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Chris Kaman - All Star?

"If it's not obvious by now, we have an All-Star center on this team."  

I didn't say it.  Kevin John at ClipperBlog said it.  So if he suddenly goes in the tank and reverts to last season's Kaman, don't blame me, blame Kevin John.

But now that it's out there, I can comment on it, right?  That doesn't increase the chances of the jinx, does it?

Could Chris Kaman make the Western Conference All Star team this season?  It's not out of the question.  The usual caveats - it's early, we're only nine games into the season, etc.  But Kaman's numbers are noteworthy so far, to say the least.  The question remains as to whether or not he can maintain this level of play for the longer haul.  

He's up against both Yao and Tim Duncan on the ballot, plus he's Chris Kaman - so we're not talking about getting voted in as a starter by the fans (unless these are fans of bad haircuts).  It's the Western conference coaches he has to impress, and nine games in he's doing great.  All Star reserves are chosen at the end of January, about 45 games in.  So he's about 20% of the way there.

You have to remember that the Western Conference is simply lousy with talented big men, even with Garnett and Rashard Lewis in the East now.  There are currently 16 forwards and centers in the West with a PER over 20, and 14 of them are over 6'8".  By contrast, there are 9 forwards and centers in the East over the magic 20 threshold in PER, but that list includes Paul Pierce, Richard Jefferson and LeBron James - so really there's only 6 bigs in the East at the same level.

Note that while I'm not a huge fan of PER, it is a generally accepted measure for comparison purposes.  Similar lists can be created using other metrics.

The issue of sustained performance begs the question of whether Chris Kaman has ever had a similar stretch of high productivity in his prior 4 seasons in the league.  In other words, is this measurably the best he's ever played?  The answer is yes, though not by as wide a margin as you might think.  At 18.7 points and 13.3 rebounds per game, this is clearly the most productive sequence of 9 games in Kaman's career, in both categories.  But from December 21 2005 until January 28 2006, he did average 15 points and almost 12 rebounds over the course of 17 games.  He recorded 10 double-doubles in those 17 games.  Given that he averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds for the final 60 games of that season, and had a sustained period of 15 and 12, it's less of a surprise that the Clippers gave him that extension I guess.

Still, 18.7 and 13.3 is pretty special.  And the fact that he did it out of the gate this season (i.e., I'm not cherry picking some random sequence of 9 games from the guy's career) makes it all the more significant.   Add in 2.4 blocks per game (easily a career best pace) and 50% shooting, and it's a stellar performance all around so far.

That being said, Kaman is still an extreme long shot to be selected to the All Star team even if he maintains his current level of performance.  At most there will be eight forwards and centers on the roster.  In year's past, Kaman might have had an advantage as a true center.  But with both Duncan and Pau Gasol incorrectly listed as center's on this year's ballot (Oberto starts at center for the Spurs, Milicic for the Grizz), the coaches have even more reason than usual to load the roster with power forwards (a trick they have recently learned at any rate).  If you figure that Yao, Duncan, Boozer, Dirk, Melo, Marion and Stoudemire are basically locks for the team already, that leaves maybe one spot up for grabs.  Factoring in team performance, if the Clippers are still in the playoff picture, Kaman would certainly benefit.  But the currently 9-2 Hornets will undoubtedly benefit more, and David West (22.79 PER) and Tyson Chandler (18.15 PER) would be strong candidates.  Marcus Camby, Gasol, Ron Artest and even LaMarcus Aldridge and Al Jefferson should enter the conversation as well.  Barring injury to one or more perennials, you've got a crowd of bigs fighting for at most one spot.  All I can say is, thank goodness they have McGrady listed as a guard.

The fact that we're having this discussion at all is of course the real news.  And Kaman's raw numbers are indeed impressive.  The list of dominant rebounders in the league is not that long.  Furthermore, it includes several guys that are limited offensive players like Camby and Chandler.  In the NBA, there are very few players who are elite rebounders and also go to scorers.  Garnett qualifies.  Dwight Howard's offensive game has advanced to the point where he qualifies (although he mostly just out-athletes opponents).  Boozer.  And now Kaman.  That's pretty good company.

We'll keep an eye on this, to see if there's any drop off in Kaman's productivity.  Obviously he'll be facing more and more double teaming, and he's got a game coming up against his old nemesis Yao.  His consistency thus far on the young season has been amazing.  Other than a few poor shooting nights (6 for 16, 6 for 17 and 5 for 16), he's really shown up every night.  He has scored in double figures every game this season, and has six double doubles already.  Part of posting impressive season long numbers is avoiding the really bad games.  That stretch of 17 games that ended on January 28 2006?  Guess what happened the next game?  4 points, 3 rebounds and 6 fouls in 14 minutes against Shaq.  That's why the upcoming game against Yao is so important.

Will he be an All Star this season?  Probably not.  Is he playing like one?  So far, so good.