Here's what I hope. I hope after Wednesday night's game, and certainly by the end of the season, that this hand-wringing post looks silly. I hope that I end up looking like one of those nervous Nelly bloggers who has way too much time on his hands and obsesses over every minor 6 game slump where a player's numbers dip by 15%. Big deal, right?
Having said that, I must admit I am nervous about Chris Kaman. The raw numbers are pretty telling.
In 39 games from November through January, he averaged 17.2 points and 13.9 rebounds per game. He was also astoundingly consistent - he recorded 29 double-doubles in those 39 games (3 games in 4), and scored at least 9 points in every single one of them.
In the six games since missing some action with a bruised shin and a nasty flu bug, he has averaged 10.8 points and 11.2 rebounds, has recorded only 2 double-doubles (that's 1 game in 3), and has scored season lows of 4 and 7 points. Now, you might think it's pretty demanding to complain about a guy who's only averaging 11 rebounds per game. So call me demanding.
The obvious answer is that he was drained and weakened by the flu. And that definitely seems like a reasonable explanation. It was reported that he had lost as much as 15 pounds - and bear in mind that he came into camp at the lowest playing weight of his career. So those were 15 pounds he probably didn't want or need to lose. He had been sick, he lost weight, he was otherwise weakened, he was in the middle of a long road trip... there's just no way he was feeling his best. So again, I hope he comes out tomorrow night completely re-invigorated from some time off, plays like the monster he was in November and December, and makes me look stupid.
Truthfully, if it was just about the stats, that's exactly what I would expect to happen. But his issues in the last six games go beyond somewhat diminished productivity. Unfortunately, both his demeanor and his results have frequently reminded me of last season's Kaman - unfocused, unaggressive and consequently ineffective.
Consider the fourth quarter of the game in Milwaukee. As the rest of the Clippers finished building an 8 point lead, Chris Kaman did pretty much everything imaginable to try to give the game away. Over the course of 95 seconds of basketball, it's pretty hard to imagine a worse sequence. Since the game wasn't on TV, all I have here is the play-by-play, but it is brutal. Let's just say that if the NBA has any sort of policy for reviewing individual player performances based on suspicious behavior that could have an impact on the outcome of a game, this is a signature they'd be looking for.
2:26 Chris Kaman misses free throw 1 of 2
2:26 Chris Kaman makes free throw 2 of 2
1:57 Chris Kaman lost ball (Mo Williams steals)
1:54 Dan Dickau personal foul (Mo Williams draws the foul)
1:51 Chris Kaman personal foul (Michael Redd draws the foul)
1:30 Chris Kaman misses dunk
1:28 Chris Kaman personal foul (Mo Williams draws the foul)
Oh my FSM! Look at that!
Al Thornton took the Simmons block and dunked it, so the Clippers came away with points on that trip - the resulting 8 point lead was their biggest of the game. But on 4 consecutive trips in crunch time, Kaman scored 1 point on 4 touches, while turning it over once, missing a dunk and a free throw and getting a layup blocked by a 6'7" guy. That's bad enough.
But with an eight point lead and 3 minutes left, he also did everything he could to extend the game and get the Bucks some points. I left the Dickau foul in the sequence for a reason - one surmises that Mo Williams stole the ball and Dickau committed a quick foul (one they had to give) to thwart a break opportunity. Now the Bucks are inbounding with 21 seconds on the shot clock, down 7 with under 2 minutes to play. And Kaman fouls Redd 3 seconds into the possession, a non shooting foul that one assumes occurs 30 feet from the basket on the pick and roll. As if that weren't bad enough, according to the log, he fouled Mo Williams 2 seconds after missing his dunk (how did he even manage to do that?). The Bucks refused to accept the charity - both Redd and Williams missed 1 of 2 despite both shooting over 85% on the season, and Desmond Mason turned the ball over on one of the other Buck possessions in this sequence. Otherwise, the 8 point lead that dwindled to 3 would have disappeared altogether.
Missing shots and free throws, turning the ball over. That's one thing. What do you do in practice? Tell him to make his dunks? I think he probably intends to make his dunks. But with so little time left in the game, if you just make the opponent use some time to score, you probably win just by running out the clock. On consecutive possessions he committed non-shooting fouls while the team was over the limit, within 3 seconds. That's just stupid.
It's the kind of inexplicable basketball that we saw frequently from Chris last season. Remember the Atlanta game in Staples, just before the All Star Break, where he chased down his own miss with the team down 2 and 9 seconds on the clock, and then rushed up an air ball when there was in fact plenty of time to reset?
And then there were the frequent disappearing acts last season. Directly prior to the Milwaukee game last week, he scored his season low of 4 points in Philadelphia. He scored his two baskets in the first 15 minutes - leaving him scoreless over the game's final 33 minutes (the portion I happened to watch). He was completely outplayed by Samuel Dalembert - something that simply should not happen.
Is it just the prolonged illness? Is it just a case of him recovering his full strength in order for him to return to form? These apparent lapses in focus and concentration would seem to suggest otherwise. Of course, it is also hard to be in top form mentally when you don't feel strong physically.
But given that we've credited his strong season in part to his new therapy, one wonders if the ol' noggin needs a tuneup. It goes without saying that we're in uncharted territory here. Until a few months ago, everyone thought that he was ADHD. Now it's something totally different, and it's being treated with neuro-feedback therapy. How effective is the therapy in the long term? Does anyone even know the answer to that question? Is he really a ticking timebomb, ready to explode at any minute and assassinate the president, Manchurian Candidate style? (The answers are 'I don't know', 'no', and 'probably not'.)
He's had some time off, he's a couple weeks removed from his illness. I'm sure he's going to be great against Memphis. And I'll look like an idiot for ever worrying. That's what I hope anyway.