Lately I have been writing about the “smaller” deals and moves that Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have made thus far this summer. After all, the role players have the ability to be the difference makers in games, especially when it comes time for the playoffs, which the Lakers are expected to make a long run in next year with the roster that management has put together in the past couple of months.
As we near the ending stage of the off-season and the start of training camp and the pre-season, Laker fans and the basketball community are getting a real feel for what next season could be and should be. Yes, on paper the new Laker roster seems practically unbeatable. However, the team will need chemistry, teamwork and the ability to work off of each other to make what is on paper a reality on the court.
That is exactly what Devin Ebanks is counting on for this upcoming season. Ebanks officially signed the one year, $1,085,000 contract that the Lakers offered to the 22-year-old restricted free agent over a month ago. It seems Ebanks, under the advise of his agent, were waiting on the Dwight Howard deal to ensure that he wouldn’t be used as part of a trade package that would send him out of Los Angeles.
As he told the Los Angeles Times‘ Mark Medina, “This is the place I want to be. I’ve been here my whole career.”
Ebanks is entering his third season in the NBA and with the Lakers and despite having a rather limited role so far with the team, he has left a positive impression with management and the coaches after each season. Therefore, it should not be a total surprise that the young Ebanks has not left the Lakers organization, who has a history of moving their reserves for big trades or free agents.
What seemed to impress the Lakers and fans is the idea that Ebanks stepped up to the plate when given the opportunity to appear in the starting lineup, first for Metta World Peace at the beginning of the 2011-12 season then when Kobe Bryant was out with an injury. Here’s a quick look at his averages as a reserve (12 games) compared to as a starter (12 games).
2011-12 Statistics (off the bench)
- 1.7 points per game
- 1.3 rebounds per game
- 20.0% from the field
- 24 minutes per game
2011-12 Statistics (as starter)
- 6.4 points per game
- 3.2 rebounds per game
- 47.8% from the field
- 9 minutes per game
If you listened to Ebanks’s recent interview on Mason and Ireland, you heard that the biggest area that Mitch Kupchak wanted him to work on this off-season is his strength. Ebanks already has shown defensive skills during his time with the Lakers, but adding strength to his 6’9″, 215 pound frame will add a physical threat to Ebanks’ game. It has been reported that Ebanks has already added 10 pounds of muscle and continues to work on improving lower body strength.
Ebanks has displayed a nice jump shot, but as any basketball player can tell you, your shot can always be improved. During this off-season he has made an initiative to extend his follow through and to work on shooting off the dribble and in the post by working with assistant coaches Darvin Ham and Chuck Persons. Now that his tweaked left knee, which prevented him for participating in Summer League games in Las Vegas, is now “pretty much 100 percent”, Ebanks is fully committed to making improvements that will help the team.
His “team first” purpose is evidenced by the following statements he made to Mark Medina: “I just want to make myself better for the team. There’s no individual goals. I’m definitely not one of the players people are going to be focusing on this year. I just need to step into my role and make shots when I take them.” This is what impresses me the most about Ebanks and why his presence is needed on the team.
Ebanks is a natural small forward, but can certainly hold his own at the shooting guard position, as we saw when he replaced Bryant in the lineup last season. While Antawn Jamison will get most of the minutes as the backup for Metta World Peace, Ebanks can see some time off the bench in a rotation as a shooting guard. Ebanks adds versatility to the Lakers roster and his athleticism and defense is certainly an attention grabber to Mike Brown. I would expect to see Ebanks’ role increase this year as an improved and dependable two or three position player for the Lakers.
With the superstar starting lineup that will be on the court this year, the Lakers cannot fall into the trap of playing hero ball as individuals. I firmly believe that will not happen with this lineup, but it has happened in the league before and this formula prevents true success to naturally occur. All teams need players who are team-first players and unfortunately in professional sports true ones can be hard to find. The Lakers have done an outstanding job finding and signing these players. Devin Ebanks is certainly one of these players.