The next player up in our player report card series is the Lakers first rookie pick last season, Devin Ebanks. Devin was drafted by the Lakers in the second round, 43rd over-all. His pre-draft scouting report read very similarly to a former Lakers champion, Trevor Ariza. Devin is a long and lean athletic wing whose biggest attribute is his ability to play defense. His athleticism and length allow him to defend smaller quicker players on the ball while jumping passing lanes off the ball. When on the floor he proved the scouts right and gave Lakers fans a little sense of déjà vu as a poor man's Ariza. Unfortunately for Devin, he wasn’t able to find the court often, logging only 118 minutes all season despite the injury to Matt Barnes which should have provided him plenty of opportunities. Phil Jackson either wasn’t pleased with what Ebanks was doing in practice or the long held belief that Phil doesn’t like rookies came to fruition because Luke Walton, who has been argued here as being the worst player in the league, was constantly having his number called ahead of him.
When Devin did see the floor it was mostly garbage time and while the minutes were few and the opposition sub-par, the results were actually better than most realize. He did struggle with his shot, making only 41% of his field goal attempts (again a poor man’s Ariza); however he did the little things extraordinarily well. Would it surprise you to find out that Ebanks tied with Lamar Odom for the team’s fourth highest player efficiency rating (PER)? Other than a low field goal percentage it would be hard to find another stat in which he did not meet or exceed expectations in rookie season.
Offensively he did very well in gaining extra possessions by offensive rebounding while not wasting them by committing turnovers. He crashed the offense glass aggressively in the same manner that Matt Barnes does. He used his quickness to slash to the basket, found openings amongst the trees, and then elevated above them to snag the board. He did it so well that he led the team in the offensive rebound rate statistic (percentage of offensive boards available that a player grabs when on the floor).
Devin also avoided the all too common rookie mistakes that lead to turnovers. He wasn’t asked to generate offense for others so the potential for turnovers was already somewhat muted. The same could be said though for many of the Lakers yet it was Ebanks that led the team with the lowest turnover rate. Perhaps even more surprising though was that he had the second highest usage rate on the team. This is likely due to the few options he was playing with in garbage time but to have such a high usage rate with a very low turnover rate speaks to the surprising efficiency he demonstrated in his limited opportunities. Turnovers are usually a major problem for rookies as they adjust to the speed of the NBA coupled with rookie jitters. Ebanks in did not succumb to those same problems.
The rebounding and lack of turnovers were an unexpected bonus from the player many feel could become an elite defender some day. He did not fail to deliver on those lofty expectations either. He constantly provided glimpses of what could be in store down the road with continued effort and improvement. His natural gifts of athleticism and length allowed him to be a solid on ball defender against smaller and quicker players and he played the passing lanes well. He finished the season averaging over one steal and one block per 36 minutes.
Devin had a very solid year on both ends of the floor. It goes without saying that the results could be due to the small number of minutes, however what must be said is that when he was on the floor he did in fact produce. It makes it more puzzling that despite all the things he did well when on the floor, he still wasn’t able to get any minutes and constantly found himself behind Walton.
The expectations for a second round pick in the NBA are very low and so it wasn’t difficult for Ebanks to exceed them. He was constantly touted as one of the steals of the draft as he has the potential to be an impact role player in the future and most late picks can’t make that same claim. He lived up to that billing when on the floor. Perhaps next season will provide more opportunities for Devin as he will have a year under his belt and a new coach in Mike Brown who may not be opposed to playing young players. It will also help that Brown is known as a defensive coach which should match up well with Devin’s best attributes. But this report card is not about grading the potential future but recapping the performances of the past season. Ebanks was a solid contributor on the floor and truly outplayed the expectations of a 2nd round pick. His on-court performance would have garnered A- (it would be an A if he could have shot the ball better). Unfortunately the impact was barely noticed as he spent almost the entire season stuck on the bench, for which I give him an F for playing time (even if it was out of his control). I will simply average those to pieces and give Devin Ebanks a solid final grade of: C-