For years, Kings fans have clamored for a big man who can rebound and defend. For years, we have rued the franchise's devotion to skilled stretch bigs who can handle and shoot but not rebound and guard the rim. We met the draft of Spencer Hawes in 2007 with a combination of self-flagellating guffaws and suicide notes. We bruise the trade machine with attempts to reverse fate in the middle. We watch a cavalcade of questionable opponents pound us in the paint, and we bang our fists in frustration.
I think that's all about to change, if just temporarily.
Samuel Dalembert is, in short, exactly what Kings fans have begged for all these years. Keon Clark without the substance abuse, Scot Pollard with a good back, Justin Williams with one less lady at any given time. Dalembert is the anti-Hawes, essentially. He won't be shooting threes. He won't be trying to loft a running hook over Pau Gasol. He won't watch the ball careen to an opponent off the rim. He won't be dropping passes backdoor to slashing wings. There's good and bad in the transformation of the team's center position.
But the "good" in the transformation cuts right to the core of the team's overall deficiencies.
In the past two seasons, the Kings have finished 29th and 18th in defensive rebounding. In the past two seasons, Samuel Dalembert has finished 3rd in the league in defensive rebounding. Last year, Hawes finished 26th of the 33 centers who played 800 minutes. The season prior he was 20th of 33.
That's a monumental difference. Huge. Dalembert played 2,100 minutes last year. Hawes played 1,900. In Hawes' minutes, the team rebounded defensively at roughly a 68% clip. Hawes rebounded 17.7% of defensive opportunities, Dalembert 30.7%. You can't just take [Kings % - Hawes + Dalembert], because Dalembert will take some boards away from the other Kings, too, something Hawes didn't do. But I think you get the point. The Kings rebounded 68% of opponent misses, and they just got a center who upgrades that significantly. This is big.
In terms of team defense, BasketballValue.com's data shows that the Kings defense was actually better when Hawes didn't play in each of the last two seasons, despite the coaches' penchant for smallball. Dalembert has had a positive impact. Dalembert blocks opponent shots almost twice as frequently as Hawes (2.7 per 36 minutes vs. 1.5). Measuring defense is difficult, and Synergy play-by-play data will have to wait until the weekend. But it's really, really safe to say Dalembert is a big defensive upgrade.
What you lose in Hawes is the potential for a better defender and a great big facilitator on offense. The Kings must feel safe in Tyreke Evans' hand on offense, and ready to improve on defense right now. It's a good risk to take.