Why Los Angeles Lakers Must Elevate Chris Kaman to a Starting Role

Nate Loop@Nate_LoopFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2014

Los Angeles Lakers center Chris Kaman, left, fouls Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka, of Congo, during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Sometimes it seems that the Los Angeles Lakers have too many injuries, loose ends and shoddy performances to keep track of. However, if the Lakers want to shore up some of these issues and steady the team for the remainder of the season, they could begin by letting Chris Kaman play a starting role with the team.

The illustrious Lakers find themselves at the NBA All-Star break tied—with the Sacramento Kings—for last in the Western Conference at 18-35. Apparently, they are only capable of beating the Utah Jazz.

Lakers haven't beaten a Western Conference team in more than a month. It was Jan. 3... against the Jazz.

— Bill Oram (@bill_oram) February 12, 2014


Nick Young, Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are all injured, essentially turning the bench into free advertising for high-end tailors in Los Angeles. The remaining roster is a starting five and a three-man weave drill at best. 

This confluence of negative factors is mostly short-term or fixable, but if the Lakers are going to start rebuilding, they need to patch up certain areas of their team right now. The veteran presence of Chris Kaman is a good place to start.

Considering the recent way Kaman's playing time has been trending (more starts, more minutes), the real argument is that Kaman should be elevated to a starting role with a sense of permanence rather than one borne out of necessity due to injury.

Kaman has 29 games under his belt this season but just seven starts. He is averaging roughly 18 minutes per game.

While he has battled injuries, there have been plenty of DNPs (Did Not Play) followed by the enigmatic phrase "coach's decision" next to Kaman's name in the box score. 

This is strange considering the competition he has faced on the Lakers roster.

Jordan Hill is a workhorse but serviceable at best for now. Ryan Kelly is tall but is projected to develop as one of the new breed of oversized spot-up shooters, while Robert Sacre works hard but is hardly deserving of major NBA minutes.

And yet, for a couple of months there, it seemed as though those last two players were coach Mike D'Antoni's favored tandem in the absence of Gasol or whenever Hill needed a breather. This perplexed and frustrated Kaman for a time, and recently his rhetoric has turned to his need for opportunity, as this quote via ESPNLosangeles.com's Dave McMenamin demonstrates:

Sometimes people will give you a different opportunity to make mistakes. I had a coach [Mike Dunleavy] for seven years that kind of worked with me and let me play through things. I'm going to make mistakes, but I think ultimately, I've been doing this long enough to know that I'm a pretty solid basketball player all around and I bring a lot of different things to the table. 

Kaman, at 31 years old, still makes mistakes but has shown plenty of fancy footwork and above-average shooting during his limited time on the court this season. 

When he is playing, he looks like one of the better true centers in the league. He has put up 10.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, a shade under his career average but impressive considering the minutes he's been playing and the constant lineup shuffling.

There was an impressive 18 points in 16 minutes against the Phoenix Suns on January 10 as well as a recent 27-point outburst against the Chicago Bulls on February 9. In fact, Kaman looks good as a starting center, heading into the All-Star break with three straight double-doubles, at a time when some players take a visible drop in performance.

Speaking of visible, Kaman also, on occasion, passes the eyeball test with aplomb. This sumptuous move at the 2:14 mark of this video from the Lakers' most recent game against the Oklahoma City Thunder would make Hakeem Olajuwon proud.

Now the typical argument against this might be that making Kaman a starter would take away minutes from developing players like Hill and Kelly, who could use the extra work in a throwaway campaign.

At 31 years old and with a one-year contract under his belt, he doesn't project to have a long future in the NBA, but based on what he's shown in limited minutes this season, he is about as agile and athletic as he has ever been and is blessed with the mind of a season veteran. 

And as it stands right now, the marching orders from up high are this: no tanking. Mitch Kupchak said as much to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

If you try to manipulate the draft, I'm not a karma guy, but if you try to manipulate this thing, it never works out the way you think it's going to work out.

You're better off doing what you know is the right thing to do and whatever happens happened for the right reason. And that’s our approach.

So the current share of minutes can change if it means keeping the better performers on the floor.

Kelly can lose some minutes if it means more time learning how to be a role player. Sacre averages 10.8 minutes a game for his career, which is an ideal amount of time for a player with his limited skill set.

Kaman's comfort shooting inside and from mid-range could allow for some tandem play with Gasol.
Kaman's comfort shooting inside and from mid-range could allow for some tandem play with Gasol.Mark Duncan/Associated Press/Associated Press

Kaman can stand tall as the Lakers' starting center, and even if Gasol gets healthy soon and isn't traded, he would at least be one of the better backup centers in the league at any rate. Even so, D'Antoni could try to adjust his coaching style to allow two post players to work in tandem, although that move didn't work out so well last year when Gasol was paired with Dwight Howard.

Kaman is different from Howard and is much more comfortable away from the basket (as this short chart from Vorped.com shows), which could allow Gasol to take up some more natural positions on the low block from time to time if the opportunity arose for them to both play starter's minutes.

The minutes are certainly out there on a team that is young and looks constantly adrift, save for the recent professorial play of Kendall Marshall perhaps. Kaman is acutely aware of this.


Chris Kaman: "Our group of guys isn't used to winning right now, and some of them don't even know how to win."

— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) February 14, 2014


He may not be synonymous with winning, but as a veteran, he knows what it takes to put in the required effort night in and night out. Given the chance, he can show this young crop of players with potential what that really means. In a supposedly lost season, what is there to lose? There is only something to gain for the Lakers and Kaman. All he needs is a start.


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