Lakers Go for Talent Over Need and Draft Ebanks, Caracter

In the Draft Primer I wrote yesterday afternoon, I only previewed point guards and centers. In doing so, I made a core mistake in looking to fill needs without accounting for talent. There's an age-old adage in draft circles: "Never draft for need over talent". The Lakers truly do need another point guard. The point guard crop of this draft, however, was atrocious. Beyond John Wall, there is not one point guard who is likely to ever be a competent starter in this league, let alone a star; and there were certainly no rotation-worthy point guards available at #43 or #58 (Writer's note: In my Primer, I incorrectly listed the Lakers' second pick as #57 - it was in fact #58). There were some good centers in this draft, but none who were available late are likely to crack a contender's rotation, and meanwhile there are a plethora of veteran big men on the free-agent market.

Mitch Kupchak knew all this, which is why he is on the Lakers' payroll as General Manager, while I'm stuck in my mom's basement writing this article in the dead of the night, and instead drafted what was arguably the best talent available at both picks. Devin Ebanks was a talent I was sure was going to go in the first round, one that I had seen play in the NCAA tournament game against an eventual national-champion Duke squad, and Derrick Caracter is an undeniable talent who was putting up decent numbers in his sophomore year at a serious school in Louisville before character issues (I'll spare you from the inevitable pun on Caracter's name) forced him to transfer, coming back to have a nice season at UTEP.

Ebanks is almost sure to make the team, as not only does he possess talent, athletic ability and defensive prowess that has been likened by many to a young Trevor Ariza, he actually does fill a need in shoring up a wing position of questionable depth due to Luke Walton's injury issues. Now if only he could shoot, he would crack the rotation. Then again, if he could shoot, he'd be a near-lottery pick. Caracter is less of a sure thing, but if he does make the team he has high potential. His talent is undeniable, but his character issues and weight and lack of conditioning held him back from being a mid-first rounder. Mitch has already touched on both these issues in press conferences, and if Caracter can show signs of having rectified these issues by training camp, he's likely to make the squad.

Devin Ebanks, 20 years old, 6'8" and 208 lbs., Small Forward, West Virginia

Ebanks is a long, athletic player who revels in playing defense. He measures in at 6'8.25" inches with shoes and weighs 208 pounds, according to Draft Express, with a 7'0.25" wingspan. He possesses a 32" vertical, decent for a player of his height, and is said to be quick. Nbadraft.net had him projected as going as the 25th pick in their mock draft, and rated him as the fifth-best small forward in the draft, making him a seeming steal at #43.

His game is truly Ariza-esque in that he is considered adept at running the floor and scoring in transition, is a good finisher around the rim with a soft touch, and possesses the skills and will to play as a defensive specialist and defend the opposition's best scorer. He also possesses many of the drawbacks Ariza suffered from, ranging from a complete absence of an outside shot (though, in truly Ariza-esque fashion, his jumpshot is said to 'show potential', particularly from the midrange and free throw line), to a shaky handle and an extremely slight frame that has trouble handling contact.

Ebanks sounds exceptionally promising from Kupchak's point of view, with Mitch stating (from the  K Brothers):

They're similar in a lot of ways. I think Devin may be able to shoot the ball a little bit better than Trevor did when he came out of college. And Trevor, when he was with us, got to the point where he could shoot the ball really well. He worked at his game. If I had to pick one dramatic difference, I would say Devin is a more rounded, maybe a better offensive player than Trevor was coming out of college. When Trevor came out of college, he was primarily a defensive player.

Of course, GMs always tout their own picks, so Kupchak's praise must be taken with a grain of salt, though Kupchak has already previously stated that it's rare for a second-round pick to make a team. Ebanks, however, may be the exception to the rule. As Ryan Blake, the NBA's Director of Scouting says:

He's got a huge upside. You've got a guy who's 6-foot-9, but he's still developing. How long is it going to take him?

Ebanks' main technical issue is his total lack of range on his jumpshot. He shot 20% on jump shots last season, and only 10% (3-30) on the NCAA threeball. However, as Nbadraft.net's scouting report states,

Knows how to get shots off in the paint ... Exhibits excellent body control ... Shows promise with his mid-range jumper ... Gets good elevation and has picturesque shooting mechanics ... Appears comfortable at the free throw stripe where he shoots 74% ... 

Much of the same was said about Ariza by Lakers' assistant coaches when he came to LA - that he showed potential as a shooter - and we all know how that ended up. It's quite possible that by the end of the year he develops what amounts to an at least serviceable jumpshot, and even if he doesn't he brings the slasher role that the Triangle has been missing since Ariza's departure.

But his primary asset is definitely his defense. Once again from Nbadraft.net:

Versatile defender with the ability to guard multiple positions ... Often matches up with the opponent's top perimeter threat ... Moves his feet pretty well for 6-9, and his length can bail him out if he's beaten off the bounce ... Long arms and quick hands net him a steal per contest ... Has a fire in his eyes at the defensive side, something very rare. 

That last bit, in italics, almost guarantees him a roster spot. While there is plenty of potential for Ebanks to earn playing time, likely most of his contribution to the team will be in practise, where he will scrimmage with the second team and push Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant in ways that Adam Morrison simply could not. Here's Devin discussing his own defense

Ebanks also said he has no problem focusing on defense.

"That's what I do," he said. "I take defense very seriously and I take it personally."

Ebanks is also a prolific rebounder, averaging 8.1 boards per game in his sophomore year despite his slight frame, a testament to his length, athleticism and mentality.

What was likely a prime reason Ebanks was not drafted earlier was his pedestrian scoring average, 12.1 points per game. However, his shooting percentage was an efficient 47%, a function of his excellent shot selection, and his lack of points is generally credited to his lack of assertiveness on offense, highlighted in the tournament game against Duke, in which WVU leading scorer Da'sean Butler went down with injury halfway through the second half but Ebanks did not assertively step up, finishing the game with only eight shots. That, however, would be a boon in playing with the Lakers, as this is a team with plenty of scorers and a need for people willing to defend, rebound, make the hustle plays and make the right decisions with the ball.

Ebanks has also been said to have some character issues, from reportedly getting into a fistfight with a teammate to a three-game suspension for unknown reasons, but these seem minor issues compared to his upside, especially for a 43rd pick. And his quotes about playing for the Lakers show that he is likely one of the players that will be positively influenced by the personalities of the Laker locker room, particularly considering that he knew Lamar Odom and Ron Artest growing up, living in the same neighbourhood as them.

Ebanks is likely to make the roster as a garbage time player as he is the cheapest method of filling up one of the Lakers' roster spots to make the minimum of 13, will be a hard worker in practise, pushing the starters, and has a high upside with potential to eventually evolve into a rotation player. In fact, if Luke Walton's back problems do not clear up, Ebanks may make the rotation earlier than expected. Last season, when Walton initially injured his back, Buss declined to pick up a free agent, instead allowing Kobe's and Ron's minutes to be extended. Now with advancing age, it is unlikely that would be allowed to happen again, and Ebanks is the sort of player who could step in and play 10-15 minutes a night in the regular season. Who knows, his potential may even shine through in that role and allow him to permanently crack the rotation. His good shot-selection, passing skills and ability to make good decisions with the ball certainly aid him in this cause.

Derrick Caracter, 22 years old, 6'9" and 280 pounds, Power Forward, University of Texas El Paso

His talent is pretty outstanding. I'll let Nbadraft.net sum it up:

NBA body and strength, very skilled for his size, has a nice game facing the basket with range to the college 3-point line, good rebounder in and out of area ... Shows soft hands and can make catches in traffic ... Has good athleticism for a man his size and will surprise you with his bounce ... Can establish great position down low due to his brute strength and shows a mean streak at times and scores at will when motivated ... Skill level and feel for the game are actually at a high level. A solid passer and understands how to use pump fakes and his strength to score on longer opponents ... 

Huge body, with incredible strength. Long armed shotblocker and active rebounder on both ends. ... Above-average shooter from middle and long range. ... Similar to Walker with his array of skills, as he can shoot it from outside, dribble the ball in, and has excellent passing ability. Can grab a rebound, take the ball the length of the court, dribbling through defenders, and pull up on a dime and hit a three-pointer. Excels using his strength backing defenders in, as he did to Greg Oden at the 2004 ABCD camp. 

And then there's CBS Sports:

Caracter shows very good touch and is quite nimble for a player his size … Fluid and well-coordinated and can simply dominate the action around the basket, when he is motivated to use his outstanding strength (23 reps in the bench press was one of the best marks at the Chicago pre-draft camp) … Has a 7-foot wingspan, 8-foot-11 standing reach, and the leaping ability to dominate the glass … Has large, natural hands and is able to create his own shot with either hand … More comfortable playing with his back to the basket … His size indicates he would be a better fit at power forward, but when he plays with intensity, he has solid shot-blocking skills and can use his length to be a better force in the post … Has the ability to finish well in transition and gets good elevation to finish with force … Seems more comfortable working under the hoop than firing from long range … Is effective dunking from the weak side and has the speed to separate from the defender when working in the low post … Has developed an effective turnaround shot with his back to the basket … Has the natural power to mix it up with a bigger opponent when going for the ball … His wingspan is good enough to alter shots in the lane, but he must remain focused on the court … Improved his free throw shooting as a junior, but still shows a bit of a hitch in his release.

And how about Draft Express?

In the post, Caracter has an extremely high skill level, excellent footwork and touch, and an incredibly high level of functional strength, making him a dominant force at this level. He can finish off either shoulder with ease, boasting effective hook shots with both hands, and he does an excellent job of establishing position without the ball and then backing his man down some more once he gets the ball. He reads his opponent very well when isolated, recognizing where the opening is and quickly and compactly going to whatever move and direction gives him the highest percentage opportunity.

Undeniable talent. Understand this: he's considered to have an excellent post game, has a body perfect (if 2 inches short) for a low-post beast, and has plenty of skills in the post, yet simultaneously "Can grab a rebound, take the ball the length of the court, dribbling through defenders, and pull up on a dime and hit a three-pointer"? Excuse me, but that's fucking ridiculous. Why was this guy not a lottery pick? Oh, wait... he thinks he's even better than he really is. He stopped trying. His weight ballooned. He weighed 315 when he came to Louisville and then clashed with coach Rick Pitino when told he wouldn't be allowed to practice until he got back down to at least 265.

I think the worst of it was summed up by high-school coach Bill Barton:

He really wanted the N.B.A. lifestyle for the lifestyle and not the game itself.

He accepted 'gifts' from boosters and refused to try in class. He had been featured as a star since the 8th grade, he "was once hyped up to be the next great talent. At 15 years of age he had hype surrounding him similar to a young OJ Mayo or LeBron James.Unfortunately by the time he reached college, he had stopped working hard and his skills/game had suffered considerably."  A perfect quote from his sophomore year of high school:

I don’t understand why I have to be here in math class. I don’t need this. I’m just going to go to the N.B.A.

That's his goddamned sophomore year. If that doesn't show this kid's arrogance, I don't know what would. As Lakers Of Fire's Garrett Wilson said, "You have to be bad dude to get expelled by a coach that cheated on his wife and paid for his mistress to have an abortion".

He also has many issues defensively, rooting primarily from his lack of consistent effort.

Kupchak seems impressed with his rebounding, but states his conditioning needs work, and Caracter himself has already lost 15 pounds, and is aiming to lose at least 10 more by the start of training camp. While that may seem positive, unfortunately it seems Caracter still does not see the error of his ways, as highlighted by his response when asked what he would do if he could go back and change things: 

If I could do it all over again? Maybe pray that David Stern didn’t change the rule about high school kids entering the draft. Some guys just aren’t built for college.

It's quite sad, really, considering his talent. He's said to be able to score at will and simply 'out-will' larger players to rebounds when motivated, but instances of him being motivated are few and far between. Even in his junior season, at UTEP, considered to be a 'rebound' season from his troubles in high school and at Louisville (from Lakers of Fire):

Caracter wasn’t exactly a model citizen at UTEP either, building on his reputation of being an insanely selfish player who cared only about his own numbers and seldom playing defense.

With his potential, he could be said to be the second-most talented and effective post player in this draft after Demarcus Cousins, another big man who was picked lower than his talent dictated due to character issues, but he dropped to pick No. 58. That speaks volumes. There is the slight chance that he cleans his act up and manages to make it to the Lakers and play effectively as a role player in years to come, but I just don't see it happening, not with his air of entitlement. He's too undersized to be an effective center. Thus if Los Angeles wanted to sign him they likely would do so at the expense of Josh Powell, and to drop a hard-working, loved player like Josh Powell for a basket-case like Caracter sounds like a bad idea.

And while Ebanks' attitude and dedication to the defensive end suggest that he will be a valuable member of the roster for the starters to scrimmage against, simply due to his defensive intensity, Caracter's laziness, lack of work ethic and inconsistent defense suggests he will be the exact opposite. Maybe the only way to keep Caracter motivated would be to form a contract giving the team full discretion to terminate it at any given time, but even that may not work as Caracter seems the type of player to believe he is good enough to easily get another job in the League, as evidenced by him declaring early for the draft despite having very little evidence to support him being picked at all.

However, the fact that the Lakers refused all of the Nuggets' efforts to trade for him hints that Caracter may indeed find a spot on the roster, provided he manages to stay quiet and follow team rules. Personally, I'd prefer keeping Powell and signing a veteran big man for the minimum, but Caracter's talent is undeniable. But I'll finish about Caracter with two quotes that best sum up his chance with Los Angeles: 

Guy with talent but has some character issues. That won't fly in a veteran Laker locker room. Clean up or find a new place to play fast.

- Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin (formerly of Forum Blue and Gold)

The hope has to be that the wisdom of Derek Fisher, the competitive intensity of Kobe Bryant and guidance of Phil Jackson will get Caracter to see the light.  In which case, Caracter could become a big part of the Laker rotation in a hurry and possibly even turn Lamar Odom into primo trade bait by this time next season (or sooner).

If it becomes clear early on in camp that he is just a flatout stubborn moron who will never see the error of his ways, he’ll be cut and the Lakers will never look back, no skin off their backs."

- Lakers of Fire's Garret Wilson

Only time will tell if Caracter makes the roster or not. Ebanks, however, seems more sure. The one thing that'scertain is the Lakers still need to address their point guard depth, and now the only methods left of doing that are a trade or free agency, neither of which presents any immediate good ideas. Javaris Crittenton seems like a cheap option who showed plenty of potential when he was in LA, however.

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