Chris Kaman is the newest member of the Los Angeles Lakers. With this acquisition, LA finds themselves with an experienced offensive-minded 7-footer. But how will he complement the game of Pau Gasol? How will he fit into the Mike D’Antoni system? Will the Lakers become even more liable defensively by adding Kaman, not known for his rim-protection? Using video and statistical analysis, we can project what the 2013-14 Chris Kaman might look like and how he could fit into the Lakers system.
Pick And Roll:
It’s pretty well-known at this point that Mike D’Antoni’s favorite play in the half court setting is the pick-and-roll. At the peak of his coaching career, Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire were running it with startling efficiency. Even in New York, Raymond Felton found a niche in the system running the play with Stoudemire. Last season, the Lakers struggled to run the play. Nash was rarely at full strength health-wise, and the Lakers got away from their coaches identity and began to function like an all-star team on offense, with different players taking turns on isolations. With a full season under the belt of Mike D’Antoni, I’d expect the offense to become more prevalent in the way the Lakers do things in the upcoming season.
Kaman thrives in the pick-and-roll offense. According to Synergy Sports, Kaman averages 1.20 points per possession as the PnR roll man, shooting 63 percent on those plays. That came with Mike James and Darren Collison at point guard for the Mavericks–not exactly the historically great passer that Steve Nash is. With Nash on the team to pinpoint a bounce pass or to perform a touch lob over a defender, one can only expect those roll man numbers to improve.
Here’s an example from a Mavericks contest against the Trail Blazers late last season of Kaman’s ability to run the pick-and-roll. Click on any photos to view them larger.
Dallas is running a pick-and-roll set with Mike James at point guard. Kaman, guarded by JJ Hickson, comes up to set a screen on Daman Lillard.
Because of a good and hard screen from Kaman, Lillard finds himself out of position to guard Mike James. JJ Hickson steps up on the point guard and with great recognition, Kaman cuts to the hoop for a lob pass from James.
Alas, Kaman is rewarded by getting the basketball under the hoop with nobody in front of him. Two points.
With Nash, the pick-and-roll game could become even deadlier than it was during Kaman’s tenure in Dallas.
But the game of Kaman doesn’t take place only under the basket. He’s a very solid shooter from mid-range. In fact, among the 63 NBA players that took at least 250 jumpers between 8 and 20 feet last season, Kaman has a better shooting percentage than all but four of them. Kaman’s ability to bury the 15-footer will be welcomed by the Lakers, who used Pau Gasol in that role often last season. Gasol has been a much more efficient scorer on the low post, where he’ll be asked to play more with Kaman as his playing partner instead of Howard. Gasol can hit open jump shots but much too often last season he was being asked to take contested jumpers.
Much of Kaman’s mid-range success comes from screens as well. His pick-and-pop game is superb. If the defender covering the roll man is a bit too lax, Kaman is happy to stop short of the hoop and catch the ball for an open jumper, which he can knock down with efficiency.
Defense is the Achilles heel of Chris Kaman’s game. For a 7-footer, he struggles dearly on that end. The Mavericks defense was about 2 points better last season with Kaman on the bench. Furthermore, 31.6 percent of opponent field goal attempts with Kaman on the floor came at the rim, much higher than league average. Some of the blame can be placed on the aging perimeter defenders Vince Carter and Shawn Marion often allowing younger guys to blow by them and get to the hoop, but much of it has to do with Kaman not really being an imposing presence under the hoop.
Just out of curiosity, I looked at the opponent field goal attempts at the rim for the Lakers last season with Howard on the floor. Howard, like Kaman (but probably even a worse case), was hurt by old perimeter defenders like Nash, Bryant, and World Peace allowing players easier access to the hoop. With Howard on the court, 28.4 percent of opponent shot attempts came at the basket. Kaman allowed these shots about 3 percent more frequently, despite having a team with better perimeter defenders. If we approximate Kaman to raise this amount for the Lakers by 5 percent (definitely not an unreasonable projection), accounting for the fact that shots at the hoop go in about 25 percent more often than shots from mid-range, the Lakers defense would worsen by 1.25 points per 100 possessions. That doesn’t sound like much, but that can end up costing the Lakers about two to five wins in a season, depending on how many minutes Kaman plays.
The Chris Kaman signing gives the Lakers more depth at the center position, and he’s proven himself as a strong and versatile offensive center. But can the Lakers overcome his spotty defense?