In Kobe Bryant’s absence there have been several story-lines about players filling in the gaps and raising their collective games. Be it the players you’d expect in Pau and Bynum, guys you’d hope would step up like Ron and Barnes, or (in the case of someone like Steve Blake) someone who you may have had little belief in, there have been no shortage of players turning up their games right when they’ve needed to.
One player though, who has filled a key role but hasn’t really gotten much recognition for doing so is Devin Ebanks. Called on from the depths of the bench to fill a starting role, Ebanks has seen a steady diet of minutes in the 5 games that Kobe has missed and has shown that he can be serviceable player.
No, his numbers aren’t anything special. In 24 minutes a night he’s scoring only 6 points on 42% shooting while grabbing only a shade over 2 rebounds. The rest of boxscore stats are just as modest, tallying a single assist and turnover each night while picking up a few steals over the course of the 5 games. All and all, from a statistical standpoint, he’s been fairly non-descript.
But, looking at the boxscore is only one way to judge his place on the Lakers. When you look beyond the standard numbers, you start to see a story of a player that can fit in on the court should he be used in a manner that maximizes his strengths.
First, and probably most important, is that Ebanks understands his role on this team. His usage rate is a paltry 12.8 in the past 5 games so he’s “coloring within the lines”. He’s not forcing shots, not trying to be a playmaker, and not going outside of what he’s supposed to be on the floor.
Second, he’s opportunistic on offense and plays to his strengths. Of his 31 field goals in the past 5 games, 17 of them have been inside of 8 feet with 15 of those coming right at the rim (where he’s shooting 60% in this stretch). He’s a smart cutter and seems to have a good understanding of moving into open spaces, indicated strongly by the fact that more than half of his makes have been assisted. Furthermore, he has a nose for the ball and can often be seen slithering into the paint from the weak side to battle for offensive rebounds (where he’s grabbing 1.4 a night).
Defensively, Ebanks’ numbers aren’t that flattering – at least when judged by the results of the team when he’s on the floor. In the 122 minutes Ebanks has played in the last 5 games, the Lakers defensive efficiency is 106.3. But, those numbers don’t tell the entire story either. As a whole, the Lakers defense has slipped lately and that has less to do with Ebanks evidenced by the fact that when Ebanks is off the floor the Lakers DEff jumps to 112.6. This certainly has a lot to do with the teammates that Ebanks plays with (he mostly runs with the starters) but he’s part of the units that have been playing better on that side of the floor.
And this bears out with the eye test too. On an individual level, Ebanks has played solid positional D using his length and above average lateral quickness to stay with his man. He’s still only a second year player so mistakes are made on that side of the ball, but he seems to have a firm understanding of the Lakers’ schemes and is rarely out of position.
Ultimately, Ebanks has probably earned himself spot minutes even after Kobe returns. First of all, Kobe will need some rest and even when the playoffs come, 40+ minute nights shouldn’t be the norm if the goal is to have a functional Kobe Bean for a deep post-season run. Getting Kobe 10-15 minutes of rest a night should be a goal and Ebanks (along with Barnes) can help achieve that. Second, if the choice is between playing Ebanks with either Sessions or Blake at PG or playing Blake at SG, I choose the former. In the 42 minutes Blake and Sessions have shared the court in the past 5 games their OEff/DEff numbers are 103.3/109.9, while the numbers for a Sessions/Ebanks pairing are 108.0/99.6.
Ebanks isn’t an ideal solution due to his youth and spotty outside shooting. His D can still use some work too. But in a season of searching for a back up SG, the Lakers look to have found one based off how he fits into the team structure and how he plays to his strengths all while being an above average athlete with very good size for the position. And if that means for 6 to 8 minutes a night the Lakers run him at SG rather than Blake, I’m all for it.
*Statistical support for this story from NBA.com