Below is the fifth in a series previewing the storylines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2013-14 season. This post focuses on Lakers starting center Chris Kaman.
1. Can Chris Kaman stay healthy? It seems unfair to label a player “injury-prone” since the incidents often amount to freak accidents that can’t always be avoided. Regardless, Kaman’s experienced plenty of those, ranging from a concussion (2012-13), left tibia (2011-12) and numerous left foot and left ankle injuries that sidelined him for a combined 198 games during his nine-year NBA career (that’s an average of missing 22 games per season).
Kaman’s smart in vowing that injury history won’t inhibit his aggressiveness. Injuries remain a part of sports, after all. Kaman also said in his introductory press conference in July that he feels completely healthy. Though he’s presumably training and receiving treatment to prevent future injuries, Kaman’s history suggests he may not manage to avoid them.
2. Can Kaman become an All-Star again? Of course, that question partly centers on his health. But it also depends on how quickly Kaman establishes his niche on the Lakers. After his career-high 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds ensured him a spot on the 2010 NBA Western Conference All-Star team, Kaman’s numbers dipped the following three seasons in 2010-11 with the Clippers (12.4 points, 7 rebounds), 2011-12 with New Orleans (13.1 points, 7.7 rebounds) and 2012-13 with Dallas (10.5 points, 5.6 rebounds).
It might be unrealistic for Kaman to increase his production substantially considering the Lakers’ vast offensive options in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. But from an efficiency standpoint, Kaman has a good chance at restoring his game that mirrored his All-Star play because of the factor noted below.
3. Kaman should have good chemistry with Gasol. Talk that Gasol and Dwight Howard couldn’t co-exist appear overblown. If the two big men were healthy and were featured to their strengths more on offense, the two would’ve proven more unstoppable. Still, Howard’s lack of post moves, inconsistent jumper and reluctance to play the pick-and-roll contributed to Gasol playing more as a facilitator and less as a post player. Kaman’s steady mid-range jumper and love for pick-and-rolls should result in Gasol playing more in the post and giving him additional floor spacing to operate.
Because Gasol and Bryant will still draw plenty of attention, Kaman should also receive plenty of room to produce where he’s most comfortable. The Lakers are obviously a less talented team without Howard (more on that later). But in terms of running their offense, the Lakers could experience more fluidity simply because the skillsets Kaman and Gasol have complement each other better.
4. Kaman’s defense will be a liability. For all the limitations surrounding Howard’s conditioning and athleticism stemmed from off-season back surgery, he still helped anchor the Lakers’ defensive unit. They still played mediocre defense last season because of the team’s poor communication, playing at a faster pace than their old bodies allowed, Bryant’s off-ball gambling, Steve Nash’s slow reactions, Jordan Hill’s hip injury and Howard’s aforementioned limitations. But BasketballReference.com showed Howard still improved he Lakers’ defensive rating by five points whenever he was on the floor.
Don’t expect Kaman to fill that void. Gasol and Kaman aren’t equipped to defend both ball handlers and roll men in pick-and-roll coverages because of their average mobility. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni could mitigate this by mixing Jordan Hill at times, but that could also take away the offensive effectiveness Kaman and Gasol presumably will display. As with most players on the Lakers, the best way for Kaman to make up for his defensive shortcomings involves communication and staying alert on rotations.
5. Kaman will remain an entertaining locker-room presence. No one can match Metta World Peace’s theatrics. But Kaman appears the best alternative in taking over World Peace’s role as team goofball and a go-to-guy for funny quotes. He speaks off-the-cuff in an honest albeit good-hearted manner. Kaman has quirky hobbies, such as deer hunting, watching funny Youtube videos and flying helicopters. During his introductory press conference with Lakers, Kaman left reporters laughing. He had just shaved he five-month beard. Kaman sold his Manhattan Beach residence a mere week before signing with the Lakers. And he poked fun at his “white tan” after spending time beforehand in Hawaii. Kaman’s demeanor falls in line less with Howard’s goofy albeit forced antics and more in line with World Peace’s oddball stream-of-consciousness logic, something that usually endeared teammates and fans alike.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org