Chris Kaman can drive a blogger crazy.
As recently as the Spurs preview, I singled him out as "the biggest culprit in the last two games." That criticism was I believe justified in the case of the Sacramento game - he was not good, and for his efforts (or lack thereof) he earned a place on the bench in the fourth quarter. As bad as the Clippers reserves have been this season, you know he's not playing well when MDsr sits him down the stretch. The Warriors game is a little trickier. In the score sheet, he looks great. 15 points, 13 rebounds. Who could ask for more? Well, I guess I could. He was outplayed by Biedrins in that game, and he missed several opportunities where he didn't grab a rebound, or didn't finish a shot. You know - Mr. Flippy stuff.
But in the big picture, if we were wondering which Kaman we were going to get this season, there are signs that we are version 2.0 or better. He started poorly - there's no denying that. As it happens, one of the areas where he's shown marked improvement this season is avoiding silly fouls. The two exceptions are the two games with the Lakers, in which he was limited to 30 minutes each because of foul trouble. But after three average to poor games to start the season, the guy has been very, very good (Kings game notwithstanding).
It's dangerous to write a paean to the guy directly after the strong game he played against the Thunder. No doubt he'll come out tomorrow and lay an egg. It's particularly risky considering how badly he played against the Sixers last season, when he averaged 7 points and 8 rebounds in 2 games and was completely outplayed by Sam Dalembert. Inconsistency has been a problem throughout his career so who knows what we'll get from game to game.
Still, something feels different this time.
Kevin at ClipperBlog noticed also.
What’s the difference? Chris is doing a better job of passing out when he knows he’s liable to get into trouble. It’s a great life skill — knowing one’s limitations. It’s a particularly good life skill when you’re an NBA center. Tonight, it’s as if Chris is able to say to himself, “this isn’t going to end well” in those instances when it’s apparent to everyone he’s going to cough up the ball or overwork his shot.
It's worth noting that in the two really painful losses to the Kings and Warriors, the ones I hung on Chris, he had zero assists and seven turnovers. Last night in OKC? Six assists and one turnover.
He's probably not going to get six assists a night for the rest of his career. But if he has indeed developed a new life skill, this is how it would manifest itself. He'll get more assists, and he'll turn the ball over less. And the difference for the team is huge. Chris is quite self-aware, particularly as compared to the typical NBA player. Still, he's not been particularly good at recognizing his limitations. If indeed he's developing that ability, it would be a major step forward.
The Clippers first basket last night was a perfect illustration of how good Chris Kaman can be. A simple center screen and roll with Baron and Kaman - Chris slips past Robert Swift, catches the pass in the lane, and drops it off immediately to Marcus Camby for the layup as Nick Collison tries to rotate. Although he made it look easy, it's anything but. First of all, it's a tough catch, with the ball coming from the top, rolling to the hoop. You basically have to turn your head completely away from the direction you're moving. You have to make the catch, get your bearings, avoid running over the help defender, and make a decision with the ball, all in a split second. When it works, it's a layup. When it doesn't, it's an offensive foul or some other type of turnover. In year's past, Chris would have tried to put the ball on the floor and take it himself, and it would not have 'ended well'.
Six assists is one off Chris' career high of seven - a number he's only achieved once. This is the second time he's gotten six in a game, ranking last night among the three highest assist totals of his career. And there was only one cheap one in there - the kick out to Jason Hart was a bail out. Other than that, his assists were all legit in the true sense of the stat; they were instrumental in leading to the basket. Three were on kick outs to open shooters at the right time and in the right spot, and the other two were to Camby for layups.
And although the evidence is anecdotal at best, I think a big part of Chris' improved efficiency is the presence of more creative players around him. Obviously, the Clippers offense has been less than stellar this season, as measured by any number of statistics. BUT, it would seem that Kaman has nonetheless benefited from the threat of other players on the court, as well as improved passing from the likes of Baron and Camby. Where were the 11 for 13 games for Kaman last season? When the offense consisted of 'post-up Chris and let him make a move', the result was 48% shooting from the field. Last night's game featured none of the all-too-typical six dribble Kaman moves. In most cases, he caught the ball in position to score. So whereas he has the ability to convert that jump hook or that spin move starting from the left block, it's nonetheless a whole lot more efficient for him to catch the ball and finish. Six of his first seven baskets were assisted last night - that will tend to get a guy going. Furthermore, 10 of his 11 field goals were at the rim, and at least three were dunks.
It remains to be seen if these are permanent improvements in his game or simply a handful of good nights strung together. But if you could wave a magic wand and make transform Chris Kaman, you'd want him to make good decisions when he catches the ball, to make good passes out of the post, and you'd expect those things to improve his shooting percentage, increase his assists, and limit his turnovers.
Keep a close eye on his assists and turnovers in Philly.