There’s going to be a lot of pressure on Chris Kaman when he returns to the lineup against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Not only will he possibly be facing time against the one of the league’s best defensive centers in Dwight Howard, but Kaman is already in the hot seat due to becoming a scapegoat for many of the Mavericks’ woes early in the season.
Despite being the Mavericks most efficient scorer per 36 minutes and having the highest field goal percentage on the team among regular rotation players, Kaman has been maligned for the early season struggles with rebounding and defense, much of which has improved during his absence.
The promise of having a center like Kaman on the team has been well documented as he is clearly the best scoring center in the history of the franchise; however he has also been maligned for poor defense, which statistically has been a problem, particularly when paired with Dirk Nowitzki. In fairness, Kaman has never been considered a poor defender; in general he is regarded as an average defender who’s bulk and timing, along with experience, have improved his defense over the years.
“A previously undistinguished defensive player who has improved on that end just as much as he has improved offensively. One of the League’s most prolific shot blockers. Displays absolute impeccable timing. Isn’t overly explosive, so he uses his anticipation and lateral quickness to contest most shots. Still foul prone, but not nearly as bad as he used to be in that regard. Experience has helped him immensely."
while also pointing out what most people already know:
“One of the most effective post up players in the league today.”
Yet Kaman’s offense has been largely ignored, possibly because the Mavericks are loaded with offensive weapons while previously struggling on defense. In addition, it seems politically incorrect to point out that Dirk, never regarded as anything more than an average defender, certainly has struggled on that end of the floor. Much of that is no doubt due to recovering from his knee injury, which has affected his entire game as evidenced by his shooting percentages and rebounding numbers. It is also true, however, that as a player ages the parts of his game which start to erode first are the one where he struggled to begin with.
Draft Express also pointed out Kaman “Has good form, and should improve in that area when he spends more time in the high post with the return of Elton Brand,” referring to the period when the Clippers were without Brand due to injury. The Clippers played Brand at his natural position, power forward, which was a nice complement to Kaman at center. Since they’ve joined up again in Dallas, however, Brand’s role has been exclusively relegated to center so he and Kaman have not shared time together.
The comings and goings of centers on the Mavericks roster have been something of a mystery this year as Bernard James and Brandan Wright have both seen significant playing time coupled with numerous games without a sighting as Rick Carlisle has shaken up the lineup numerous times in an effort to find answers. Now that the Mavericks appear to be on a winning tact, there is some sentiment that there is no place for Kaman. Considering what he brings to the table, that would be a mistake.
While the Mavericks have indeed been playing better since Kaman’s concussion, attributing that improvement to his absence is a logical fallacy. The interior defense may indeed be better without him joining Dirk on the floor; however he certainly is not responsible for Darren Collison’s improved shooting and decision-making, O. J. Mayo’s fewer turnovers, Shawn Marion’s almost nightly double-double, Vince Carter’s hot streak, Dirk’s gradual return to form or most of the other success. It is also important to note that the Mavericks’ latest success comes largely at the expense of the league’s worst teams, including the last three victories against the Kings, Magic and Hornets.
If the Mavericks are to compete for a playoff spot they will need to utilize all the weapons that they have at their disposal and that includes Kaman. Scoring in the low post has been virtually absent without him: the inside game has never been Dirk’s primary weapon, Brand has shot well below his career average for most of the year save for a brief hot streak prior to the All-Star break, Wright is not given significant enough minutes to make an impact and James also doesn’t get significant minutes and hasn’t shown he has any offensive capability other than immediately around the basket.
Utilizing Kaman, even if his minutes are concentrated primarily when Dirk is on the bench, give the Mavericks the only consistent points in the paint that Rick Carlisle seems willing to facilitate and that is of great importance when jump shots aren’t falling.
Playing Kaman and Brand together should also yield dividends for Brand. While he is clearly not the player he once was after a number of injuries and the onset of age, Brand still has nights when he shows flashes of his old form and if he is allowed to play his natural position of power forward rather than being relegated to center, he should have greater success on both ends of the floor where his great strength and skill will be more likely to overpower his opponents.
Regardless of the long-term plans for Kaman, he is likely to be brought back in slowly and will have the misfortune of returning in a game where Howard is patrolling the paint. With any luck he will be on his game and Carlisle will figure the right combination for making use of Kaman’s skills without sacrificing interior defense.