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Where will Max Evans’ playing time come?

After starting 15 games as a freshman, Evans will be Vanderbilt’s third guard in 2018-19.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It was hard to figure out Maxwell Evans’ usage pattern in 2017-18.

As a freshman, Evans started in 15 games, including 11 of Vanderbilt’s final 12 games. In 10 of his 15 starts, Evans played fewer than 20 minutes; twice, he started the game and played less than ten minutes. On the season, he averaged just 13 minutes per game and that doesn’t even include three games in which he didn’t get on the floor at all.

The easy answer is that on a team that wasn’t very good, Bryce Drew spent basically the entire season experimenting with different rotations. Evans got into the starting lineup a couple of games after Matthew Fisher-Davis was lost for the season, and when it was working on a given night, Drew left him out on the floor. He played 29 minutes at Auburn on February 3 and scored 13 points, going 4-of-5 from the floor; he played 20 minutes in the season finale at Ole Miss and scored 14 points, again going 4-of-5 from the floor. Those were two of three games in which Evans scored in double figures; the third was against an awful Houston Baptist team (when he scored 14 points in 13 minutes of action.) Evans also played 27 minutes at Arkansas and had 8 points and 9 rebounds.

The flipside to that was that when things weren’t going well for Evans, Drew didn’t hesitate to bench him. Another issue was matchups: at 6’2”, playing alongside Saben Lee and Riley LaChance (both also 6’2”), there were only so many times that Vanderbilt could afford to have all three on the floor at the same time. (It’s worth noting that Evans saw the most minutes against teams with smaller backcourts, where having three 6’2” guards on the floor was less of a problem.)

The overall product as a freshman wasn’t great. Evans attempted more threes (54) than twos (41) and outside of a few games, he didn’t shoot particularly well. He did get to the line a fair amount (33 free throw attempts) and shot well there (84.8 percent.) He seems like he’d be much more comfortable driving to the basket than being a spot-up shooter and could develop that way — but for 2018-19, the question is how much playing time he’ll get. Vanderbilt has three guards on the roster, and Evans is quite clearly behind Darius Garland and Saben Lee. It seems unlikely that Drew will want to play all three at the same time, though he might when matchups call for it; instead, Evans will likely be the primary backup to both Garland and Lee. If both of those are playing around 32 minutes per game — which seems reasonable — Evans will probably play about 16 minutes a game. But it’s possible that Drew will want Garland and Lee on the floor even more than that.

The key here, then, is whether Evans can play well enough such that there’s not much of a dropoff when he’s on the floor. All things considered, I’d rather have Garland and Lee playing 30-32 minutes a game than 36-38 minutes a game. The former is possible if Evans can hold the line when he’s on the floor; the latter will unfortunately be necessary if he can’t. Evans showed in spots last year that he’s capable of being a valuable backup for this team, but he needs to be a lot more consistent.