Lineup Consequences of the Chris Kaman Signing


Now that the Blazers have used their mid-level exception on Chris Kaman and look more and more likely to re-sign Mo Williams, the exciting part of their summer is likely over. It’s possible that Neil Olshey has more wheeling and dealing in store, but I doubt it. The frontloaded one-plus year deal suggests that the front office is looking ahead to next year for any splashy moves.

This means we need to take stock of what Kaman brings to the Blazers, and how he might be used. David MacKay has taken a look at the financial end of the signing and its implications for Meyers Leonard’s development. Bryce Olin points out that Kaman is a weird fellow and ponders his likely impact.

Leonard’s development is important. As I’ve written about before, the team is aware that improvement from him would go a long way toward raising the team’s ceiling. However, there is an actual rotation player from last year who seems to have totally dropped from the discussion: Joel Freeland. The Brit played in 51 of the team’s first 52 games last season, giving them a pretty consistent quarter-and-a-half of basketball. He stayed on the floor, and didn’t offend anyone.

And that’s the highest aspiration for a Blazers bench player these days. A player who can stay on the floor and isn’t totally clueless is what the Blazers want. Freeland was that. With the addition of Kaman, it initially looks like the team might have a glut of competence at the center position.

Feb 7, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) goes up for a shot against Portland Trail Blazers center Joel Freeland (19) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Portland 118-113 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

But what makes Freeland’s ascension to glorious cromulence really impressive is that he was playing out of position, kind of. Is a player out of position if he spent his only successful year to date at that position? Either way, in his rookie year Freeland spent 80% of his time at power forward and the rest at center. This year those numbers basically flipped.

Freeland’s improvement this season was mostly due to experience and improved awareness on the court, as well as the realization that when the man in the grey shirt tweets at you that means you’ve done something wrong. So I doubt a move back to the 4 would hurt him too much. In fact, sticking Freeland at power forward and Kaman at center might make them both better defensively. Per Synergy, Freeland allowed a FG%of 54.1 on post-ups this season. Many of his struggles came from the likes of Al Jefferson, Dwight Howard, and Roy Hibbert. Kaman, who excels guarding the post (41.4% allowed), and can handle the bigger dudes without fouling.

Should Kaman pan out (and we have to consider the possibility that at the age of 32 and coming off a largely lost year, he’s pretty much through), he would give the Blazers a surprisingly good defensive front line–throw Dorell Wright in there, too–for the second unit. They won’t be shutting anyone down, mind you. Neither of these guys is an elite rim protector. Mo Williams, if he returns, is a sieve. Thomas Robinson is not there (yet?), and C.J. McCollum’s defensive ceiling is probably somewhere between an eyebrow raise and a shrug. But it’s a start.

The offense is another issue. Kaman is a black hole of the sort that never scores efficiently enough to justify his usage rates. He posts up more than he should, and he doesn’t get offensive rebounds the way Terry Stotts likes his centers to. The Blazers have a pretty defined offensive hierarchy, and Terry Stotts might not be happy is Kaman starts chucking.

Another ripple effect from the signing: it’ll be tough for Robinson to get any minutes at power forward. I’ve always thought he stood a chance at small forward–if we ignore the poor shooting for a moment, he’s got the quickness, handle, and vision to be an oversized three. But the shooting matters, and that’s why he’ll have to fight for minutes again. It would be a shame if after all the talk about Robinson finally finding a home, he became expendable.

I’m higher on the Kaman deal than I was when it was agreed upon. I’m still perplexed that an aging center who couldn’t find the floor for an awful Lakers team was given more than the veteran’s minimum. Kendall Marshall probably nailed it with this impressively candid tweet–size costs money:

I’m not sure Kaman was the best use of the team’s MLE, but he shuffles the bench for the Blazers, which they needed badly last year.

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