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Chris Kaman's throwback play in the post has the Clippers in the thick of things out West.
Harry How/Getty Images

Kaman quietly emerges as Clippers' go-to guy


Posted Jan 14 2010 12:44PM

In a recent video feature on this very Web site, Clippers center Chris Kaman talked about his "old school" style and his lack of flair in the post. Despite his best efforts to down play his skills and progress, though, Kaman has cast the spotlight on himself with his consistent play in L.A.

The Clippers made the decision early in the season to make Kaman the focal point of their offense, which wasn't a huge surprise given coach Mike Dunleavy's past. Former All-Star forward Elton Brand, who played five seasons in L.A., led the team in field goal attempts four times and in scoring average twice before leaving for Philly before the 2008-09 season. Kaman played five of his seven seasons with Brand and, although his role in the offense grew each season, he was usually nothing more than a rebounder, banger and defensive stopper in the post.

He often showed flashes of offensive skill, though, during those early years, but injuries derailed several would-be successful seasons. Kaman has played in all 82 games only once in his career. Since his rookie season, he has missed about 25 games per season. But that trend of missing games and being a secondary option on the Clippers seem to be things of the past.

Many know that Kaman (20.4 ppg) is the NBA's top-scoring center, but he's also in the top 25 in shooting (50.6 percent, 24th), blocks (1.34 bpg, 20th), rebounding (9.4 rpg, 17th) and sixth among centers in free-throw percentage (76.8 percent). If that's not evidence of Kaman's role as the Clippers' go-to guy and best player, what is?

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After a dissappointing season a year ago in which he took a step back offensively and played out of shape all season, he's enjoying his resurgance. He's also quick to deflect all the credit; Kaman routinely praises the healthy play of Marcus Camby and point guard Baron Davis in allowing him to reach his potential.

"He's understanding things a lot better, becoming more efficient," Dunleavy told the Los Angeles Times. "He's the guy who wants to do well and do what you want him to do. He's very self-critical. When he makes mistakes he admits and feels badly about it.

"He's having a better feel for the offensive end of the floor. We've been trying to get him to do that stuff for years, take what's there. You've got all the goods, the tools."

NBA.com's Five on the Rise is a weekly look at which young players (and resurgent veterans) have yet to reach stardom, have regained the form of their younger days and, most of all, have made the biggest impact for their team in the last week. These rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Thursday during the season. If you have an issue with the names on this list, or have a question or comment for Jeff Case, send him an e-mail.

G. Jamal Crawford, Hawks
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3830.717.12.52.60.80.1.457.356.849
Last Week's Rank - --
After falling to the Celtics 4-3 in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, Atlanta went 0-4 against Boston last season and lost each game by an average of 5.5 points. The Hawks hung with the Celtics in just about every category in that season series a year ago, but often seemed lacking in the needed swagger and confidence that a reliable sixth man can provide. Crawford has more than filled that role for the Hawks against the Celtics this season and came up with two big performances last week against Boston. In a home win on Friday, he scored 18 points and had the play of the game down the stretch, hitting an off-balance 3-pointer with 7:13 left in the game to help salt away the win. Two nights later in Boston, he teamed with All-Star Joe Johnson as the Hawks rallied in a foul-plagued game. He scored six points in the final 2:14 of the game and had a nifty over-the-shoulder pass to Josh Smith for a late dunk. Granted, the Celtics were missing defensive stalwart Kevin Garnett in both games. But Crawford's heroics give Atlanta a 3-0 lead in the season series. "We respect them so much, but we don't fear anybody," Crawford said. "When we go out there we know it's kind of a bar to see where we're at, and they're not fully healthy right now but it's a big win for us."

G. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
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Last Week's Rank - --
Last season, no player in the league turned the ball over more than Westbrook. His miscues were to be expected, though, as a rookie point guard not only learning the NBA game but, in many ways, learning the point guard position, too. Of late, Westbrook has shown improvement in not just managing his mistakes, but also getting the Thunder into position to climb in the Western Conference. After averaging a season-high 3.8 turnovers per game in November, Westbrook has drastically cut his turnover stats each month, getting that down to 2.5 turnovers per game in December. He's at 2.3 turnovers per game this month. How has that influenced Oklahoma City's on-court product? The Thunder were 7-8 in November, 9-6 in December and are 3-4 this month.

C. Chris Kaman, Clippers
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Last Week's Rank - --
Looking for more proof of Kaman's value to the Clips? Los Angeles had a four-game win streak heading into Memphis on Tuesday, but saw that streak come to an end as the Grizz rallied in the fourth quarter. Kaman sat out the game with a sore back and the Clippers could mostly only watch as Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph pounded away on Camby and backup DeAndre Jordan. Two nights later, with Kaman sitting out again, the Clippers fell apart against the Hornets in New Orleans as Emeka Okafor went wild on Brian Skinner and Jordan. As of the last All-Star voting returns, the Suns' Amar'e Stoudemire had a 700,000-vote lead over the Lakers' Andrew Bynum for the West's starting gig. Since coaches must vote for seven players in their conference -- including two guards, two forwards a center and two other players regardless of position -- Kaman will likely be jostling with Bynum and Memphis' Marc Gasol for the backup center duties. We like his chances.

F. Zach Randolph, Grizzlies
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Last Week's Rank - --
Just like last month, the Grizzlies are off to a 4-2 start. And just like last month, Randolph is holding his perch as Memphis' go-to guy and keeping a firm grip on one of the forward spots in our weekly list, too. Randolph put up monster lines in wins over Utah (29 points, 15 rebounds) and the Clippers (20 points, eight rebounds) and was solid in a loss to the Bobcats in Charlotte (17 points, 12 rebounds). Our own Sekou Smith, who earlier this season adopted the Grizzlies as the "official" team of the Hang Time Blog, is already on the bandwagon to get Z-Bo to the All-Star Game. Randolph is already up to 72 assists this season and is on pace for his first 100-plus assist season since 2007-08. His willingness to share the ball and trust the Grizzlies' young talent is another reason why Memphis is staying in the thick of the West playoff chase.

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155.92.10.50.50.50.3.429.385.750
Last Week's Rank - --
What do you get the team that already has a hustling power forward (like Anderson Varejao) and an athletic power forward (like J.J. Hickson)? A power forward who can stretch defenses with his shooting range (Williams). In last week's wins over the Blazers and Warriors, Williams showed off his shooting range as he went 4-for-8 from deep and hit double-figure scoring. In the win over the Blazers (a game in which Portland's defense gave up 41 points to LeBron James), Williams hit a crucial 3-pointer help break an 87-87 tie. Against the Warriors, Williams did a nice job of moving the ball and attacking the basket as the Cavs avoided Golden State's upset bid. Williams has been the beneficiary of late minutes since the Cavs lost regular backup forward Jamario Moon for three weeks with an ab strain. Williams played on a couple of 10-day deals with the Cavs last season and was even on the playoff roster. He's got less to worry about this season as his contract was guaranteed for the season on Wednesday and has admitted the game is coming easier to him. "Things are starting to slow down for me," Williams told The Plain Dealer. "I see the game a lot slower. I see the game in my pace. Instead of trying to run around and do everything, I'm taking my time with things."

G: George Hill, Spurs -- Hill had perhaps one of the highlights of his career earlier this week when he got a clean swipe of the ball off Kobe Bryant and took it in for a slam. That play was perhaps a fitting example of the Spurs' workman-like win over the Lakers in which Hill and the rest of San Antonio's bench outscored L.A.'s reserves 42-20. The next night in Oklahoma City, Hill came up with 16 points and had a great late-game pass to Richard Jefferson, who hit the game-winning jumper in OT. As David Aldridge pointed out in his Morning Tip on Monday, Spurs starting point guard Tony Parker is already talking about how he is in need of a rest from all his play between international ball and the NBA season. Nights like the ones Hill put up this week not only gives the Spurs a much-needed scoring punch off the bench, but allows Parker to work on getting his legs under him for the second half of the season.

G: Randy Foye, Wizards -- It's hard to find a bright spot in the post-Gilbert Arenas haze that's surrounded the Wizards the last few weeks, but Foye might be one of them. Since taking over the starting point guard duties four games ago, Foye has upped his scoring average to 20.2 ppg, is shooting 43.7 percent and has had at least six assists in each of those starts. Those stats are all marked improvements over his season averages. Although the Wizards are just 1-3 in that four-game stretch, credit a part of that losing to Foye trying to figure out his new role with the team. Early in the season, Foye was one of the first guards off Washington's bench and often played at the end of games. But an ankle injury in November slowed him and the Wizards' signing of Earl Boykins ate into a good part of Foye's minutes when he returned. But since Arenas' suspension, Foye is back playing major minutes in Washington. "When you keep on losing players, guys that maybe weren't playing are now playing. Guys are having different roles," said coach Flip Saunders. "Randy (Foye) is still trying to figure out where he is, whether to be a scorer or distribute the ball. When you have a different role, you may not be as confident in that role because you haven't played it as much. Hopefully, over time they will gain confidence in those roles."

F: James Posey, Hornets -- Posey's stat lines haven't been particularly dazzling of late: a nine-point, four-rebound game agains the Sixers on Monday, an eight-point, five-rebound game against the Clippers on Wednesday. We lauded Posey last week for helping the Hornets get off to a good start on their road game-filled January and he kept up that trend last week, too, allowing him to keep a spot in the Rise. He played decent defense on the Yi Jianlian in a win over the Nets in New Jersey, hit some big 3-pointers in wins over the Wizards and Clippers. He's making his shots from the perimeter, something he wasn't doing the first 20-plus games of the season, and his re-emergence has played a key role in New Orleans getting into the dog fight with the Clippers, Jazz, Grizzlies and Thunder for the West's final playoff spot.

F: Kenyon Martin, Nuggets -- Across the board over his last 10 games, few players have been better for the Nuggets than Martin. In that span, he's averaging 15.4 ppg and 11.8 rpg and is even making 33 percent of his 3-point attempts. Although the Nuggets suffered a shocking loss to the Kings on Saturday, Martin hasn't forsaken his defense in the last week. He (and center Nene) held the Wolves' frontcourt trio of Kevin Love, Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes to a 16-for-42 shooting night (38 percent) and two nights later helped bottle up Dwight Howard and force him into a 1-for-7, eight-point night.

C: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies -- Gasol had a quiet night in last week's win over the Jazz (eight points, six rebounds) but came up with the game-saving block as time expired on C.J. Miles to give Memphis its first win of the season over Utah (and also snap an 11-game losing streak to the Jazz). Two nights later, he showed off his hook shot and around-the-basket moves as Memphis rallied past the Clippers. More importantly, Gasol (and to an extent Randolph) has become the enforcer of sorts for the Grizz, coming to the defense of teammates fouled hard near the bucket. He's providing a toughness factor that every playoff contender needs and plays with a chip-on-his-shoulder style that is forcing foes to respect his game.

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