It's hard to call Ebanks a "disappointment" after two years in the league, particularly given that 1) he was given garbage time minutes in his rookie year, and 2) given that he was the recipient of inconsistent minutes this year, given that Mike Brown was tinkering with his rotation. But looking deeper into standout characteristics of his game this season, it's hard not to come away disappointed.
Let's recap what Ebanks was expected to be based on his college work, and based on what was actually some strong stats during garbage time last year: my expectation, as seen in the spoilers below, was that Ebanks would severely lack scoring ability due to passivity and his own lack of range, but I thought he would be a good rebounder, passer, and would play defense very well. In his rookie year, his game more or less conformed to that, really playing off the ball extremely well--he had an insane offensive rebound rate (yes, limited sample space) and most of his shot attempts were assisted and around the basket. He didn't particularly finish well, but he had a high free throw rate to offset that and got a lot of AND-1 type plays. With his lack of range and shoddy shooting/poor finishing he wasn't efficient on offense, overall, though. Moreover, he made a fair share of defensive plays, in particular being a good shotblocker with his length. However, he also showcased quite a few red flags--(1) his passing, which was expected to be decent, was absolutely atrocious, (2) his jumper, as expected, was poor--he shot very poorly from mid-range on a regular amount of attempts, and (3) he eschewed threes, as expected, lacking the range. So in his rookie year, he exceeded expectations by being a viable off-the-ball finisher and hustle/defensive player, and while the volume with which he did that in garbage time was a fluke, it looked like he could find a role as a role player. He was very productive within his realm of work, and maximized his role player defensive/hustle attributes at garbage time.
Then came this year: again, minutes were sporadic, but there were times (particularly in April) where Ebanks got playing time, and there's enough of a sample space to make preliminary assessments. And this is where the preliminary scouting report gained further truth: Ebanks was just passive this year. Very passive, particularly on offense. He had the 8th lowest usage rate among qualifying SFs this year, but exacerbated things by having the 6th worst TS% among such SFs. So in other words, the Lakers were playing 4-on-5 when he was on the court: he was both super passive, but the thing is, you probably want him to be passive, given that he's even worse when launching a shot off. The only other SFs around that TS-low usage rate ballpark are Dominic McGuire, Chris Singleton and Damien Wilkins--the last two guys are on their way out of the league, and McGuire has a ton of redeeming qualities--he can really pass the ball and rebound super effectively for his height, and even then he's considered just a bit player. Ebanks is not even close in terms of pure point rating--he had the 9th worst assist rate this year (and the worst assist rate last year had he qualified, so this isn't a fluke) and the 7th highest turnover rate this year. So let's recap Ebanks: he has a a bottom 10 usage rate, TS%, assist rate, and a top ten turnover rate. Even Singleton and Wilkins, two guys on their way out, had far better looking pure point ratings, so at least they have that redeeming quality. Ebanks strikes out on all four counts, and just looks like a wreck offensively. As mentioned, the Lakers were playing four-on-five, since he had not even an average quality on offense.
The thing about Ebanks was that it was hard to notice he was playing so atrociously on offense, just like Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono, because of his low usage rate which made him more invisible than blatantly causing miscues. Also, he looked like he was trying hard: for instance, continuing a trend of very good offensive rebounding, he was sixth in offensive rebound rate among SFs. Moreover, even though he was still finishing at a subpar rate, he was still drawing fouls. Also, it looked like his mid-range jumper had improved--he hit 41% of his mid-rangers on a standard number of SF attempts, so he gave the impression of a mid-range in hustling type SF. Also, with Mike Brown giving him incredibly sporadic minutes, it was hard to see his play consistently, so Lakers fans were unable to draw too many determinate conclusions about him. But, the incredible passivity on offense combined with overall shoddy shooting (mid-range shots are the most overrated aspect of the game) and horrible ball skills in general made him a bottom-five player on offense this year. To illustrate the passivity, he had 5 dunks in 5.8 minutes per game in his rookie year--he had all of four dunks in 16.8 minutes per game this year. He stopped dunking. His hustling game and improving shot are pluses, but the other flaws more than override that. On a purely offensive standpoint, he's easily out-of-the-league material--you could easily get more from a D-Leaguer in a 10-day contract.
On defense, Ebanks also regressed: he made far fewer defensive plays in both steals and blocks, picked up a few more fouls (although he's not foul prone), and continued a trend of questionable team defense (he's been in the negative in team impact for the past two years). Most incriminating, however, is that as a 6'8" inside-hustle player, he had the worst defensive rebound rate among all SFs this year. Incredible--I mean that in a bad way. Even Shane Battier, who spent 99% of the time camping at the three point line this year, had a slightly higher def reb rate. Ebanks is a way better offensive rebounder than defensive rebounder to be sure, but his rebound rate was good at college, so it makes you wonder if he's not physically tough enough (he has a thin frame) to box out well enough. Ebanks does good positional defense against SFs, a continuing trend based on rookie data, but with his complete and utter lack of offense playing "good" instead of "complete lockdown" defense won't get it done--he's still hemorrhaging more points overall by being on the floor. Couple that with his league-worst defensive rebounding, more lax defensive playmaking and questionable team defense, he has more than enough holes to make him be only an average defender, at best, in this league. The Lakers try to fashion him as their "defensive" guy due to his height and length, but the reality is he's only average at best.
The thing with Ebanks is that age, potential, and being homegrown have a way of making teams overrate their own players. Ebanks is arguably overrated by the Lakers on both offense AND defense, and if they keep him (he's a RFA), they'll keep thinking that he can grow better on both sides of the court until age 25, when they realize that he's a poor player because he "hasn't improved much", and then let him go or trade him as a side piece or for a future pick. That's the lifeblood of the NBA--teams hurt themselves this way, and it would do the Lakers well to realize it ahead of time.
Ebanks works hard with o-boards, is improving his mid-range jumper, plays good positional defense, and looks the part as the en-vogue long/lanky swingman--but everything else, VIRTUALLY everything else, is a negative. He is very flawed on both ends that even reaching my initial expectations of Tayshaun Prince (from his college production) seems lofty. In retrospect, it's starting to seem reasonable, rather than a steal, that he was drafted with the 41st pick. He's more than overstretched as a starter (as the Lakers have used him several times) and Mike Brown seems right to actually put him on the bench the majority of the time behind Matt Barnes and Metta World Peace.
[spoiler]Strengths: Ability to play contain defense effectively without fouling, Height/length combination, Rebounding ability on both ends, Competitiveness/hustling ability/defensive IQ, Court vision
Weaknesses: Ability to score, Poor jumper/range, Passive offensively/limited handles, Not a great athlete (lateral quickness/speed/vertical), Needs to add strength
Offense: Ebanks’ offense is projected to be poor at the NBA level on several fronts: 1) he’s passive (his usage rate is on the low side for a SF), and his handles are questionable despite that (he possesses a middling to high turnover rate), 2) his scoring rate is extremely poor, and 3) perhaps his greatest impediment, he lacks a consistent source of offense with which he can score off of, and lacks range. As comprised his offensive game is not NBA-caliber and most likely has led into his slippage into the second round, because between the lack of handles, passivity on offense and poor scoring methods, it will be difficult for him to overcome all of these and make himself into a viable offensive player. Ebanks’ primary method of offense consists of mid-range in: he launches quite a lot of mid-range jumpers and accrues quite a few inside shots as well by playing off the ball or through offensive rebounds. However, he’s not terribly effective at either so far: he’s a poor mid-range shooter, although given his decent free throw percentage (74%) and desire to launch off mid-rangers, he should improve here. Ebanks is also just an okay finisher around the basket, and part of the problem is his physical tools in general: he rated poorly in leaping ability, lateral quickness and doesn’t possess much in way of strength, and this is further verified by his paltry dunk rate and tip-in rate (despite his very good offensive rebounding ability): considering the NBA is comprised of elite athletes at the swing positions, this might even look worse at the next level. Ebanks sorely lacks range; he rarely took college three pointers, and when he did, he shot extremely poorly on them: he most likely will lack NBA three point range at the next level. However, it’s not all bad for Ebanks on this end of the court: he has slightly above average offensive instincts (WVU actually scored more when he was on the court), gets to the line at a slightly above average rate, and a nice little wrinkle to his game is that he’s a very good passer for a small forward, despite his lack of handles: he certainly has court vision. Overall, Ebanks does have IQ and passing ability in the offensive end, hustles well, and carries a slight foundation of an offensive game mid-range in, but he’s lagging behind in terms of range, ballhandling, and ability to score off his own devices, and thus often lapses into passivity.
Defense: This is where Ebanks is make his money at the NBA level. Ebanks carries above-average impact on the defensive end (WVU allowed 5.9 fewer points with him on the court last year), and acts as a contain/prevent defender: he doesn’t gamble much, sticks with his own man, and hounds his man off-the-ball extremely well to prevent him from receiving the ball. He has high defensive IQ and possesses a desire to act as a defensive stopper: what also helps him is that he’s long and has a standing reach similar to a NBA PF, so his height in combination with his length can be imposing to some offensive players. He appears to be more of a “length defender with smarts” a la Tayshaun Prince and Shane Battier: his intercepting ability leaves something to be desired, but he’s an above average shotblocker and plays good team defense. However, his lack of physical tools, as mentioned above with his suspect lateral quickness, overall speed, and lack of leaping ability/strength, might hinder him here against some matchups: he can be taken off the dribble against smaller guards, and more physical players can push him down on the blocks. However, his impact is palpable, and he can play a step off smaller players and use his length instead, while his length/height may act as a deterrent against bigger players. Ebanks also has a nose for the ball, and uses his length well, as he’s a very good defensive rebounder and overall rebounder. What probably is most impressive about Ebanks is, in spite of his defense and hustle play, he does it all without fouling and stays on the court for a long time (30+ minutes a game, both seasons at WVU). He has massive potential to be a “disciplined defender”—one with decent, but not great, physical tools, but one who relies more on instincts, competitiveness through contain defense.
Intangibles: Ebanks is incredibly competitive and works extremely hard, if that was not expressed already in his offensive rebounding/overall rebounding ability and his defensive acumen. He has the makings of a very disciplined player especially for his age, a style of player that’s becoming increasingly rare particularly with someone of his height and length. On offense he’s highly unselfish as well and can make his teammates better with his court vision. Overall he has strong intangibles and can develop as an ultimate team player. Of note, however, was that he faced a three-game suspension at the beginning of WVU’s season, although it was reportedly for academic reasons.
Future: Ebanks possesses Triangle-conducive skills (passing, height) in addition to elements that fit well with the Lakers, namely his defense and youthful hustle play. In addition, the Lakers most likely will have open roster spots this summer and can certainly use an infusion of youth, particularly on the defensive end. Laker GM Mitch Kupchak has already expressed concern about Luke Walton’s back and considers Ebanks a steal for his draft position, and has said that he might spot minutes behind Ron Artest, so there’s an extremely great chance Ebanks makes the final roster.
Projection: Of note is that Ebanks was once dubbed as a lottery pick, but after his sophomore year where he made little progression offensively, his stock fell like a rock. Unlike many first rounders, he’s not an incredible shooter nor is he an incredible athlete, but he’s incredibly competitive, possesses length and very good defensive instincts, and can develop as an interesting cog player particularly when taking into account his rebounding and passing ability. In the Triangle, Ebanks will need to make his jumper, namely his mid-range jumper, respectable enough, which is possible as delineated above; he most likely won’t be much of a scorer early on as he’s developing this shot, or even much of one at his peak. If he makes the team, he probably would not see too many minutes, barring any free agent signings, trades, or if Luke Walton gets injured, but he’s a great player for the Lakers to develop for the future.
Stats 09-10 (WVU): 34.1min 12.0pts (.457 FG%, .100 3FG%, .770 FT%) 8.1reb 2.4ast 1.1stl 0.7 blk 2.2TO