“Galactus lives! But—Galactus is… confused.”–Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Last week, I was walking in Downtown Dallas with Mike Mooney. We were going from The Bridge homeless shelter to meet with a group from “Back On My Feet” at the Main Street Garden. It was part of our D Academy session for November, of which Mooney and I are both participants.
Mooney is one of the best sports writers I know. (The proof: The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever for D Magazine, The Man in the Middle of Bountygate for GQ, and He Do What He Do for D Magazine and The Best American Sports Writing 2012.) A few minutes previous, I had made him slightly jealous because of a sports story I’m working on for the Dallas Observer (sorry… secret), and since there is no greater thrill than making writers you respect jealous, I decided to talk about it with him some more. The conversation veered into sports writing in general, good places to get published, and so forth. Then we talked about which Mavericks players we would most like to interview — and both agreed that O.J. Mayo is a great story. Here’s a player that clawed his way back into relevance, and it’s quite possible that his best days are still ahead. I then off-handedly mentioned that Chris Kaman would be last on my list.
I don’t know why I said that. Last? I didn’t have a reason, but it felt like the right answer. Mooney responded, “He’s probably the easiest to interview too.” Mooney, of course, is right. Kaman comes across as completely candid, and he doesn’t give cliché responses to cliché questions. So why last? Why do I have such little interest in Chris Kaman, quite possibly the second best player on this weird Mavericks team right now?
I thought about this question longer than I should have. I’m still not completely satisfied with my answer, but here it is: The problem with Kaman is that he seems to have a healthy understanding of the NBA, and he treats it like a job.
But it is a job. In fact, it’s probably the healthiest and sanest way to approach pro sports. It’s just not exciting to talk to well-adjusted athletes with a good perspective. No, you want athletes who treat basketball as a metaphor for life and missed opportunities, who act like the coach is the father they could never impress, who treat the Larry O’Brien Trophy like their only chance for a peaceful afterlife, and who rather die than miss the game-winning shot. That’s not Kaman. Kaman has this calm bovine look in his eyes, the occasional smile that seems disconnected to whatever is happening on the court. Maybe he remembered a funny joke he heard hours earlier?
All of this, in some way, lends itself to the Kaman Paradox.
I discovered this phenomenon earlier in the season. Statistically, Chris Kaman always plays twice as well as I thought he did. I will watch a game from beginning to end. If you ask me how much he scored, I will guess half of the actual number. For example, last week against the Houston Rockets, I thought he scored 10 points and had 3 or 4 rebounds. He actually had 20 points and 7 rebounds. The Kaman Paradox. I do not make this mistake with any other player — only Chris Kaman. Last night against the Kings, was it nine points? Why am I so blind to the workings of a seven-foot center? Perhaps everyone who follows sports does this with someone. Analysts will say that so-and-so put up “quiet numbers,” but what they really mean is that didn’t really notice him on the court much. It’s a failure of perception.
Maybe I’ve been leery about Kaman, because while everyone else was excited about having a “scoring center” with an actual post game, I was more worried about what Dallas would lose on defense. With the Mavs struggling for rebounds, I was quick to blame Kaman for not doing his part as the big man closest to the basket. However, compare his box score contributions with Brendan Haywood — last year’s starting center — and once again the numbers surprised me.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Kaman is averaging 6.9 rebounds per game and Haywood 6.6 per game. Per 36 minutes, Kaman is averaging 9.5 and Haywood is at 9.3.
Blocks? Both are at .9 per game. Assists? Haywood is at .5, and Kaman is at .9. With points, Kaman clearly leads with 14.3 compared to Haywood’s 5.5. They are the same height, same weight, and Kaman is three years younger.
While we’re at it, how does Chris Kaman compare to Tyson Chandler? This season, Chandler clearly leads in rebounds — 10 a game compared to Kaman’s 6.9. Kaman scores two more points per game and holds a slight lead (0.1) in blocks per game.
Basketball is more than just a collection of stats, but by way of common box score measures, Kaman holds his own. If he could improve his rebounding (which may not ever happen), Maverick fans may not lament the loss of Tyson Chandler as much.
From the Pro Basketball Prospectus 2012-13:
“Kaman’s size is an asset at the defensive end, where he’s an average shot blocker but struggles to defend in space because of his poor lateral movement.”
And maybe here is here we notice the real difference between Chandler and Kaman. A player’s effectiveness on the court comes down to space and movement. Chandler moves extremely well; Kaman does not.
When comparing Chandler to Kaman, there are certain intangibles to consider, and fans and sports writers are easily swayed by such extra-statistical factors. Chandler projects an intensity and passion on the court. My wife (a dedicated partner in watching Mavs games) and I often joked about how Chandler liked to hit the padded goal post after a particularly intense dunk. We haven’t seen the same passion from Kaman, the guy with the job as a pro athlete. I believe this contributes to the Kaman Paradox, my ability to completely underestimate him and his contributions to the team. Let’s hope he continues to surprise and confuse me.
David Hopkins is a freelance writer — a regular contributor to D Magazine and Smart Pop Books. David is working on an exciting feature for the Dallas Observer. It’s a secret. Follow David on Twitter at @davidhopkins.