Lakers forward Devin Ebanks will probably have a bigger role next season. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
This is the eighth post in a series focusing on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2012-13 season.
1. Devin Ebanks needs to make up for lost time in off-season work. He missed the Las Vegas Summer League because he suffered a left knee injury during a pro-am game in New York City. Even though Ebanks says he's been cleared to play for the last month, there's still a lot of catching up to do. The Lakers like Ebanks' development, but he concedes he needs to improve in all facets of his game. All accounts suggest Ebanks has the proper work ethic. But even with the Lakers not re-signing Matt Barnes, it remains to be seen whether Ebanks' improvement will correlate to increased minutes.
2. Ebanks needs to improve his outside shooting. No matter what lineup he plays with, it's unlikely Ebanks will have set plays drawn for him. If Ebanks plays with the starters at times, such looks will deservedly go to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. When Ebanks plays with the bench unit, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks will likely take most of the shots. Ebanks has performed a great balancing act in staying in his lane while also hustling. But he hasn't shown consistency in knocking down open jumpers.
After rehabbing, Ebanks has devoted most of this off-season on his shooting. But he also did that last off-season. Ebanks still shot only 41.6% from the field and made zero three-pointers in the regular season. Considering plenty of Ebanks' open looks will come when other players are double-teamed, it's imperative Ebanks hits those shots with consistency. He also needs to focus on form. Last season, Lakers development coach Phil Handy believed Ebanks was not consistent in his follow through.
3. Ebanks will need to scrap for hustle points. Regardless of his inconsistent shooting, the Lakers like Ebanks because of his work ethic. He will have to raise that a notch in Barnes' absence. Ebanks will need to be dependable crashing the glass, slashing to the basket and providing energy. Considering the uncertainty on whether Ebanks could improve his shooting, this would mark the most realistic way for him to still provide value off the bench.
4. Ebanks should become another dependable defensive option. With Metta World Peace earning a suspension and Barnes suffering an ankle injury, Ebanks suddenly found himself with an unenviable assignment. He had to cover Kevin Durant. Ebanks delivered, holding Durant to 5-of-19 shooting when he played the entire fourth quarter and subsequent overtimes in a late regular-season game. Ebanks couldn't do that consistently. But his height and athleticism should at least prove good enough so that World Peace can get a breather. If Ebanks can become a reliable defender, it's likely his free agent stock will go even higher next season.
5. Ebanks needs to maintain his team-first mind-set. The Lakers have appreciated how Ebanks has treated temporary promotions as a chance to make an audition tape. Ebanks has concentrated on staying in his lane and providing energy wherever needed. With Ebanks becoming a free agent next season, there could be a temptation to change that script. But as he adopted last season before hitting the open market, it's much better for him to ease into it.
Should he continue to develop, Ebanks could have a chance at eventually earning a starting spot. World Peace has only two years left on his $15-million contract. Even if he looks in better shape, it wouldn't be out of the question if the Lakers exercise the amnesty provision on him after next season. That's all conjecture at this point. But the writing the wall is clear. Ebanks could secure a long-term future with the Lakers if he plays his cards right this season.