There are some obvious, hit you over the head aspects to Chris Kaman's emergence as a first tier NBA center this season. He's scoring, rebounding and blocking shots not just at a career high level, but at an NBA leader level.
But there are some less obvious trends that are enabling all of this. One big factor has been his ability to stay on the floor. For his career, he has averaged 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes. In 10 games this season, he's at 3.5. That's a 20% decrease, and not coincidentally his 37.7 minutes per game are a 15% increase over his previous career high. Why is he picking up fewer fouls? Hard to say with certainty, but it probably helps that he is playing at a lower weight and appears accordingly quicker. He's always been a good perimeter defender for a guy his size - not many 7 footers can show on a high screen and roll quite as well as Kaman. Still, he was usually good for one to two fouls per game 30 feet from the basket on those plays, but not this season. He also seems more focused on both ends, so he's not picking up as many silly fouls.
What's perhaps more interesting than almost 38 minutes per game is the fact that he has played at least 31 minutes in all 10. Throughout his career, long after he became a starter, Chris Kaman has had games where his minutes were severely limited. Sometimes that was due to foul trouble - but just as frequently he was simply ineffective when he was on the court - so MDsr took him out. In fact, in his four years prior to this season, his longest streak of consecutive games over 30 minutes per game was 11 - two seasons ago - a streak he can equal tomorrow and then surpass on Saturday if he keeps playing as he has been.
This goes way beyond avoiding foul trouble. Obviously, part of it is the reliance the Clippers have on his post presence in the Generic era (no Brand). But the really great news is that Kaman has performed extremely well in those extended minutes, even in games where he has started poorly.
My evidence here is observational and anecdotal, but if you've watched the Clippers over the years, I think you would agree that in the past, if Chris Kaman started a game poorly, that was it. You could forget about the guy.
But in the last two games, he has had extremely difficult, slow starts. Against Ben Wallace and Chicago, he had 0 points, 1 rebound, 2 fouls and 3 turnovers in his first 9 minutes of court time. He bounced back to finish the game with 21 points, 7 more rebounds, 2 blocks, and only 2 more fouls and 1 more turnover in the final 29 minutes. Similarly against the Nuggets, he picked up two early fouls and was turnover prone early in the game. In just over 6 minutes of court time, he had 3 turnovers, 2 points and 2 fouls to go with 4 rebounds. He settled down, and went for 15 points, 17 rebounds, 4 blocks, and only 2 turnovers and 1 foul in the next 31 minutes.
Again, it's clear that MDsr has no choice but to put him back out there. But to the player's credit (and the coach's for that matter), he has made adjustments in-game to address the first quarter issues. Against the Bulls, Wallace's quick hands and strong post defense were giving Kaman trouble close to the basket. So he took Ben out to the edge to shoot short jumpers over him, which in turn gave Kaman the advantage back in the post as he was able to establish better post position against the now off-balance defender. Against the Nuggets, pesky double teams from the guards created three turnovers in 6 minutes. Kaman adjusted by passing out of the post before the double came, and was rewarded with more time on the re-post, as the Denver guards were left guessing. These are adjustments that would have completely eluded the Clippers' center only last season. It is in fact a remarkable development.
Chris Kaman will have a bad game at some point this season. He'll have one of those games where he picks up silly fouls at inopportune times, or where he simply can't handle the ball or make shots. But so far he's been able to avoid those duds, even when they were staring him in the face. He's adjusted and persevered and ultimately prevailed. More than anything, this is perhaps the biggest change in Chris Kaman early in the season.