Lakers rookies will take minutes anywhere they can
Derrick Caracter found a steady stream of reporters ready to talk to him, an unusual sight for the Lakers rookie.
Caracter has had a quiet season, as has fellow second-rounder Devin Ebanks, though they each set career highs in scoring in the Lakers’ 113-80 blowout of Sacramento on Friday.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson hates to play rookies, once famously saying they were all lower than whale waste, but he’s had no choice with Caracter thanks to a thinned-out front line.
Caracter had 10 points against the Kings in 21 minutes, another career high, and also held his own against touted Kings rookie center DeMarcus Cousins, leading to the media flow near his locker.
“I got some attention now,” Caracter said before correcting himself. “A little attention.”
Caracter was selected 58th in the 60-player draft last June, exactly 53 spots below Cousins, while Ebanks was 43rd. Caracter and Ebanks each signed two-year contracts, though the Lakers hold a team option for next season. In other words, there’s no guarantee the rookies’ run with the team extends beyond this season.
Caracter has had more chances than Ebanks simply because Andrew Bynum hasn’t played yet and Theo Ratliff has been out the last three weeks. Caracter has played a few minutes here and there, but Ebanks has been buried behind a slew of small forwards — Ron Artest, Matt Barnes and even Luke Walton.
Caracter is listed at 6 feet 9 but is closer to 6-7, a “small power forward,” to borrow Jackson’s description of him.
“He’s still finding his way,” Jackson said. “There’s still a lot of things he’s missing out there on the floor and those things are going to happen until his learning curve increases. It inhibits his ability to be out there at critical times of the game for us when we need to have recognition. But his effort’s good, he wants to play and his attitude’s good about this game, and so we appreciate that. We like that.”
Then Jackson quickly added, “But you know what I say about rookies? It still pertains.”
In fact, as Jackson tells the story, Caracter heard from a mildly agitated Pau Gasol in the final minutes of the Friday-night blowout after Caracter picked up his fifth foul with 3:53 to play and the Lakers ahead by 32 points.
“I told Pau if [Caracter] gets his sixth you’ll have to go back again in the last two or three minutes,” Jackson said. "[Gasol] got quite animated and asked Derrick to watch his fouls. It was the most animated he was all night, in a lot of ways.”
Said Caracter: "[Gasol] just said play smart these last four minutes and don’t get your last foul. I know Pau needs his rest.”
Ebanks, meanwhile, has quietly gone about the business of being a rookie, accepting the fact there’s a logjam at his position. He went through a spell of five games without leaving the bench before getting almost nine minutes in the fourth quarter against Sacramento.
“I don’t get frustrated,” he said. “I understand the position I’m in right now. I just take it as a learning point, just keep getting better when we have practices and off days.”
Then he paused.
“What’s not to enjoy when you’re playing with the champions?”
Caracter will continue to get limited playing time until Bynum and Ratliff return, which could be late next week.
“This is something that I always wanted to do. It’s my job now,” Caracter said. “I’m out here as a professional basketball player and I can produce just like any other guys out there. It’s just about being confident and continuing to get direction.”