Both of us thought he looked pretty good, all things considered- Cousins is a beast, and there's a reason some thought he was the best talent in the draft- but rather than simply take our word for it, I sat down with ESPN.com's David Thorpe, NBA analyst for ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. and the director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Florida, where he oversees the player development program for college and NBA players. (Note: Caracter did some work at PTC last year, but completed the bulk of his training with one of Thorpe's assistants. This year, he trained at IMG.)
Dude knows stuff about stuff. Below are some of his more choice comments about Caracter, on both his performance Tuesday night and big-picture potential:
On his performance against Cousins: "I was really impressed. There’s not going to be a lot of guys that Derek’s going to play against that are going to be stronger than him or bigger than him, and Cousins is probably both. In that situation, you look for fight. I thought he really fought. Not only do I not think he gave Cousins an inch, I think he took it personally. Like I can play with this guy, I can pound this guy. That was the mentality. That’s the thing I took away more than anything. He went in there and really fought. He’s not going to start for the Lakers next year, but it's nice to know that if they need him to go against some of the bigger bodies out there that he’s going to bring the fight, and not just let himself get pushed around."
On the current state of his defense: “I think that in most cases, you start defensively with the willingness to defend. I always call it disposition to defend, and I think he’s going to have that without any problem. And the rest is up to the coaches to really detail a plan. The one thing I like about Derek is I think he knows what he’s supposed to do, and that’s going to play well on the defensive end of the floor. He’s going to be in the right spots. The other stuff he’s going to have to pick up, he’s going to pick up in a week or two. It’s not rocket science. Building the habits as it relates to how they’re supposed to defend certain actions within th eLakers’ structure, that’s going to take time. But some of the adjustments he has to make, the little tricks of the trade, he’s going to pick that up quickly. He’s a very natural player. The game’s easy for Derrick.”
On his ability to play at the NBA level: “The guy clearly should have been a first-round pick. A bunch of teams messed up. There’s really no other way of saying it. They couldn’t [look past his history]. And that’s their fault. The league is filled with players that have made bad decisions in their lives, or will make that bad decision while they’re in the NBA. In some respects I actually felt Derrick was less of a risk as a draft pick in the 20’s because he’s already gone through it and come out looking great.
This isn’t just a change he’s made in the last couple weeks. He made a decision last summer to change who he was, and started getting himself in better shape, and admitting that all the problems at Louisville were his fault. He blamed nobody but himself, and to me there are going to be some players in the NBA that as soon as they step in the hole, they’re not going to recover. At least you know in Derrick’s case he’s had the character- no pun intended, obviously- to recover. A lot of teams messed up, and he’s going to make them pay for it in the next four or five years.”
On what his body could look like when he's done maturing, getting into shape: “I think that he could look a lot like Karl Malone. He’s not going to play like Karl Malone, but I think he could have an unbelievable physique… The human body can transform itself dramatically. Derrick’s body can really be transformed.”
Not surprisingly, Thorpe compared Caracter to DeJuan Blair, another guy with question marks and body issues coming into the draft and has since turned into quite a steal for the Spurs. Interestingly enough, Blair shares the same agent as Caracter, and was in the stands for Tuesday's game. "I think he's a wonderful plus for the Lakers," Blair said of Caracter. "He can give Pau [Gasol] and [Andrew] Bynum some time off. He's a great player, and I think a lot of people forget about that. He's a real good player, and my hat goes off to him."
Blair said he's had a chance to speak to Caracter here and there. "I told him if he worked hard, he could get to where I am. And he's here."
It's easy to get carried away at this time of year. Especially when names like Karl Malone (or even DeJuan Blair) get tossed around. Nobody's putting Caracter on that level, but Thorpe was adamant about Caracter's ability to play at the NBA level, and that he has talent well above his draft position.
If with the 58th pick the Lakers come away with a player who can contribute to their team over the next few seasons, it would be a major victory.