Season Preview Essays: Samuel Dalembert

January 21, 2010: Philadelphia 76ers, and former Seton Hall Pirate, Samuel Dalembert looking on during the NCAA basketball game between the Louisville Cardinals and the Seton Hall Pirates at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Pirates beat the Cardinals, 80-77.

I may be the only one, but seeing Samuel Dalembert in a Kings jersey will be really weird for me. I guess Sammy isn’t the first thing to pop in one’s mind when he hears the phrase “Philadelphia 76ers”, but he has been around for quite a while, always popping up in trade rumors and disproportionate contract discussions and yet always manning the middle for the usually overmatched squad from Philly.

And now it’s over. Quietly, uneventfully, for Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni, while we were much busier thinking about the then still undecided NBA finals.

So forgive me if I stall, and bump the “what Samuel Dalembert will mean for the Kings” bit down a hundred words or so. As a basketball fan with no affinity what-so-ever with the Philadelphia 76ers, I’m not sure if Sammy in a different jersey will ever feel right.

Okey Dokey. Moving on.

Looking ahead towards Dalembert’s Sacramento days, we must first separate two equally intriguing parts of Sam: his 6’11”, 250 pound frame, and his 13.4 million dollar expiring contract. The former could – SHOULD – be a great help for a team that desperately needs what he gives. The latter could potentially provide the Kings with a massive upgrade, or could be proven irrelevant.

We’ll start with Sam the player.

First and foremost, Sam is a shot blocker. So much of a shot blocker that he tries too hard, spanning all those goaltending jokes that you’ve been reading ever since the Kings pulled off that trade with Philly. But despite his occasionally mistiming his leaps so that his opponent’s shot still counts, his tendency to send anything even approaching the rim he’s defending to the other side of the country is generally beneficial. And if you don’t believe me, take a look at some of Spencer Hawes’ defensive “highlights”. Heck, even the best defender in this league occasionally catches one of the shots he loves sending into the stands after the apex of arcs. It’s just something you have to live with.

Luckily, Sammy isn’t just your empty block extraordinaire. No, as far as interior defense, the large Haitian is the real deal. Sam finished third in the entire league at defensive rebound rate, posting a beastly 30.7. While that’s easily a career high (an upwards bump from 29.1 in 08-09, after ranging between 22 and 25.4 since his rookie year) and unlikely to be repeated, a third place, league wide finish is hardly fluky: the man can crash the boards with a vengance, a welcome sight after last season.

Of course, the picture isn’t entirely rosy. The goaltending issue is a real one, with his carelessness frequently awarding teams with extra points. He also fouls quite a bit – these past two seasons he was just under 6 fouls per 48 minutes – which combined with the Kings’ frontcourt depth, should probably ensure that his minutes per game remain around the 25 mark he’s been at the past two seasons. He’s also not your best one-on-one post defender, specifically struggling against this league’s most monsterous post dwellers – let’s not forget how Dwight Howard destroyed him in that 08-09 playoff series, and even Marcin Gortat posted an 11 and 15 when Dwight was suspended for game 6. However, very few men can cope with his Dwightness. All in all, he is a very good defensive big man, and should prove to be a coup for the Kings on that end of the court.

Offensively, my thinking at the time of the trade was that Sam would be the designated lob-finishier/tip-in-master/general-garbage-man. He is a strong offensive rebounder, though he isn’t as dominant as he is on the defensive boards (his offensive rebound rate last season was 13.0, a very solid figure, but not among league leaders), and his constant mobility allows him to get put backs and turn loose balls into dunks.

There has also been talk of him playing a bigger role in the offense than what we’ve seen in Philly. Zach broke down the prospect on this very cyberspace and came out with mixed feelings. Ultimately, there is validity to the sentiment of featuring Dalembert – he is very mobile for a man his size, and a strong finisher around the rim (according to Hoopdata he shot 67% at the rim last season). Having him constantly set screens for either Reke or Beno, then cutting to the basket gives the Kings a strong option on the roll part of the pick and roll, while keeping opposing big men honest when trying to cut off Reke’s penetration. If Tyreke and Sammy can develop a strong understanding of when Sam is open of these drives, they can be a force as a pick and roll combo.

As far as floor spacing, though, Sam leaves one wanting. His shooting from the 10 to 15 foot range has regressed over the past 4 seasons – from 48% in 06-07 to 43%, 40%, and 35.6% last year. This from a range that offers little spacing. The picture from 16 to 23 feet is even grimmer – Sam shot 38% last year after showings of 30% and 37% the years before – so he probably shouldn’t be counted on to shoot from there.

However, his constant movement should be enough to make sure that the paint isn’t crowded. While he isn’t the ideal big man to pair with either Landry or Cousins when they go down low, one can certainly envision him moving off the ball on the opposite side of the paint, cutting in to the basket, trying to capitalize on DeMarcus’ elite passing skills. Landry shows less promise in this regard, but should be able to work with Sam’s off ball escapades as well.

Moving on to the contract bit, this is where Sam turns from solid veteran help into endless mouthwatering possibilities. You’ve probably heard way too much already about the bleak and uncertain future of the league, with impending CBA threatening to forever alter the salary cap as we know it. Well, in such a state of financial overturn, contracts expiring before the new CBA comes into effect have immense value to teams looking to cut costs. Using Sam’s expiring contract, the Kings could allow themselves to take on long-term salary (they are currently on the books for just 26 million next year), thus upgrading the roster long-term without resorting to the financially unreasonable.

Or, if there doesn’t seem to be a long contract worth swallowing – a saddening yet very plausible scenario – Sam’s deal could be an immense help to the Kings just by running out. With so little money on the books for next season, the Kings have the flexibility to offer extensions to either Carl Landry, Sammy, both, or none of them – and still probably be a player in the free agent market. And while the class of 2011 isn’t nearly as impressive as the class we just saw this summer, there are some interesting prospects (specifically, allow me to officially start my campaign for the Kings to sign Marcus Thornton, who will be a restricted free agent after the season).

Though this may seem weird considering the guy has been in the league for 8 years and is a likely opening day starter (I find it hard to believe Westphal knocks the veteran for Cousins, even if that might be the right decision), this year will be somewhat of an audition for Sam. We know not what his market value will be with the new CBA in place and who could afford to get him – for example, in the current market, the Miami Heat would probably have knocked on his door with their MLE the second 2011 free agency starts – but we do know that his Bird rights belong to Sactown. Which means they could either sell them to the highest bidder, or use them to keep Sammy in purple for a few more years.

However, whether he sticks for a few months, the entire season, or beyond, Sam fills a clear need for this team. For the price of an overpaid, disgruntled veteran, and a prospect gone wrong, that’s a steal, even if he goaltends a potential Tyreke game winner.


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