Sometimes it stings -- ok, it always does -- when I see a nice stat line from Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas. The Lakers have been haunted by a distinct lack of production at the point guard position for years and he's been a steal for that up-north franchise for years now. Mr. Irrelevant is a term of endearment for the player drafted with pick No. 60 each and every NBA Draft, and that's what Thomas was. The Lakers pulled some random names out of a hat just a few picks ahead of him that year -- Ater Majok and Chukwudiebere Maduabum -- that will never be bodies in the NBA or even the D-league at this point.
Fast forward one season later and the Lakers were the ones at the podium for a Mr. Irrelevant of their own: Robert Sacre. They haven't found anything as dramatic as an "answer" while they rebuild, but they likely found something important for the process in Sacre. He's becoming a serviceable big man in the NBA and should be an able rotation center in the NBA for years to come with his size and growing skill set.
More season reviews
Most improved Meeks
Jodie Meeks made incredible strides in the 2013-14 season and cemented his value as an NBA role player. Heading into the offseason, the real question is: can the Lakers afford to keep him around?
More season reviews
Sometimes it's hard to appreciate and pay any mind to players that contribute at Sacre's level. His minimal 16.8 minutes per game are easy to overlook and take for granted, but he was a productive player in his sophomore year. The roster itself was a disaster, something like a plate haphazardly mashed together plate at your local China Buffet. There was a little of this and a little of that, but no real continuity or theme. The mashed potatoes seeped on top of the pepperoni pizza, so to speak. That might not get any better next season as the team has just a handful of players returning, but the Lakers have a player they can continue to develop in their frontcourt who just so happens to be a cheap option for years to come.
Sacre is due $915,243 next season and a fully unguaranteed $981,348 the following season. This is a true seven-foot center who is 260 pounds of muscle. He's athletic, he's learning, he keeps his head down and plays hard. It's hard to argue against him being a solid value, even if he winds up as the third string center on the roster next season. The front office's trust in his development could even be a factor if it comes down to dollar signs with unrestricted free agent Jordan Hill.
When judging unfinished players like Sacre it's important to identify tangible talents that can be useful. That's why scouting departments devour game film like Jordan Belfort devoured quaaludes throughout The Wolf of Wall Street. Sacre has plenty of those to offer the Lakers at a budget price. Tangible talents, not quaaludes, of course.
The pick-and-roll finisher
I know, I know. It's a Mike D'Antoni offense so this is a given, but it's important to note just how successful Sacre was at finishing as a roll man. He consistently showed he would abide by the coaching staff's philosophy by rolling hard to the rim and it paid off. He finished putting up 1.07 points per possession as a roll man, shooting 53.3 percent in this category, according to Synergy Sports Technology. That's actually just a tad better than Jordan Hill, who put up 1.03 points per possession when rolling to the rim.
Before the conclusion becomes this all means nothing because Mike D'Antoni decided to take his ball and go home on his own terms, let's not forget how integral a simple pick-and-roll is in nearly any offense in the NBA. Every big man is setting screens for their ball-handling guards, and having a guy who can actually force the defense to make decisions by being a threat to finish at the rim is important to any team trying to create space.
He has great size, mobility and the soft hands to go with it which make him a fantastic target for the Lakers out of the pick-and-roll. It's a simple skill, but it's going to help him carve a role in the league for years to come. He's still learning the in's and out's of the big league, but Sacre has proven he can be a capable player in this role. Check.
The offensive glass
Sacre isn't a prolific rebounder in the league but that doesn't mean he can't develop in this area of his game. His defensive rebounding percentages are low -- he grabbed just 16.9 percent of all available defensive rebounds, per Basketball-Reference -- but he's much better at generating extra possessions with offensive rebounds. He was the team's second-best offensive rebounder, collecting eight percent of the available offensive rebounds when he was on the floor.
One of the reasons he's often in position to clean the glass on offense is how he's made it a habit of rolling hard or cutting to the rim once a shot goes up. This puts him in deep post position with a great chance of grabbing a missed shot.
He stays active without the ball and this allows him to slide in front of mismatches or clean up easy rebound opportunities. Sacre is often in the right place at the right time when positioning for rebounds, something that transforms into a talent more than a fluke over time.
He still has a great deal of room to improve here, especially when it comes to actively putting up immediate field goal attempts once he secures the rebound. He shoots 54.8 percent when attempting a shot following an offensive rebound but only attempted 31 putbacks on the 82 offensive rebounds he pulled down last season.
The Lakers' defense stunk last season, but that was an obvious team-wide issue. Sacre did a solid job on defense for a second-year player surrounded by first-class bums on defense.
"Matador defense" was synonymous with Lakers defense, and this put a huge emphasis on the Lakers bigs defensive awareness. Watch as Damian Lillard blows by Steve Blake without any resistance but meets the outstretched arms of Sacre when he leaves his feet for a layup:
Sacre held his own in the post, allowing just .69 points per possession in this category, per Synergy Sports Technology. Scrolling through his game film shows he isn't just going up against reserve bigs but throwing players like Marc Gasol, Al Jefferson, DeMarcus Cousins and other premiere post players off their games.
He was also arguably the most athletic big man on the roster last season -- yes that isn't saying much but there was also Jordan Hill -- and this makes him crucial for the team's transition defense. He runs the floor, which is often times more than what can be said for the other bigs wearing purple and gold uniforms, and his timing on contesting shots is average at least. Watch him work up the court for a block on Tony Allen:
Sacre isn't an all-NBA defensive presence, but much like on offense, he has the talent to earn him minutes. There are things he needs to work on, like recovering after he helps on pick-and-rolls, but that should come with time. He's clearly a very mobile player who has size to go with it, and he's not a detriment to the team's defensive efforts.
Maybe Robert Sacre won't be a true seventh or eighth man type until a few more years into his career, but there's no reason to believe he'll be out of the league any time soon. This isn't to say he's going to be a top-tier talent in the league or has a cape on to save the franchise, but there are about 300 active roster spots to fill out every season. He'll be in position to be one of those players getting paid for the foreseeable future.
Players taken before him will fade into obscurity, just like Majok and Maduabom did while Thomas has become a legitimate NBA player. The Lakers own Mr. Irrelevant is on a path to becoming a relevant player, too.