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Hidden In Plain Sight: The Devin Ebanks Story


At the start of the season, the Lakers found themselves with quite the little personnel dilemma: They had a glut of small forwards (none of whom were particularly good) and just one shooting guard (who, of course, is spectacular). Two of those 3s were pretty worthless and saw little time on the court, and at mid-season both Luke Walton and Jason Kapono were shipped out of town. But the question of what to do with the other three was a curious one. Metta World Peace was a known, if possibly declining commodity. So, too, was Matt Barnes. Both are fine players. But Devin Ebanks represented the unknown, filled with potential but completely unproven. With no clear cut backup for Kobe Bryant at shooting guard, and with Ebanks by far the most mobile and agile of the three wing players, it seemed clear that Ebanks would find time as Kobe's backup. Even when it was decided, for strategic purposes, to have Metta World Peace come off the bench, it seemed clear there weren't many minutes for Ebanks at the 3. That is, until Mike Brown announced Ebanks would start.

It was an intriguing proposition. Devin Ebanks, a 2nd year unknown, starting over known decent commodities Barnes and Peace? He must be doing something to impress, we all thought. He must be tapping in to the potential. Then the games happened. Ebanks' numbers were hardly life altering, but they also weren't too bad. In three games, he averaged only 7 points and 3 boards a game, but he was extremely efficient with his chances. He only took 13 shots in those first three games, hitting seven of them. He also got to the line six times in one contest in which he couldn't hit from the field. His defense (as measured poorly in small sample sizes by his defensive rating) was not significantly worse than other starters like Kobe or Derek Fisher. He had two steals in one contest. His statistical contribution wasn't all that much, but he was a 2nd year player sharing the court with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. He took what came to him, and took it well.

Or so I thought. Mike Brown apparently disagreed. In the fourth game of the Devin Ebanks experiment, the kid got in early foul trouble, and only played 14 minutes. And just like that, he was gone. He didn't play in the next game. Or the next one. About a week later, he played 16 minutes in a loss to the Phoenix Suns. A week after that, he played the same amount against Cleveland in a win. He wouldn't play more than 10 minutes in a game again until April.

I don't pretend to know more about basketball than Coach Mike Brown. Hell, I don't pretend to know more about basketball than Ja'vale Mcgee. Anybody who lives, sleeps, breathes basketball, who plays the game as a profession, knows more about the ins and outs of the game than a guy like me ever could, just like I wouldn't expect any of them to know more about accounting or computer code than I do. If Coach Brown saw something out of Ebanks that he didn't like, I can understand that. If, after four games, he decided that he'd rather go with the known instead of waiting to see if the unknown might pan out, I can understand that. Especially on a veteran team like the Lakers, it doesn't necessarily make sense to waste time developing your youth.

Before the season, we knew, or thought we knew, that Ebanks would have difficulty cracking the rotation at the small forward position. But we thought he would see time as Kobe Bryant's backup, because there were no logical backup shooting guards on the roster, and his athleticism seemed a natural fit for guarding smaller players when necessary. But Ebanks never got a shot in that role. Again, I can understand that Coach Brown might have seen, in practice and otherwise, that Ebanks as a shooting guard was a recipe for disaster. Coach spends more time watching Ebanks play, in practice and on tape, than I spend with my wife. It would be absolutely foolish of me to presume that not playing Ebanks in the backup shooting guard role was a poor decision. I don't know enough about basketball, or have enough visibility over the Lakers as a team, to be able to judge the decision. So, when Mike Brown decided Devin Ebanks wasn't the answer at shooting guard either, and sent Ebanks to languish at the end of the bench, or sent him for long stints with the Lakers' D-league team, I had no justification for questioning that decision. At least, not until April 7th.

April 7th is the day when Devin Ebanks found himself back in the rotation ... starting once again ... at shooting guard. This was, of course, due to the shin injury that forced Kobe Bryant to miss seven games, but that's not the point. All season long, the Lakers have struggled to fill any second not played by Kobe Bryant at the two position. They've tried letting Andrew Goudelock spread his wings, and while Glock has proven a capable scorer at times, he's a complete liability defensively and tends to interrupt the offensive flow a little too much. They've tried a two point guard lineup, which usually results in the 2nd point guard getting abused defensively by bigger, stronger players. They've tried playing Barnes and Metta World Peace at the same time ... it's been the most successful of the available options, but hardly dynamic. You know what they haven't tried? Devin Ebanks. Again, as mentioned previously, that would be fine, would make absolute sense, unless, you know Ebanks was deemed the logical replacement to Kobe Bryant if Kobe missed time!

So Devin Ebanks returned the lineup, and again he played OK. Not great, but not terrible. He shot 43% from the field over 7 games, averaging 6 points and 4 boards. The Lakers went 5-2 in those contests. Then, Kobe came back and Devin was once again relegated from the starting unit to the garbage unit against San Antonio. The next game, Metta World Peace provided Ebanks with another opportunity by getting ejected (and later suspended) in the first half. Ebanks came on in the 2nd half, played nearly all of the 4th quarter and both overtimes, and played inspired defense on Kevin Durant in helping the Lakers sneak out a pivotal victory. In Metta's absence, Ebanks has moved back to the starting lineup again, this time back at small forward. In two games, he's shooting above 50%, scoring 8 points, and picking up 7 boards per game. He's been an active defender and has helped to limit Denver's talented wings from doing too much damage. He's been, as he has all season long when given significant minutes, a solid but unspectacular contributor.

I don't know enough about basketball to be able to fairly challenge Mike Brown's decision making when it comes to his rotations, or his usage of certain players. But I can see patterns, or a lack thereof. If Ebanks doesn't fit as a member of the Lakers' rotation, I'm on board with that. But what did Mike Brown see initially that made him want Devin Ebanks to start? And then, why was he willing to give up on whatever it is he saw in the first place so quickly and so absolutely, to send Devin from 25 minutes a game to DNP-CD's over a single contest? If Devin Ebanks doesn't have the right tools to play the shooting guard position, I'm on board with that, too. But if that's the case, why, has Brown proven willing to try almost anything as a backup shooting guard besides Ebanks, only to throw Devin in AS A STARTER at shooting guard when Kobe was unavailable?

Devin Ebanks has played in more than 10 minutes in an NBA contest 17 times this season. Fourteen of those instances, he was the starter at his position. He's been DNP-CD'd (or relegated to the D-league) 42 times. The kid is a young player, and when he has played, he has rarely been spectacular. But he is young, and he does have potential. Mike Brown saw that potential enough to start him at two different positions throughout the year. Mike Brown did not think enough of that potential to stick with Ebanks for very long. The Lakers have struggled with their backup shooting guard all season. Ebanks hasn't been part of the struggle, because he has not played in that role. But when the Lakers needed a substitution starter, he was the man called upon.

Devin Ebanks has been hidden this season, hidden in plain sight. Maybe he's not that good. Maybe he's a potential NBA starter some day. Based on his treatment by the coaching staff this season, you'd be hard pressed to figure out which one is true.

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