The next player up in our Player Report Card series is Rookie Power Forward Derrick Caracter. Caracter was perhaps the Lakers' most highly-touted Draft Pick of the prior season, despite being picked 58th overall, due to his size and potential; and indeed years back in high school he was on occasion ranked as highly as Andrew Bynum. However, there was obvious and gaping flaws in both his on-court potential and his character; whether it be his short stature, weight or his shaky record in college ball, there was definitely reason for him to have dropped into the Second Round of the NBA Draft.
This was effectively summed up back when he was drafted, where I wrote:
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:
Despite these potential issues with his character, his potential was undeniable, with the idea that he could effectively absorb minutes in Bynum's absence due to injury being sprung, and thoughts that he may continue to be an active member of the Lakers' roster even when Bynum returned. Such ideas were given hope when reports surfaced of Caracter showing up to Summer League and such having dropped significant weight and being in good shape, and indeed it appeared as if Caracter may have been a steal of the draft.
I myself held similar views, stating in my player preview for Caracter that
Caracter initially looks a bit overwhelmed at playing relevant NBA minutes, but soon adjusts to become a servicable contributor in Bynum's absence. Whilst the Lakers obviously miss Bynum, they are not rendered completely vulnerable in his absence, at least not in the regular season. Caracter enables the Lakers to survive their initial period without Bynum without having to push Pau or Lamar too hard, or force Andrew back into the roster too early.
After Andrew's return, Caracter flits in and out of the active list, with some productive stints in D-League, and is a valuable practise contributor. The Lakers have some insurance in case of an injury to their frontline, and have newfound frontline depth beyond their initial 21-foot monster of versatility. Caracter has some issues in picking up the offense, but not remarkably more than expected in a rookie, and his defense is passable, albeit with some lapses. Caracter has some minor character issues, but those are quickly and effectively resolved behind closed doors. When on the court, primarily during garbage time, Caracter shows an impressive ability to score in the low post, fitting of his raw talent, and utilises a decent midrange game. Caracter's addition, coupled with that of Ratliff, gives the Lakers a newfound sense of security in their frontline depth that was not present last season with DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell.
Caracter was indeed passable in the playing time he did receive, putting together rather impressive per-36 numbers of 14 points and 7 rebounds, coupled with a less-impressive 48.5% eFG; though his defense did leave something wanting. He showed a decent capability to find his own shot, even over larger opponents, although his lack of size did inevitably lead to some issues. He was willing to chase down rebounds and use his body, which somewhat compensated for his lack of height in giving him a decent (for a 6'7" rookie) 11.3% Total Rebound Rate.
He was, however, foul-prone, with a rate of 8 fouls per 36 minutes, obviously not something conductive to receiving greater playing time. And playing time did prove to be an issue: despite Bynum's absences and Pau's exhaustion, Caracter invariably only received absolute garbage time (even less so than would be expected, due to Phil's irritating habit of playing Pau late into blowouts); with Phil instead preferring to push his starters to play extra minutes or opt to play small-ball with Artest or Walton at the 4.
It's unknown how much of this refusal to give Caracter minutes was warranted, and one must respect the Greatest Coach of All Time's judgement, but I cannot help but feel that this serves as an example of rookie bias. Pau was getting burnt out, Andrew was often injured, and Phil often preferred playing the likes of the useless Luke Walton or the ancient Joe Smith or Theo Ratliff ahead of Caracter, a mystifying move to be certain. Caracter was even inactive for much of the season, sent to the Lakers' D-League Affiliate for the season, the Bakersfield Jam. This, coupled with Ebanks' similar lack of role, does indeed suggest that the rumours of Phil having an anti-rookie bias are true.
In terms of character issues, much wasn't heard about Caracter giving his coaches or teammates trouble, a welcome development. However, there was the unfortunate and rather bizarre, even mildly pathetic, incident of Caracter being drunk and disorderly at an IHOP, of all places, and assaulting a server for refusing to serve him in his inebriated state. An ugly incident, to be sure; but NBA players have been arrested for such conduct before, and will be in future. Indeed, considering Caracter's past history, it seems the Lakers may have gotten off lightly in terms of off-court issues from him this season.
Ultimately, while Caracter did show potential in the rare instances when he was on the court, those instances were too short and too rare, whether that be Phil's fault or his own, to constitute a high grade; particularly considering this Laker team could have really used a consistent fourth big man to soak up minutes in the long haul of the Regular Season. Although he performed as well, if not better than Ebanks, in his time on the court; the fact that he had a chance at a rotation spot more readily available for him (having the potential for being the fourth man in the Lakers' three-big rotation as opposed to their fifth wing), one that needed minutes absorbed,; and that he did not make the most of that opportunity detract from his overall grade. Also, the IHOP incident can't be ignored, as expected of him as it may have been.
As such, the overall grade for Derrick Caracter is a D+, primarily for him not filling a rotation hole that desperately needed filling.