Reggie Evans is the most important player on the Nets heading into the playoffs.
Let that simmer.
Wait, no! Don’t leave! I’m right and here’s why.
We know what the Nets are in terms of talent. Deron has regained Salt Lake City form. Brook is at the bar ordering the nightcap to his breakout season. Joe is occasionally the $120 million unassuming assassin we expected. Other players are other players. And then there’s Reggie.
Sure, he gets rebounds (and we can talk about that in a moment if you’d like). But he also does something to this Brooklyn crowd. Deron and Brook obviously coax more oohs from the kind of timid home arena–as they absolutely should–but Reggie makes the crowd smile. It may seem insignificant, but on a team that’s pretty low on charisma or excitement or anything resembling fun, Reggie’s Southern-maniacal charm has a gravitational force that’s grabbed fans. “Reg-gie!” chants blossom around the court like a crown of lilacs. Fans get giddy when he heads to the free throw line because anything could happen; he might even make them both. He’s got the popularity and panache of a 12th man (think Scalabrine), with the work rate of an All Star. His tangible value lies somewhere in between, but he’s brainwashed us all and we’re better for it.
But it’s not just the fans. On the recent national Nets-Celtics broadcast, ESPN returned from a commercial break by showing Reg pleading his case that Jordan Crawford had grabbed Reggie’s head and pushed off on his way to a soaring putback dunk. Deron was laughing, the ref was laughing, Jon Barry and Mike Breen were laughing, and no doubt tons of people at home were laughing. This was firmly entrenched in the middle of the Celtics’ legitimate comeback attempt. But there was Reggie, calming the troops, bringing levity to an increasingly hostile situation (purposefully or not, I don’t think it matters). The Nets stayed winning and put away one of the season’s more impressive wins.
And while the enjoyment of Reggie outside of Nets circles comes with an undercurrent of dismissal for what the guy does on the court, Nets heads know that despite the often-frustrating offensive shortcomings, Reggie’s on-court prowess is vital to this team’s play.
His rebounding is contagious in a way Jason Kidd’s passing was. The Nets’ rout of the Sixers came as a direct result of Brooklyn’s absurd rebounding edge (67-34) led by Uncle Reggie’s 24 in three quarters. (Speaking of which, I think Reggie’s 24 boards in three quarters is more impressive than Kobe’s 62 points through three and you’ll never convince me otherwise.)
The Nets are going to lose in the second round to the Heat. Well, that’s the best-case scenario. First, they’ll need to slay a Chicago group that refuses to acknowledge the flaws of the human body and continues to succeed despite injuries to all of their players. Bruisers, the lot of them. Reggie will have to take some hits and dish out just as many. But he also needs to invigorate a Brooklyn crowd that’s (understandably) been a bit inconsistent throughout the season, leading to a ho-hum 26-15 record at Barclays. They can’t give up a playoff game at home, and so we look to Reggie.
But he won’t have trouble with this. He’s the social lubricant, that much-needed first drink at the office party. He’s the guy that gets the Brooklyn crowd all loosey goosey from the minute his name is announced (even though he’s not even out there yet to accept our howls). The team stumbled around the forest looking for an identity for too long before realizing that the weathered shaman who would dictate their direction was on the foot trail with them the entire time.
But this is just how Uncle Reggie works and operates.