After earning a little bit of time as a starter for the Los Angeles Lakers, Robert Sacre has settled into a bench role behind Jordan Hill. Although Sacre could see his minutes as a backup dwindle at the hands of a returning Chris Kaman, the backup center position is his to lose.
Sacre does a lot of things well for a Lakers team that is in desperate need of interior play. Jordan Hill has rightfully earned the starting spot for being a great defensive and offensive rebounder, hustler and post defender. However, Sacre has the tools to these same things for a team that allows 48 points in the paint per game. This is the highest average in the entire league, per teamrankings.com.
Despite his relative lack of athleticism compared to Hill, Sacre is a good shot-blocker. Averaging one block per game in only 12.2 minutes, Sacre knows how to alter a shot and play good defense. Sacre is decent on his rotations and jumps straight up to disrupt shot attempts more often than not.
Shooting 52 percent from within eight feet of the basket, Sacre has a nice touch around the rim and is also capable of stepping out and hitting short jumpers. Sacre is averaging 50 percent from 16 feet to eight feet of the rim and is a solid pick-and-roll option.
Shooting 48.6 percent from the field overall, Sacre's efficiency doesn't necessarily mean he's a great offensive player. The high percentage just means that Sacre is smart with his shot selection and rarely makes a poor attempt.
However, Sacre doesn't have the skill at this point in his career to really create a shot for himself. While Jordan Hill is also raw on the offensive end, his tenacity, strength and athleticism make him a relentless at creating second-chance opportunities and forcing his way to a basket in the key.
This means that while Sacre is a fundamentally sound defensive and offensive player, his offense won't stand out to Mike D'Antoni, a coach who is famed for valuing offensive production over defense.
The one thing that Sacre does have over Kaman is his ability to run the floor better. Running in transition is very important for a big man regardless of the system. If Sacre can get deep position from running in transition, he can afford himself more easy baskets that should allow him to see more minutes and contribute with his defense.
Of course, Sacre is no Dwight Howard. He isn't a game-changer on the defensive end and won't make suddenly transform the Lakers into a top-10 defensive squad. However, defense from the center position doesn't noticeably drop off once Sacre comes in for Hill, and that is very important for a struggling Lakers team.
In order to carve out a niche for himself and earn consistent minutes for the rest of the season, Sacre has to continue to be the defensive presence he has been while also being more of a presence offensively. While standard post-ups aren't the norm in D'Antoni's system, Sacre still has to find a way to get easy buckets in the interior.
The best thing he can do is continue to improve at running the pick-and-roll. He already has a decent touch around the basket, and the pick-and-roll should guarantee him some decent looks at the rim. While he isn't a great mid-range jump-shooter, he does have a bit of range on his shot. This should allow him to alternate between rolling to the rim or hanging back for a jumper after the initial pick.
While D'Antoni isn't a big fan of the traditional post-up, he has historically found great success with the pick-and-roll. Taking advantage of his strengths and maximizing his pick-and-roll opportunities should allow him to garner more consistent minutes.
Another aspect of Sacre's game that should garner him considerable minutes is his rebounding.
In the six games in which Sacre has played more than 10 minutes, he has averaged four rebounds per game. Despite D'Antoni's emphasis on the offensive end, there is no denying that rebounding is vital to any team's success.
The Lakers are already a decent rebounding team, ranking 14th in the league by averaging 51.7 boards a contest. While Jordan Hill isn't the typical D'Antoni big man, he still sees a lot of minutes because he can crash the boards, close out defensive possessions and generate second-chance opportunities. Sacre could be in line for a consistent role on the roster if he can perform similar duties as Hill's backup.
Stats are accurate as of December 15, 2013. All stats are from NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted.