Clips' Kaman playing like All-Star
Chris Kaman has rebounded nicely from an injury-plagued 2008-09 season
Kaman didn't make the All-Star ballot, which was compiled before the season
The Clippers have encouraged Kaman to be more aggressive on offense
LOS ANGELES -- It looked as if a party had broken out in the Staples Center corridors Wednesday as Clippers employees dressed in cowboy outfits handed out All-Star Game ballots to every fan in sight. Behind them a huge sign read, "Vote For Your Clippers Today"! with the names Blake Griffin, Baron Davis, Al Thornton and Marcus Camby etched into silver stars underneath.
Apparently, Chris Kaman's invitation to the party got lost in the mail.
Kaman, who leads all centers with 21.7 points to go with 9.6 rebounds, was left off the All-Star ballot released this week. He was not among the 12 Western Conference centers selected to contend for a starting spot at the Feb. 14 midseason showcase in Dallas. (Another high-scoring Clipper, second-year guard Eric Gordon, also didn't make the cut.) Camby, who has played alongside Kaman at power forward this season, was picked as a center.
"There's a lot of politics involved. The big-name guys are always going to be there and you can't change that," said Kaman, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week. "I mean, to be honest, I wouldn't have put myself on there after not playing many games last year."
Kaman missed a career-high 51 games last season with a left foot injury. A panel of media members put together the All-Star ballot before the season, and few could have anticipated that Kaman would bounce back with the type of production worthy of the fans' consideration as a starter -- and receive Kobe Bryant-like chants of "M-V-P" when stepping to the free-throw line at Staples Center.
"It's probably not going to matter," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said of Kaman's exclusion. "He's not a guy who is going to get voted on by the fans. He would be a coach's vote [as a reserve] based on how he's played. The marquee guys, the guys with all the publicity, are going to be the guys who get voted on by the fans. Yao Ming [who is out for the season and not on the ballot] is probably still going to get voted in."
While Kaman will not become the Clippers' first All-Star starter since World B. Free in 1980, he is positioning himself as an early favorite for the Most Improved Player award, thanks in part to an intense summer regimen. Kaman practically lived in the practice facility he recently built near his home Grand Rapids, Mich., complete with a full-length NBA court, weight room and film room, for three months during the offseason. He watched almost six years' worth of game film from his career to figure out what he needed to improve on and spent a couple of hours every day adding new moves to his repertoire.
"I was in that mid-level range as a player and I wanted to pick up my game," said Kaman, who is ambidextrous and shoots about as many times with his right hand as he does his left in the paint. "I watched some games I struggled in and some games I played well in to see what I was doing wrong and what I was doing right. The big thing I was messing up on was some of my hooks. My right hand is a little weaker than my left hand so that was something I needed to work on. I know that I'm a post player, but I wanted to work on my face-up game a little bit. I was really working on my game."
Kaman's biggest adjustment has been to simply take an open shot or, if it's not there, to pass the ball and move around to get in better position. In the past, Kaman would often dribble one time too many or make needless moves even when he was open because he didn't have the confidence to take the same shots in games that he would make during practice.
"He's had the skill level for a long time," Dunleavy said. "He's a guy we've been trying to get to shoot the ball more, which is unusual in this league. His feeling was always that when he was open from 15-18 feet that he needed to put the ball on the floor and get closer to the basket to try to score, which is where he would always run into trouble. If you watch this guy, he's always been able to shoot left-handed threes and it's a beautiful shot. So we had to tell him, Dude, you can shoot the ball, so just shoot it."
Sometimes, however, simply shooting the ball whenever you're open doesn't work. On Wednesday, Kaman attempted a career-high 26 shots but connected on only nine, finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds in an 83-79 loss to the Thunder. Kaman, battling a cold, sat in his locker for nearly an hour after the game. He was the last player to leave as he replayed every one of his shots in his head before going home later that night to watch the game again.
"I'm not going to be a perfect player, but I want to be better," Kaman said. "Last year was so frustrating because I missed 51 games and I just got pissed watching my team lose game after game. I really wanted to help them out and I couldn't. I knew that when I came back, I was going to be a better player and really help this team get to the next level. That's the only thing that matters to me right now."
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