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Lakers rookie Robert Sacre makes his big presence felt

The 7-footer from Gonzaga, taken with final pick of NBA draft, impresses in exhibition season with his defensive skills and soft touch on jumpers as fill-in starter for injured center Dwight Howard.

October 15, 2012|By Ben Bolch

Sacre bleu.

The potential for punny business seems endless when it comes to Lakers rookie Robert Sacre.

So do the possibilities on the court.

The 7-footer from Gonzaga has been the biggest surprise of the exhibition season for the Lakers, becoming very relevant for a player taken with the 60th and final pick of the NBA draft in June.

"Every time he gets minutes," Coach Mike Brown said, "it seems like he's taken a step in the right direction."

Consider Sacre's play Saturday the longest stride of his fledgling career. He had nine points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in an exhibition game against the Utah Jazz.

The fill-in starter for injured center Dwight Howard certainly looked as if he belonged in the NBA. He grabbed a missed free throw, swatted a shot by Alec Burks and exhibited a soft touch on a mid-range jumper, all in the first half.

"This is where I wanted to be and this is how I need to play to stay here," Sacre said.

Sacre has made enough plays to solidify a probable spot on the roster for the season opener against Dallas on Oct. 30. He could be a rare economical option on a $100-million roster, costing the Lakers only $474,000 if he remains with the team into January and his contract becomes guaranteed for the rest of the season.

If he does make the team, Sacre probably won't be on the court for anywhere near the 21 minutes he has averaged in the exhibition season. Once Howard and Jordan Hill return from back injuries, the Lakers will have a front line that includes Howard and Pau Gasol as the starters and Hill and Antawn Jamison as the primary reserves.

Sacre probably would be a bit player, and a happy one at that.

"I have Hall of Famers on either side of me," he said, smiling. "You can't really complain too much."

Lakers fans who are pleased with the team's latest find can send their regards to Sasha Vujacic.

When the Lakers traded the sharpshooter to the New Jersey Nets in December 2010, they acquired a 2012 second-round draft pick as part of the deal; the Nets had acquired the pick from the Chicago Bulls. The value of that pick appeared to plummet when the Bulls finished with the best record in the NBA last season, giving the Lakers the last selection in the draft.

But Sacre has hardly resembled a bottom feeder, prompting kudos from more ballyhooed teammates.

"I played with him this summer and was like, 'Who is this kid?' " forward Metta World Peace said. "He can roll, he can shoot, he has touch, he's strong, but he can open the floor up with those little shots that are difficult to hit. He's really good at it. He has a really good touch."

Said guard Kobe Bryant: "He's a very smart player, so he's able to read the defense, and read how they're playing Steve [Nash], how they're reading me. He's able to get himself in positions to be successful. He made plays for others as well as making plays for himself. He's doing a fantastic job. I'm pleasantly surprised in what we have in him."

Sacre has absorbed some rookie ribbing, with Howard cracking that his fellow big man has a vertical leap of six inches.

As long as Sacre remains on the Lakers' roster, the joke is on those who doubted he could make it.

"I'm the 60th pick and I'm on a great team," he said. "How can you really complain? It's really not bad. I could be in a lot worse places. I'm playing in the NBA, I'm the last pick, I'm playing with great guys that I could always learn from, so this is just a dream come true."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.

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