go in the scorebook." And as the body man for some pretty good playmakers—Gary Payton, Chris Paul and Andre Miller, to name just a few—Evans has racked up those assists. He prefers screening for veterans (Ray Allen was his favorite) because rookies tend to move before he is set, which is more likely to earn him a foul for a moving screen. Evans's secret, says Nets swingman Joe Johnson, is that while most screeners wait for contact, Evans initiates it. "And he hits you with everything," says Johnson. "He doesn't hit you and get out of the way. He hits you and holds you, which makes it real tough to get past him."
The list of quality screeners isn't deep; most college big men enter the NBA without the skills to set a good one. "Our league is so much more advanced than college," says Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Our league comes down to angles. A quarter of a shoulder turn on a screen is the difference between scoring or not."
While Evans isn't the most skilled offensive player—his career average is 4.0 points per game—his hustle keeps him in plays. "Typically, a nonscorer isn't good in the pick-and-roll," says Rivers, "but Reggie rolls so well that he gets to the basket quickly, and you have to guard him there."
Of course, when most opponents are tasting the sweat on your jersey, you don't make a lot of friends. Evans has been called a flopper and been accused of taking cheap shots (ask Chris Kaman). "I have a lot of things I think about him," says Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, "but not a lot of it is positive."
Evans shrugs off the criticism. "Ask those guys if they would think that if I was on their team," says Evans. "I'm going to do what I have to do to stay on the floor. If I can get my man open, I'm doing my job."
To Evans, a good pick "is like an assist that doesn't go in the book."
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY
IMMOVABLE OBJECT To opposing point guards, few sights are as unwelcome as Reggie Evans set for a ball screen.