After months waiting for Kaman to return from a bone bruise and an ankle injury, Kaman returned in Milwaukee. He surprised with the unannounced return, and his play was without rust so much as his normal idiosyncrasies. He may have pump faked his way into almost breaking Martell Webster’s back, and he had another pump faked shot blocked, but he also reminded Clipper fans that centers can make shots outside of 10 feet, that they can have an offensive repertoire that isn’t just dunks and putbacks. He also corralled 6 rebounds in his ten minutes and blocked three shots.
Beyond that shock, I was also intrigued by the decision to play him for only 10 minutes the game before the All Star Break. Unless they are trying to spark some trade value, it doesn’t make too much sense to return him when he would get an additional five extra days rest. However, even more than the oddity of the return’s timing, I wondered what the Clippers are going to do with him back.
In the 45 games that Kaman has been out, DeAndre Jordan has used that time to flourish. No longer as foul prone, DeAndre has figured out a way to play to his best faculties, dunking and ooping to the guards’ alleying, DeAndre has made a whopping 68 percent of his field goal attempts to score 7 points per game while also blocking 1.7 shots a game and pulling in 7.1 rebounds. And that’s only in 26 minutes per game. Extrapolated out to a reasonable 36 minutes a game, starters’ minutes, and DeAndre would average 9.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game (and 4.6 fouls per game, not terrible, but not great). Those aren’t staggering numbers, but they are great complementary numbers to go alongside Blake Griffin, who has emerged as not just the primary post option of offense, but the primary option on the team.
Kaman isn’t a drama queen though, and would theoretically fit alongside Blake, although, when they were on the court together, they played terribly. Kaman’s field goal percentage this year, during which time he played a lot of minutes alongside Blake, is a pathetically low 39 percent, even if it is on a relatively small sample size of 11 games.
So what do you do with Kaman? Start or have him come off the bench?
The natural thing, particularly as he works himself into playing longer stretches, is to have him come off the bench. The Clippers saw by far the most growth when Blake and DeAndre were playing their best ball of the season (January), so why not try to roll with it and ask Kaman to be a super bench player?
Well, for starters, those super subs are almost always guards because they can get the ball in their hands more easily, which leads to a higher likelihood that they’ll have a scoring opportunity. They don’t have to worry about a backup guard throwing entry passes to them. So if a guard like Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford have to come off the bench, they at least get the ball in their hands right away. Looking across the NBA though, there really aren’t too many bigs that come off the bench and score. The best current cases are those of Celtic Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Orlando Magic Ryan Anderson, Nugget Al Harrington and, when he was healthy, Tyrus Thomas. All of those players average around 11 points a game. Solid, sure, but not exactly the bench energy guy like Terry (15.9) or Crawford (15.0).
There isn’t much when looking for a big man that was a ‘super sub’ on a historical scale either, guys like Moses Malone in Philly and Hakeem Olajuwon in Toronto had faded to the point where they were barely serviceable. Bill Walton enjoyed glory with the Celtics and Shaq may too, but none averaged more than 10 points a game. The closest might be Bob McAdoo and his years with the Lakers. In his best season from the bench, he averaged 15 points per game, but for those that haven’t heard or seen McAdoo, here’s a peak:
That strike you as being very Kaman-esque? Me neither.
So the alternative is to put him back in the starting lineup. But haven’t we seen that before? Didn’t the Clippers go 1-13 during his stretch alongside Blake? Well, not exactly.
Sure, you could look up the five man units with Kaman and see that he’s been rancid with the majority of the units (although the Bledsoe, Gordon, Gomes, Griffin and Kaman lineup is moderately positive), but he was shooting a aberrant 39 percent at the beginning, ten percentage points lower than his career average. The awkwardness of the new team could account for some of it, and he was bricking but he is still the same guy that Brendan Haywood (back when Haywood was good) called Kaman one of the toughest covers in the league as recently as last year.
What should and probably will happen is Kaman re-inserted to the starting lineup, albeit with a newly defined role. Instead of being the primary option on offense, he’ll be the secondary option, allowing for Blake to have even more space. Yes, DeAndre has become such a ferocious dunker that you can’t leave him alone, but Kaman can actually shoot mid-range jumpers, unlike the majority of the Clips right now (until Eric Gordon comes back). He’ll provide spacing and his defense isn’t terrible. He’s slow, that’s unavoidably obvious, but there aren’t too many quick centers in the league. When the Clippers aren’t playing against a plodding center, they can give DeAndre big minutes.
All that said, the Clippers need to make sure that they don’t forget about DeAndre, because he is clearly the future of the team. He still has a ways to go, but he still provides a better rebounder and shot blocker than Kaman. Going forward, when the Clippers get Gordon back, and in the years ahead when Aminu and Bledsoe evolve, the scoring center won’t be as necessary for the Clippers. Until then, though, it might be better for Kaman to unseat DeAndre.