Unpredictable Kaman big reason for Clippers' success
Posted: Wednesday March 1, 2006 11:49AM; Updated: Wednesday March 1, 2006 4:15PM
Chris Kaman is averaging a career-high 11.3 points and 9.3 rebounds through the Clips' first 45 games.
John W. McDonough/SI
It's possible you have not given much thought to the Clippers of late. Perhaps it's been on your NBA to-do list, just after "Watch Phoenix/solve mystery of Boris Diaw's emergence" and just before "Watch Toronto/solve mystery of Rafael Araujo draft pick." But there is only so much time and, understandably, so much of it is necessarily consumed by reading about Isiah Thomas.
But now is a good time to consider the Clips, and in particular center Chris Kaman. As of today, the team is 32-23 and holds the fifth seed in the West, its best start in 30 years. More important, these Clippers play with something dangerously close to a swagger, which can't be said of past squads. Just listen to the longest-tenured of the bunch, Corey Maggette (for perspective: he was in L.A. during the Cherokee Parks era, which just has been referred to as an "era" for the first time, no doubt).
"It's not like the old Clippers," -- and here Maggette imitates a dismissive NBA player -- "'Oh, we're playing the Clippers; we'll just check it off as a win.' Not no more. You ain't going to walk in here and expect to get a win. If you don't play, you're in trouble!"
In making this proclamation in the locker room before a recent game, Maggette manages to seem almost intimidating. At least, that is, until a moment later, when Kaman jokingly asks him, "You playing tonight?" Maggette's answer: "Yeah ... with my balls!" (Kaman apparently inspires goofiness: after the game, he can be seen engaging forward Walter McCarty in a heated fencing match in which each man is armed with shower sandals. Sadly, no official score is kept.)
Despite the hijinks, the point is that the Clips are finally good and, from all indications, relatively collapse-proof. There are many reasons for this, including the acquisitions of Sam "I am toting Giant Imaginary Testicles" Cassell and Cuttino Mobley; the stewardship of Mike Dunleavy and Elgin Baylor and the inspired play of Elton Brand (about whom I will say little, as I wrote a story about him for this week's magazine).
The least-heralded factor, however, has been Kaman. Brand recently argued that Kaman was overlooked for the All-Star Game. This could be interpreted as Brand merely having his teammate's back, the same way coaches are sometimes forced to get technical fouls to demonstrate support for their players' gripes with the officials -- except that Brand' has a pretty good point. Of the centers who've been healthy this season -- that means discounting Yao Ming, Marcus Camby and Shaquille O'Neal -- only Brad Miller and Zydrunas Igauskas arguably have better numbers than Kaman's 11.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 52.2 field-goal percentage and 1.5 blocks (and neither of them made the All-Star squad either, which is interesting in itself).
On a team with a surfeit of scoring options, Kaman does much of the dirty work. He's a smart player, he rebounds well and he's durable (he missed his first game of the year last week with a sprained ankle). Offensively, he has a nice touch, is surprisingly agile and goes to his off hand more than any other center in the league, shooting lefty runners, hooks and putbacks (a Western Conference scout I sat next to at a recent game pointed out that Kaman's left hand is better than a lot of big guys' right hands). Asked about this, Kaman thinks for a moment.