This is the first in our series of Player Previews, in which we discuss what to expect in the coming season from each of the 2010-11 Los Angeles Lakers. Up today is rookie big man Derrick Caracter.
Up until about half an hour ago I expected this post to be wholly inconsequential. I thought Caracter would be buried on the inactive list behind the Lakers' three-headed monster of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, with accomplished vet Theo Ratliff backing them up. But now, things have changed. For the moment, they've only changed slightly in the overall context of the team, but that could soon change, for better or worse.
Now that Andrew Bynum is once again experiencing injury issues, Caracter will be thrust into the (relative) spotlight, with his preseason minutes increasing and his chances of being rendered active during the regular season increased exponentially. It's up to him how he reacts to that. He could either thrive with the increased run, whilst not straying outside the boundaries and limitations attached to his role, and thus make the Lakers even stronger and deeper as a team. That, or he could either flounder in the spotlight, or get greedy and start demanding more touches and more run, becoming a distraction to the team.
The fact is, before the Bynum complication, Caracter's successes or struggles would be wholly irrelevant, as he'd almost definitely not see the court out of garbage time, and could be cut or waived if absolutely necessary. Now, at least for a little while, Caracter may be pushed into playing relevant minutes, and is needed as a healthy big man, and thus it's in the interest of the team to ensure he performs well, requiring short-term returns in addition to long term development (as opposed to just hopeful long-term development).
With Bynum out, Caracter's development not only affects team chemistry, but may actually gain or lose the team a number of wins, however small, that could influence the home-court advantage in the playoffs. And this is not even mentioning the relief in terms of minutes Caracter could potentially provide for the injury-prone Bynum, oft-overused Gasol, and a Lamar Odom fresh off playing a major role in bringing home gold in the FIBA World Championships.
Role on the Team: In the preseason, expect Caracter to receive heavy minutes as the coaching staff look to rest the vets and give the rookies plenty of run to allow them to familiarise themselves with NBA gameplay and learn to implement the Lakers' sets in real time against an opponent. When the season starts, until Andrew Bynum is recovered from his surgery, Caracter seems likely to earn minutes in the high single-digits per game, perhaps even reaching the 10 MPG mark, as relief for Gasol and Odom. After Bynum returns, unless Caracter performed exceptionally in his absence, Caracter will likely be relegated to the inactive list and probably find heavy amounts of run with the Lakers' D-League Affiliate to gain more playing experience under the Lakers' system. However, he must remain ready, as injuries may strike at any time and thus he may be called on to soak up relevant minutes.
Best-Case Scenario for this Season: Caracter makes Lakers' GM Mitch Kupchak look like a genius, thriving in his extended minutes in Bynum's absence to show his full potential as a dominant post presence with a versatile offensive game. He fits into the Triangle like a glove and puts in consistent effort on defense, providing results not detrimental to the Lakers' overall defensive scheme. He allows Phil to keep Gasol's usually-high minutes down, and even relieves Odom of some minutes, giving him some much needed post-World Championship rest. The Lakers do not look vulnerable in the absence of Bynum, and teams are stricken with fear at the Lakers' new depth. Even after Bynum returns, Caracter stays on the active roster, relegating Ratliff to the role of practise body, soaking up an effective 8-10 minutes a game at high energy, allowing Phil to keep his veteran frontline's minutes down over the long grind of the regular season.
Worst-Case Scenario for this Season: Caracter looks out of place on offense, completely uninterested in defense and does not play within the playbook or flow of the Lakers' playstyle. Frustrated with his lack of truly significant role, and distracted by the lures of Hollywood, Caracter's old character issues begin to show up. He is habitually late to practises, does not listen to the coaching stuff, does not follow the playbook and hogs the ball on offense whilst taking a break on defense. Proving unfit to play relevant minutes, Phil has no choice but to send Caracter to the D-League, and consequentially is unable to reduce Gasol or Odom's minutes, possibly leading to complications down the road. This situation forces Bynum to return from injury when not fully ready. This all leaves an ill feeling amongst the team, a pallor that tinges them, and reduces their depth and unity.
What We Expect: 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.