It appears the circumstances surrounding Robert Sacre's first career start in the Lakers' preseason opener had little to do with his skill set.
The Lakers already penciled out Dwight Howard as he rehabs from back surgery. Lakers Coach Mike Brown wanted Pau Gasol to stay mostly at power forward and keep the the bench rotation intact. When it came to deciding between Sacre, the Lakers' second-round draft pick, or 7-foot-3 rookie Greg Somogyi, Brown said he may consider just flipping a coin. Instead, Brown maintained that he selected Sacre because he attended Gonzaga, which resides in the same conference (West Coast) as Brown's alma mater, San Diego. Sacre said he didn't even know about the promotion until reporters relayed him the news.
All things considered, though, the Lakers sounded satisfied with Sacre's six-point effort on two-of-three shooting and two rebounds in nearly 18 minutes of play in the Lakers' 110-83 preseason loss Sunday to the Golden State Warriors at Fresno's Save Mart Center.
"I think he did fantastic," Kobe Bryant said of Sacre. "I think he played extremely, extremely well. He’s a hard worker. He came out and learned the offense and learned the defense. He got the start tonight. He answered the bell. He came out and played exceptionally well."
It didn't take long for Sacre to make that impression. He was the beneficiary of Steve Nash's first assist as he cut into the lane for a layup. Moments later, Gasol set Sacre up for a nifty hook shot. Sacre routinely scrapped for loose balls.
"I think I did a good job," Sacre said. "I think I could’ve gotten a couple of more rebounds, but the whole part of it is I did what I needed to do to help my team out. My teammates really felt comfortable with me. I felt comfortable with them. That was of huge importance."
Although Brown described Sacre as "solid," he also pointed out that he benefited from playing with a star-studded group. A question about Nash's playmaking prompted Brown to point out, "He made Sacre look like he was in the third year of the league."
Bryant let out a hearty laugh when a reporter relayed Brown's assessment and nodded his head.
"That’s probably an accurate assessment," Bryant said.
Sacre hardly seemed offended by that characterization, saying that Nash "makes my job a lot easier, no question." Regardless, Sacre prefers this position to being a complete afterthought.
He arrived at the NBA's rookie photo shoot this summer without a name or jersey number. Sacre originally wore No. 12 in the team's Summer League, but that changed once the Lakers acquired Howard. Sacre said he couldn't receive a replacement jersey in time.
"I’m not going to argue that," Sacre said. "I couldn’t body Dwight out of that number."
Sacre also isn't considered a lock to make the team. The Lakers have 13 players signed to guaranteed deals, and teams can carry up to 15 players. The Lakers have plenty of frontcourt depth in Howard, Gasol, Antawn Jamison, Jordan Hill and Earl Clark. In his preseason debut, Sacre also made mistakes on defensive rotations and committed four turnovers.
Despite the uncertainty, Sacre says he hasn't held back. Even though he practices against Howard as he rehabs his back, Sacre maintains he is physical with him. Sacre also took pride in taking the garbageman's role on a team full of stars.
"I was really impressed with Robbie," Nash said. "I thought he played well. He’s well coached and he played hard. He was generally in the right spots. That’s a challenge for a rookie. But I was impressed with him."
This time, Brown may play him in future preseason games for reasons beyond his college connection. At least until Howard returns.