Thursday, August 28th, 2008 at 9:56 pm  |  27 responses

Profiles In X-Factordom: Chris Kaman

How will the Clippers’ center fit-in during the Baron Davis era?

by John Krolik

In one of the craziest off-seasons in recent memory, perhaps no team had a face-lift as dramatic as the Clippers. Gone are Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, not only the Clippers’ two best players but also the vanguards of their style of play.

Completing the troika was Chris Kaman, a flash-less double-double guy who was probably the Clippers’ best player last year and still remains on the team. The question facing the Clippers is whether or not Kaman’s extremely solid play and skills package can serve the team in the Baron Davis era.

Baron brings swagger, style, and a hearty dose of amazing. While I can’t remember Elton Brand ever doing something interesting, Baron is a borderline folk hero. When circumstances line themselves up correctly, there aren’t 10 players in the league who can have a bigger impact on the game than Baron Davis.

Where previous Clipper leaders made their living by carving out esoteric and specific niches and repeating soundly, Baron is an explosive polymer who can slash to the basket, drain threes, post guys up, and make stunning passes at the drop of a hat. Even more amazing, he does all of these things at an elevated level with the game on the line, picking the exact right move at the exact right time with stunning spontaneity and regularity-there’s a reason the Warriors were 9-2 in games decided by 3 points or less last season. (Only the Blazers, 10-2, fared better).

But when Baron is not moved by the harmonics of possible glory, he shifts not into a base of solid production but rather pursues his own inscrutable agenda, dribbling the air out of the ball, breaking any possible offensive flow, refusing to attack the basket or get to the line, and bombing threes off the dribble in search of answers to questions only he knows, or possibly just for amusement.

There is perhaps no player with as symbiotic a relationship to the flow of the game as Baron Davis. Quite simply, he is an all or nothing proposition-a bona fide All-Star or a complete albatross depending on whether or not the game’s rhythms allow him to play the music only he can hear.

With Brand and Maggette gone, Kaman is the player most likely to steer the Clippers away from playing BaronBall and into the mediocre, grinding style of play that would cause Baron to lie effectively dormant.

In Golden State, Baron was made into a savior following a disastrous 05-06 season in which Baron spent his time watching Troy Murphy jacking up funny-looking step-back jumpers, Jason Richardson joining Nate Robinson and Vince Carter in the “dunk contest winners who actually hate driving to the basket” club, Mike Dunleavy the Junior desperately searching for some source of meaning, and Adonal Foyle standing around in a state of stunned disbelief that he was being paid what he was. It was 5 different players playing 5 different games, and Kaman is the lone member of the Clipper starting lineup whose game is already crafted and pre-packaged for deployment instead of ready to be made complete by what Baron creates.

Then Golden State ditched overmatched tactician Mike Montgomery for Don Nelson, the basketball Zampano, traded Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy for Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, and decided that they would play a style in which they would be able to beat the league’s best team or lose to its worst on any given night depending solely on the moods of their spirit animals.

The results were immediate and fantastic: a legendary playoff upset, a subsequent 48-win season, which failed to get them to the playoffs but was the Warriors’ best regular season in decades, and the spawning of a legendary but tragically now-defunct blog.

The parallels between Baron’s last project and his new one are nearly uncanny. Both the Warriors and Clippers have experienced extremely limited success in the current era, and the management philosophy of both teams seems to be crafting teams “just good enough to lose.”

Seriously, just compare Jason Richardson and Antawn Jamison, the Warriors’ best players in between the Sprewell and Baron eras (ARENAS DOESN’T COUNT), to Corey Maggette and Elton Brand-they’re nearly identical in both production and ethos. (I know Antawn left well before Baron and J-Rich actually played with him during their playoff run – it’s still prescient).

For the Clippers, the key to succeeding with Baron is stripping the franchise of all that is “good enough” and going for broke in all facets of their strategy. If one needed to find a perfect microcosm of why the Clippers have struggled so badly for so long, I can’t think of a better instance than the Chris Kaman pick. Not only were the Clippers a victim of horrifyingly bad luck, getting the 6th pick in a draft with franchise players at 1, 3, 4, and 5, but they compounded their own misfortune by making the worst possible play. Here’s how I imagine the Clippers’ war room leading up to the draft:

“Which direction should we go in with this pick?”

“Well, I don’t think spending a mid-lottery pick on a big man who nobody really thinks will be a star ever backfired.”

“Yes! Guys with size and great talent don’t last past the first 5 picks, but talented players don’t get big, and theoretically big players could become talented!”

“Absolutely! That is technically true! I’m sure it’s even happened before!”

“Tell me about this Kaman. Is he a 7-foot white guy who doesn’t have great athleticism or perimeter skills?”

“You’re damn straight he is!”

“Did he go to a small school where he could dominate just by being tall and never actually got tested by an NBA-level big man?”

“Central Michigan, baby!”

“Who did we draft last year?”

“Slow-moving post player Chris Wilcox!”

“The other options here are T.J. Ford and Kirk Hinrich. Did we just lose Andre Miller and leave ourselves a gaping hole at point guard?”

“Yes indeed!”

“Get this kid ON THE PHONE!”

Kaman did beat the mid-lottery big man odds by significantly outperforming the likes of Patrick O’Bryant and Rafael Araujo, and while he didn’t explode out of the gate the way some of the players from that class did, by the time his rookie contract was up he had posted an extremely solid season-12 and 10 on 53% shooting for the year.

Then the Clippers made another move straight out of the “moves that seem logical but are only executed by bad teams” playbook, giving Kaman a $50 million dollar deal based on the accepted and completely insane theory that a decent big man is worth the price of a great player at another position. Every off-season, the biggest extensions are given to 7-footers who either play solid offense or solid defense, and the biggest trades are made with those same players’ expiring contracts from years earlier.

Samuel Dalembert, Kwame Brown, Theo Ratliff, Adonal Foyle, Ben Wallace, Raef LaFrentz, Jerome James, Erick Dampier, Eddy Curry, the list goes on. And watch what happens with the Bogut extension. Really the only time one of those signings has worked out is the Zydrunas Ilgauskas deal, and that was a complete serendipity, as Z miraculously turned from a scoring center who couldn’t play a lick of defense into a paint-patrolling menace and ego-less backup offensive option under Mike Brown, and even still he’s vastly overpaid.

While Baron is virtually useless on a non-contending team, Kaman’s career so far seems to suggest his destiny is being the bright spot on a bad team. Kaman’s chief attribute, other than the fact he is, I suppose, technically a German citizen (playing on a front line in the Olympics which included Dirk Nowitzki, who is technically an NBA MVP much in the same way) is that he has a “refined post game” – he is completely ambidextrous around the basket, and has a feathery touch on a variety of hook shots and bankers. This made Kaman the Clippers’ most reliable offensive threat this season when Maggette didn’t come to play and Al Thornton worked on putting his arsenal together, and he put up a career-high 15.7 points per game.

The issue: if Kaman has the same offensive year this year as he did last year, he’s going to hurt the team.

Kaman is a decent enough scorer, but not nearly good enough to be a team’s primary scoring option – 48 percent shooting really isn’t all that good. The middling post player has replaced the middling shot-happy combo guard as the player who most commonly puts up good numbers for bad teams and is given carte blanche to jack up shots that look nice enough but ultimately aren’t a winning proposition. Kaman stagnates the offense and will often hurt the play of those around them.

With the trade for Marcus Camby (a move I equate to finding a used La-Z-Boy for $25 dollars, pouncing on the bargain, then getting back to your dorm room and finding you have no idea what the hell you’re going to do with that recliner), the Clippers, and Kaman, can go in a number of directions. They can trot out a Camby/Kaman frontline, rebound tenaciously, let Kaman force in 15 points per game, watch Baron try to keep himself interested by jacking threes and win 42 games.

The other option is the Clippers, and Kaman, give in to the Baron ethos.

A Camby/Kaman frontline can most certainly work if Kaman stops trying to be a poor man’s Al Jefferson and works on being a poor man’s Gasol – working the pick-and-roll with Baron, capitalizing on deep position if the offense gets in for him, getting tip-ins (Kaman is a fantastic rebounder), running the court with “deceptive speed” (translation: white and actually mobile), hitting open jumpers, and putting energy in on defense. Or the Clippers can swallow their dollar-sign related pride and have Camby or Kaman come off the bench and get some face-melting lineups like Baron/Gordon/Davis/Thornton/Camby (or Kaman) out there, with some Tim Thomas mixed in.

Kaman is the lone holdover from the “good enough” days of the Clippers. Now he must give himself over to the ethos that if you even want a playoff spot in the Western Conference, there is no such thing as good enough.

Although Mike Dunleavy Sr. being involved makes me nervous, I’m excited to see what Kaman and the rest of the Clippers do with Baron giving them a slice of the spotlight and the talent on their roster giving them a chance to shine in it. If nothing else, I’m excited to watch Ricky Davis and Baron complete what Ricky and D-Miles started the last time the Clippers were starting to feel like the hippest team in LA. The “temple-horns” thing was just the beginning.

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  • B. Long

    He has to be related to Hulk Hogan somehow, right? Great article. I still want to see one about how James Posey will fit into the Hornets plans next year.

  • luke

    give in to the baron ethos? baron really hasnt done anything in the playoffs and as we know, defence wins chips

    baron shoots 40% from the field i dont see why kamans 48 isnt good enough.

    kaman could be a very good player and def the franchise guy if he keeps improving his game fitness. he was up around 17 and 14 for a good part of the year

    baron is a great player but maybe its time for him to stop caring about how many points he scores. hes actually a decent shooter but his shot selection is terrible… TERRIBLE! he should be shooting as least as well as deron williams if not better.

    sorry dude but i couldnt agree less with this

  • http://www.alllooksame.com Tarzan Cooper

    great piece krolik. i think the clips can get into the second round, then who knows? baron, cat, al, camby, kaman. then eric gordon, tricky ricky, and tim thomas off the bench is a nice 8. ethos, ethos, ethos, ethos, ethos……….

  • luke

    sorry about my post being impossible to read… i didn’t realise you can’t have paragraphs.

  • http://twentythreenine.blogspot.com Russ Bengtson

    Hm. Not sure where to start, so I won’t.

  • http://clippers.topbuzz.com/ Joe

    With all due respect, this article is so badly written. I imagine my English teacher would say the same thing. No one wants to read paragraphs after paragraphs of writing full of fluff. I’m a huge Clipper fan but I honestly lost interest half way. Don’t take this to offense but I think a shorter, better organized article would be as effective if not more.

  • Boing Dynasty

    You can start by pointing out that it was D Miles and Q Rich who used to do that head bump sh!t. Temple horns is close enough, i guess.
    Then you could add that i dont think your starting center, and most recent leading scorer should be called an “X Factor”
    Im not even sure what to make of the “Kaman did beat the mid-lottery big man odds by significantly outperforming the likes of Patrick O’Bryant and Rafael Araujo” comment. Kaman was drafted in ’03, Araujo in ’04 and Patrick O’Bryants wasnt even drafted ’till ’06 and has only played 40 games total for his NBA career. Disregarding Diaw’s one really good season, and not wanting to call David West a big man means Kaman was the second best big man in the draft behind Bosh, so he was a actually a decent pick at 6 considering the draft.

  • Boing Dynasty

    Also did you really use the word “hippest”?

  • Boing Dynasty

    One more thing, i think there may be some gray area between your 2 flawless offensive stratagies of A: Let Baron Davis take all the shots, and B: Let Chris Kaman take all the shots.

  • Boing Dynasty

    This post is making my head hurt, im going for a walk.

  • http://ethosstrategygroup.com Patrick Lok

    im not sure what to think, or what your position is. lost me at “slow moving chris wilcox” – have you ever seen him play?

  • The Ghost of Wilt Chamberlain

    If the Clippers are running, they will be fun to watch. They will lose more games than they win and not make the playoffs, but they will be fun to watch.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Hes the big crazy of the Clippers now that damn is gone.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    “But when Baron is not moved by the harmonics of possible glory, he shifts not into a base of solid production but rather pursues his own inscrutable agenda, dribbling the air out of the ball, breaking any possible offensive flow, refusing to attack the basket or get to the line, and bombing threes off the dribble in search of answers to questions only he knows, or possibly just for amusement.”
    This describes Baron to a “t”.

  • a_whiteman

    im sorry i have to disagree. with kaman and camby out there the d will be top notch(both top 5 in rpg and bpg last year) and this team will need a player to score down low, as marcus camby will not prvide that low post threat the clips will need to give baron the space to do what he does they wil be a very interesting team this year could slip in the 8 spot if the clipper jinx is lifted

  • Clipperfan

    I really didn’t think your article was very fair. You made some comments and actually tried to sound like you know what you are talking about. I don’t think you do and have some misinformation but you write as if it is fact. The whole draft thing was messed up and you act like you are an authority or something. You are entitled to your opinion but don’t try to make it sound like you are writing facts. Go Clippers!

  • Ether

    Kaman the wrong pick at #6? So you would have gone with Michael Sweetney, TJ Ford or Kirk Hinrich? If you look at the 2003 draft: after #5 there was nobody that even in retrospect any team would say is a no-brainer pick over Kaman. Except maybe David West, who nobody saw coming.

    Also, do you have a PhD that validates your in-depth psychological analysis of Baron Davis. Otherwise, this entire part of the article is spurious.

    The rest of your logic is completely destroyed by your overambitious use of language. “Esoteric” is a ridiculous description of basketball style. “Polymer”? “Harmonics”?

    Also, Ricky Davis never played with Darius Miles. So you basketball knowledge is also suspect.

  • http://terrydehereftw.wordpress.com illastrate

    Kaman with the 6th pick turned out to be a very good pickup. After the failed Kandiman experiment, a center was needed and the Clips got him. The only guys I would’ve taken instead were David West and Josh Howard.

    Also, where the heck did your “Ricky and D-miles” comment come from? I’m sure you meant Q-Rich and D-Miles? Alot of iffy stuff in this article.

  • Tom

    nice article, i think baron and kaman can work. Kaman has to be the 2nd option, with option 1 being baron and Thornton trying to push the tempo. When the game slows down though, baron can just dump it down to Kaman, and option he didn’t have in g-state. And watching baron and Kaman interact together is blogger gold

  • http://dyalekt.com d.Y.

    Is this the same cat who wrote the other profile in xfactordom? I liked the other one.

  • ciolkstar

    I see Kaman mostly scoring on putbacks. Also, Camby and Kaman will really need to hit the offensive glass to keep their rebounding numbers even close to what they were last yaer. 1 or 2 strong defenders does not a “strong defensive team” make. Team defense is the key and you need all 5 on the floor to buy in or there will be constant breakdowns and open shots. This team is gonna have to count on some young guys for a bunch of their offensive firepower =, but I thinkk itcould work. Thornton and Fatty will need to be efficient scorers and I think Baron could really help them both if the chemistry is there.
    PS: BDiddy is one of my fav players in the L, but I think your analysis of him was spot on.

  • http://birdmonster.blogspot.com tenorca

    Krolik: As a long time follower of the Pacific, I can tell you are too. Your BD thoughts are spot on (his great side and his “I wish this guy wasn’t on my team” side, often seen in the same game).
    SLAM: Use this dude more. Tenorca likey.

  • andre anglais

    Wow, tough crowd. I’m with tenorca. Nice article, your description of BD is very apt. Interestingly, a common criticism of Kaman is that he can lose interest in some games (I’ve heard; I don’t actually watch many of clipper games).

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    “But when Baron is not moved by the harmonics of possible glory, he shifts not into a base of solid production but rather pursues his own inscrutable agenda, dribbling the air out of the ball, breaking any possible offensive flow, refusing to attack the basket or get to the line, and bombing threes off the dribble in search of answers to questions only he knows, or possibly just for amusement.”

    That was one of the funniest, most true things I’ve ever read. Haha

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    @ Ether: I’m pretty sure the “Ricky” without the Davis part was a play off of Quentin “Richardson”‘s last name. And I’m wondering, my memory may be a little off: Didn’t Darius Miles play with Ricky Davis on Cleveland? Correct me if I’m wrong, actually.

    @ Boing Dynasty: Q and D WERE f*ckin “hip” back in the day for the Clippers, most definitely. So using the word “hippest” actually does fit, if only for this occasion.

  • Bruno

    did anybody here watched “Monster” with Charlize Theron????
    wasn’t her look on that movie inspired on him?!?!?!

  • Boing Dynasty

    Ya, your name is teddy bear. you lose.