FB&G continues is player reviews for this past season with DJ “Congo Cash” Mbenga. For a link to DJ’s exit interview, check out Phillip’s post from right after the season concluded.
SEASON IN REVIEW:
Last season the Lakers only carried 13 players. And of those 13 players, DJ Mbenga was either the Lakers 12th or 13th man on any given night depending on match ups or how Phil was feeling on that day when deciding which player would be inactive. When the Lakers roster was completely healthy, DJ would often suit up but would only see playing time in blow outs or as a random spark off the bench when Phil (seemingly) felt his big body could make a difference in that particular game. So, when considering all of these factors it’s actually a little tough to gauge how good a season DJ actually had.
Statistically, Mbenga had the type of season you’d expect from a 3rd string Center and 5th big man. In his 49 game appearances (a career high, by the way), he averaged about 2 points and 2 rebounds a game. He shot a relatively low percentage from the field (46.6%) and was pretty bad from the foul line, making only 9 of his 19 attempts on the season (47.4%). So far, this is exactly what we should all expect from DJ considering his role and what was asked of him on the court.
Putting his stats aside for a moment, I can easily say that I liked how DJ worked to improve his game in this past season. He started to show better range on his jumpshot and looked more comfortable overall on offense. On defense, while he still went for the blocked shot too often for my tastes, he did serve as an impediment to guards that drove to the basket and was as active as ever on that side of the ball. His rebounding rates were average at best (and that’s being kind) as his want to block shots moved him away from prime rebounding position on the defensive side of the ball. But overall, he showed some improvement from the completely raw player that joined the Lakers as a mid season pick up three years ago.
That said, I really wouldn’t call this season a success for Mbenga. While he played in a career high 49 games, his minutes per game and per 36 minute production actually fell from his previous seasons in LA. Plus, even though both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum missed 17 games (giving an opportunity for the 3rd string Center to get more run), Mbenga was often passed over for minutes by Josh Powell as the the Lakers elected to go small with an Odom/Powell front court for many nights where their big man depth was tested (or play whichever big man was healthy heavy minutes to compensate raither than playing DJ more). Not to mention the fact that when Andrew Bynum suffered his torn meniscus during the playoffs, Phil actually deactivated DJ for a few games and instead dressed Adam Morrison, citing the fact that after he sustained a couple of eye/head injuries during practice that DJ was not as tuned into the action as he needed to be.
PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:
Considering DJ’s lack of burn over the course of the season, it’s not that easy to find a game in which DJ truly had an impact performance. However in an early April contest against the T’Wolves, Mbenga did have his season high in points (11) while also grabbing 2 offensive rebounds and blocking 2 shots in 14 minutes. Based off the highlights, you can see that he moved well off the ball, showed some diversity on offense, and defended the rim well.
DJ has yet to sign on with another team and his return to the Lakers is pretty much out of the question after LA signed Theo Ratliff to a one year deal. And with DJ reportedly looking for more minuteson whatever team he plays for next year, his return would have surprised me even if the Lakers hadn’t signed Ratliff. However, wherever DJ plays next year I wish him well. He’s a marginal NBA player, but he’s a legit 7’0″ big man in a league that covets size and I’m sure he’ll find a gig by the time NBA training camps begin. So, thank you for the contributions DJ and nothing but the best to you.