2010-11 Season Preview: Centers

Guards Forwards Centers

On paper, the 2010-11 Lakers should be even better than the team that won the NBA title in each of the past two seasons.

Wait … how is that possible?

It’s not like a team can do better than winning a championship, of course, but it certainly can play better basketball along what Phil Jackson often refers to as “the journey.” Whether or not motivation can be drawn from what Jackson says will be his last season as coach, the one in which he searches for his remarkable fourth three-peat, remains to be seen.

But an obviously improved bench, a potentially better team vibe and better health could quite tangibly lead to improved basketball. More specifically, free agents Steve Blake and Matt Barnes couple with rookie Devin Ebanks to boost the pine crew, a more veteran team than last year’s has a better chance to focus only on the court, and other than Andrew Bynum (likely out until the end of November at the earliest), it’s a healthy group of Lakers. More wins could result, but will the regular season be more about “playing the right way” towards victories, or simply trying to get to the playoffs as fast and as healthy as possible?

To delve more deeply into the roster, we looked inside the box score for each player, summarized detailed individual scouting reports from assistant coach Jim Cleamons and offered an X-factor pertaining to all 14 players on L.A.’s roster.

Below are the centers.


ANDREW BYNUM

Box Score & More
Bynum averaged 15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.45 blocks on 57 percent shooting in 30 minutes per game in a mostly healthy regular season (65 games played), and contributed 8.6 points and 6.9 rebounds with 1.57 blocks in 24 minutes per playoff game while playing through a meniscus tear in his right knee.

  • 76 – L.A.’s winning percentage when both Pau Gasol and Bynum were in the starting lineup last season, compared with 59 percent when one or both didn’t play.
  • 96 – Regular season games Bynum has missed due to injury in the past three seasons after playing in all 82 games in 2006-07.
  • 124 – Dunks by Bynum in his 65 games, good for the third highest average in the league (1.9 per game) and seventh most overall. That helped him rank fifth in the NBA in field goal percentage (57 percent).

Clem Says
“I think he will come back healthy. Four years ago, ‘Drew probably wouldn’t have been mature enough to play through the injury, but I think he has grown. When we get him healthy, when our team is 100 percent, I think he’ll come back and make an immediate impact. You don’t want guys to get hurt, but when you have a solid foundation in terms of how you want the team to play, they can cover for a little bit, so we want ‘Drew to be fully healthy when he comes back. ‘Drew is a tall, big human being. The quicker he realizes how good he can be, and that marinates in his mind, his length plus the things he can do around the basket are unique.”

X-Factor = GAMES PLAYED
Simple fact: when Andrew Bynum is healthy, the Lakers don’t lose much. It shows in the statistics, and has been proven when it counts in the playoffs. It’s no coincidence, in other words, that L.A. has won the last two championships with Bynum shoring up the paint at both ends, and lost in the 2008 Finals as he watched, helpless, in street clothes. This because there are few other big men alive that have the New Jersey native’s combination of skill and sheer size, as Bynum has displayed with consistent stretches of 20-and-10 basketball when he’s been fully healthy (e.g. late Feb. - March 2010, Nov. 2009, late Jan. 2009 and so on). Of course, “being fully healthy” has been the tough part for Bynum. L.A. has generally been able to compensate thanks to the rare luxury of being able to plug Odom in alongside Gasol, and they’ll do it again until Bynum returns from offseason knee surgery (July 28) in late November or early December. The Lakers no doubt hope Bynum will then play like they know he can in every game onward … but the 22-year-old knows he has to prove it on the court.


THEO RATLIFF

Box Score & More
Ratliff opened the 2009-10 season in San Antonio, playing limited minutes in 21 games, before being traded to Charlotte. There he started 26 of 28 games, averaging 5.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks before contributing 11.8 minutes per game in Orlando’s first round sweep of the Bobcats.

  • 6 – Kids at home for Ratliff and wife Kristina: Adonis, Darius, Stacia, Yasmeen, Alexis and Sasha.
  • 9 – Jerseys worn by Ratliff since being drafted in 1995 by Detroit, one more than Matt Barnes but in six more seasons.
  • 1,963 – Career blocked shots for Ratliff, good for 18th in NBA history. Only Shaquille O’Neal (2,690, seventh), Tim Duncan (2,235, 11th), Marcus Camby (2,140, 12th) and Ben Wallace (2,032, 16th) have more swats amongst active players.

Clem Says
“Theo can take care of the basket, but you don’t want him to have to do it night in and night out. You have to get a feel for what shots he likes to block and how he likes to block them, and funnel guys to him so you don’t wear him out. Drew (Bynum) doesn’t block shots (like Theo) yet, so one of the things that Drew will learn from Theo is how to do that.”

X-Factor = THE SWAT
Ranking 18th all-time in the history of the NBA in any category is pretty impressive, and the Lakers have already gotten a glimpse of how Ratliff got there in the preseason. In 85 minutes through the team’s first six games, Ratliff blocked eight shots, which looks better when compared with Gasol’s nine blocks in 177 minutes. While the Lakers have no plans to put the 37-year-old Ratliff on the floor for any extended amount of time, opponents have to respect his domain – the paint, of course – whenever he’s out there. Perhaps more importantly, as Cleamons described, is how much of the Wyoming collegiate’s shot blocking may rub off on Bynum.


DERRICK CARACTER

Box Score & More
Caracter averaged 14.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in 27 games as a junior at the University of Texas at El Paso, ranking 16th in the country in field goal percentage (56.7 percent). In 53 games at Louisville in his first two years (14 starts), Caracter averaged 8.2 points and 4.3 rebounds.

  • 0 – Television shows watched by Caracter. He prefers to music and reads books.
  • 1 – New Lakers teammate with whom he’s already been on a team, fellow rookie Devin Ebanks, as the two played for the New York Panthers (AAU). Both were top prospects nationally.
  • 58 – Draft pick used by Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak to select Caracter. It’s rare for a pick that late to make an NBA roster, particularly that of a defending champion.

Clem Says
“Right now he’s probably more of a five than a four. Collegiately, that’s the spot he played, and it’s tough to get a young kid who has built his whole career being the largest one to play in other ways outside of the post. His instincts are going to kick in, so that five is going to be hard to get out of him. Hopefully by the end of the year, he’ll be able to play four as well, depending on what we need, but we also need to just let him define himself based on how he plays on the floor. He chases the ball at the offensive end, and if you don’t put it away, he could very well get you an extra possession.”

X-Factor = SIZE
With the typical skill set of a center, Caracter does lack the typical height of an NBA center at 6-9, but has flashed an ability to score on the interior regardless. Still, particularly in the absence of Andrew Bynum for at least the season’s first month, and with Theo Ratliff’s inability to play big minutes at the age of 37, Caracter may find himself with the rare opportunity to play as a rookie second round pick. Whether or not he adjusts to being the biggest guy on the floor through college to often the smallest at his position in the League should determine how many minutes he’ll actually get. One thing L.A.’s coaches have liked regardless of how well he’s scoring the ball or matching up defensively: Caracter’s ball-hawking style on the backboards at both ends.