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Friday, December 16, 2011
With Odom's departure, Ebanks has an opportunity

By Dave McMenamin

LOS ANGELES -- When Lamar Odom was shipped out of town for nobody in return, the Los Angeles Lakers’ already shallow bench became even more depleted.

The Lakers quickly signed free agent forward Josh McRoberts to fill in for the bulk of Odom’s minutes, but before that acquisition became official, Kobe Bryant put the onus of bench production on an unlikely candidate: Devin Ebanks.

Ebanks showed he might be capable of helping the void left by Odom (not to mention, Shannon Brown’s) departures with a strong showing at the Lakers’ intrasquad scrimmage at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California on Friday.

Ebanks scored 12 points, according to the unofficial stats sheet kept by the Lakers, going 4-for-6 from the field, 4-for-4 from the foul line and adding two assists and a steal in the 36-minute scrimmage.

Several of his baskets came on long jump shots -- one on the baseline with Bryant contesting, another on the wing on a catch-and-shoot after curling off a screen and another of the one-dribble pull-up variety when he found himself open near the 3-point line.

Devin Ebanks
Devin Ebanks could go from afterthought last year to starter this season, competing for an open spot in the starting five.
“Ebanks, being 6-9 and young and long and athletic, it’s great to see him not be afraid and step up and take the right shots,” said coach Mike Brown. “I don’t think he forced anything and I thought he let it come to him.”

Ebanks appeared in just 20 games as a rookie last season, averaging 3.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 5.8 minutes per game. He never got to really show the Lakers what he was capable of after suffering a stress fracture in his left tibia that occurred not long after being called up from an assignment with the D-League’s Bakersfield Jam where he averaged 14.6 points and 7.6 rebounds.

Bryant said earlier in the week he has been “working around the clock” with the 22-year-old to prepare him for the added responsibilities that will come with increased playing time this season.

“It was evident by his play,” Brown said. “You could see why Kobe is excited about Devin. He didn’t get much time last year, but you saw what he did [in the scrimmage]. You just don’t know if that can translate into a game during the regular season and then a game during the playoffs at such a young age.”

Despite Ebanks’ inexperience, his youth is welcome on a team that starts the 33-year-old Bryant, 37-year-old Derek Fisher and the 31-year-old Pau Gasol. In fact, there is one thing that would absolutely prevent Ebanks from providing a lift to the bench like Bryant predicted, more so than inexperience: Ebanks could wind up starting.

Brown is shifting Metta World Peace’s role this season and turning him into the “leader of the second unit,” after World Peace had started 721 out of a possible 763 games in his 12-year career, including every game he played for the Lakers.

Matt Barnes started at small forward Friday and finished with 10 points, three rebounds, one steal and one assist while showing no ill effects from the knee surgery that sent him to the sidelines last season. But Brown said he will choose between Barnes, Ebanks and Luke Walton for the starting position.

“He said it’s open right now,” Barnes said. “So I’m going to continue to play hard and hopefully get that spot.”

Brown said Ebanks will have to continue to pick his spots when he’s open and playing with the starting unit during training camp because he “won’t call a play for him.”

Ebanks was close to never getting the opportunity to increase his role with the Lakers. Before the Lakers ultimately pulled out of the three-team deal between L.A., Houston and New Orleans and traded Odom to Dallas, the Lakers tried to revive the once-vetoed deal by adding Ebanks to the offer.

“I heard my name was in it,” Ebanks said at the Lakers media day last week. “I spoke to my agent about it and he just said, ‘Go in and practice still with a straight head, ready to play.’ That’s what I’ve done. I’ve tried not to let the distractions distract me.”

A straight head will certainly help because a major opportunity, be it starting or not, is staring Ebanks straight in the face.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.