Many fans of the Los Angeles Lakers see rookie forward Devin Ebanks as the second coming of former Lakers forward Trevor Ariza, and after watching the Lakers' 102-95 preseason victory over the Denver Nuggets, I would be inclined to agree.
Ebanks, at 6'9'', is slightly taller than Ariza and just as athletic, plus he plays with the same type of energy and intensity.
There is one huge difference in the players, though, because even though they share similar physical traits, Ebanks' game is much more advanced than Ariza's was as a rookie.
Ariza came to the NBA from UCLA with the reputation as a great athlete with somewhat raw fundamental skills and the potential to be a very good player if someone took the time to foster his development.
After stints with the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic, Ariza did find an environment with the Lakers where his game finally began to show signs of progression.
Ariza played a prominent role in the Lakers' 2009 championship season, and his long-distance shooting and timely defense added a different element to the team.
Ron Artest has more than filled Ariza's shoes, but he doesn't have the same type of energy and athleticism in the open court, and even though Artest can be effective offensively, he lacks the "wow" factor at the rim that Ariza was capable of.
There were several plays during the Lakers' win over Denver where Ebanks displayed a flair for the spectacular in the open court, and none were more evident than a fast-break dunk that was assisted by Kobe Bryant.
After the game, Bryant said it felt great to have a tall, athletic wing like Ebanks on the perimeter who could get out in the open court on the break and finish at the rim.
Coach Phil Jackson, he of the "thou shalt not play rookies" philosophy had nothing but praise for Ebanks after the game, and he admitted that Ebanks had pretty much exceeded his expectations.
Due to an injury to Sasha Vujacic, Jackson was able to experiment with Ebanks as a shooting guard as well as his traditional small forward position, and by all indications, it was a success.
Ebanks scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and acted as a spark plug on both ends of the court.
Ariza was never a great individual defender when he was with the Lakers, but he played the passing lanes well, which resulted in a number of opportunistic steals.
Ebanks is already more advanced defensively than Ariza is now, and Jackson said his length, quickness and understanding of defensive principles means that he could eventually be a superior man-to-man defender.
Offensively, Ebanks has the ability to get his own shot off the dribble, and his perimeter jumper may be the most underrated aspect of his game.
More importantly, Ebanks seems fully comfortable in the small role that Jackson has granted him, and his learning curve is expanded due to the Lakers' veteran depth.
Some observers feel the Lakers got a steal by drafting Ebanks so late in the second round, and so far, he has done little to prove anyone wrong.
I will stop short of saying Ebanks is better than Ariza right now, but if he continues to progress, he has a chance to be a better player than Ariza ever will.
It takes a lot for any player to garner the favor of Jackson, and the fact that Ebanks has done so as a rookie is impressive.
Many fans considered Ebanks to be a critical piece of the Lakers' future, but it looks like that future may be realized a little sooner than anyone anticipated.