Devin Ebanks: The Right Choice for the Lakers

As we reported earlier, the Lakers are expected to re-sign forward Devin Ebanks to a one-year deal. And I personally think it is the correct move to make.

Early last season, I predicted to all of my friends that Devin Ebanks would be a sleeper for the Lakers and really have a coming out party during the 2011-2012 campaign. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Ebanks started the first four games before being replaced by Matt Barnes, and eventually Metta World Peace. World Peace and Barnes’ insertion into the regular rotation basically relegated Ebanks to the bench for most of the season.

However, with Matt Barnes not expected to return, and the Lakers seemingly shorthanded at the guard/forward backup position, Devin Ebanks could be the best man for the job. No, he didn’t blow anyone away last year with his play, but with two seasons under his belt, he has made significant strides in limited playing time nonetheless.

His stats (4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game) really can’t reflect what he can bring to the team since he only averaged 16 minutes in just 24 games last season. However, his youth and continued defensive improvement can be a plus for an aging (or already old) Lakers team.

He may not be able to replicate what Matt Barnes brought to the team in terms of hustle or even his ability to defend shooting guards and/or point guards, but he can definitely help at the small forward position. He may not be able to bring the type of hustle or defensive instincts that former Laker Trevor Ariza brought to the table either. But, he can still help in one big area: guarding Kevin Durant.

It’s no secret that teams have recruited  players in the past to specifically guard the likes of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, or even signed centers to guard (or foul the hell out of) guys like Shaquille O’Neal. So, although Ebanks won’t necessarily have the sole duty of guarding Durant, or even be re-signed for that purpose alone, that is one area that is obviously a thorn in the Lakers’ proverbial side, and also an area where I believe Ebanks can be effective.

According to the draft combine, Ebanks doesn’t exactly measure up to Durant (Ebanks is only 6’7″ compared to Durant’s 6’9″ without shoes). His wingspan and standing reach don’t compared either (falling short by 4.5 and 2.5 inches, respectively).

However, when Ebanks was placed on Durant in the double-overtime thriller towards the end of the season between the Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder, Ebanks appeared to bother Durant considerably en route to a Lakers’ victory. Additionally, for the few minutes Ebanks got a crack at Durant in the playoffs, he again seemed to bother Durant, even blocking him at the rim on one occasion.

I had personally been waiting to see that match-up because I felt that Ebanks could bring to the table what nobody else on the Lakers’ squad could bring in guarding Durant, and I wasn’t disappointed. Even though the Lakers eventually lost the series in five games, Ebanks showed a flash of promise going forward.

The most important thing I saw? The fire. I saw Devin Ebanks jawing into Kevin Durant’s ear and trying to compete hard with the game’s leading scorer. I could see that he relished the opportunity to guard one of the best players in the world, and really wanted to out-play him somehow. His speed is similar to that of Durant’s, and the Lakers would be hard-pressed to find another forward with the type of length Ebanks has to guard not only Durant, but other forwards.

He may not have the slashing ability of Matt Barnes or Trevor Ariza, but with Steve Nash handling the rock, there’s no question he will get open looks and easy opportunities. Additionally, if the Lakers decide to hold onto Metta World Peace, Ebanks could be the ying to World Peace’s yang in terms of style of play and athleticism. And hopefully–as Lakers’ management suggested to him during exit interviews–Ebanks will have improved his two-guard game as well in order to be a possible backup to Kobe Bryant should the Lakers find themselves unable to sign a suitable reserve for the Black Mamba.

His shooting stroke and aggressiveness will have to improve as well next season, but most importantly, his defensive potential is what the Lakers should really be looking to extract from him.

At the very least, the Lakers don’t have many options out there (financially) in terms of signing free agents and won’t find many other young, promising, athletic forwards on the market. They’re already an old team, so having a few young players capable of playing minutes should definitely help the team down the stretch of a long season.

With Matt Barnes gone, if the Lakers re-sign Devin Ebanks, maybe the opportunity to learn on the court next season will be just what he needs to have a breakout season.

I’m once again calling it: Devin Ebanks is going to have a breakout season for the Lakers.