Jaaber is drawing Lakers' attention
LAS VEGAS -- Meet Ibrahim Jaaber, the latest player on the Los Angeles Lakers' summer league roster who is starting to turn heads in the team's front office as a potential player who can make the team next season.
Jaaber (pronounced Jab-burr), a 6-2, 170-pound guard from the University of Pennsylvania, is averaging a modest 6.5 points, 6.0 assists and 1.5 steals through the Lakers' 0-2 start in Las Vegas (they lost 92-74 to Denver on Saturday) but has made a good first impression.
"He's had a really good 10-day period with us," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said.
Jaaber's NBA dream has been a long time coming after he finished his senior season at Penn by being named the Ivy League Player of the Year in 2007 and heading overseas to play for Lottomatica Roma in the Euroleague.
With the Lakers' guard situation still in flux next season -- with Jordan Farmar expected to sign with a new team and Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown involved in ongoing negotiations with the team -- Jaaber could end up trading his practice jersey for an authentic uniform with sewn purple and gold lettering come October.
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"He may have an outside shot [to make the team]," said Lakers summer league assistant coach Rasheed Hazzard. "There's a few things that he's going to have to get used to. Playing point guard in this offense is a little different than your traditional point-guard-driven offense. He'll have to get a little more accustomed to getting off the ball and understanding his biggest impact is going to be on the defensive end. He's gambling a little too much, so I'd like to see him not gamble as much as just be solid, you know, like Derek Fisher."
Jaaber has an innate ability to steal the ball, setting an Ivy League career record for steals with 303 in his four years, averaging close to three per game. But Hazzard would like to see traditional, on-ball defense first.
"He definitely has a gift in that area, but to start out, you have to be solid, earn that trust, and then that gift will take over, and it will come out and it will help us," Hazzard said. "Early on, we just need him to be solid, and if he wants to get into training camp, he's going to have to show Mitch and Phil [Jackson] that he can do it the right way and just be simple."
The training camp hopeful explained the art of the steal, saying: "It's a combination of different things. It's not an exact science -- athleticism, foot quickness, anticipation, positioning, and then there's a little bit of talent in it where you can't teach that. It's a lot of awareness at the end of the day."
Still, Jaaber admits he has had to tone down his game to fit in with what the team expects out of him.
"It's a little bit of an adjustment for myself playing a real slow point guard role where I can't be as aggressive as I'm normally asked to be," said Jaaber, who roomed on road trips in Europe with another energetic point guard, Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings, his teammate overseas before coming to the pros. "But at the same time, it gives me an opportunity to show versatility and show that I can organize a team."
The biggest challenge for any player joining the Lakers is learning the triangle offense, but Jaaber has been a quick study.
"It's a read-and-react offense, and I played that when I was in Europe and also a little when I was in college," Jaaber said. "I'm familiar with some of the terminology and the concept behind it. It's just a matter of repetition, and everybody has to actually be on the same page."
One knock on Jaaber has been his shooting. He's 5-for-14 (35.7 percent) from the floor in his first two games in Vegas.
"I think if that shot continues to develop, which it has since he graduated from school, he has a really, really good shot at being a good NBA player," Hazzard said. "Whether or not it's for us remains to be seen, but he has a good shot at being a great point guard for a long time."
ESPN.com NBA analyst David Thorpe assessed Lakers second-round draft picks Devin Ebanks, who scored 24 points against Denver after scoring 21 against Detroit, and Derrick Caracter, who had his second-straight double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
On Ebanks: "He is someone who uses his length to good effectiveness. He plays better off the ball than with the ball. I thought he was a decent mid-range shooter back in January based on the tape that I studied and I think he's showing that.
"I like the chip on his shoulder he's played with. He obviously has an edge about him, which I think is important. I also think he's in a great system. He's a guy that's really hard to play with from a defensive standpoint off the triangle cuts that he gets -- the post pin-downs and things -- he's very good at that."
On Caracter: "At 6-9, he can guard a lot of 5s in our league. He's already down to 274 pounds, I think; he's lost 30-plus pounds. That guy easily is going to lose another 15 to 20 pounds. He looks in great shape. He's got fantastic nimbleness and agility for a guy that big, and he really knows how to score.
"He still has a lot of work to do in the low post and so forth, but for what the Lakers would need him for, just to be a banger and play around the rim, he's going to be great."
Thorpe also complimented the Lakers' front office for coming away with such a strong draft despite having such low picks. "It's like the Spurs taking DeJuan Blair last year," Thorpe said. "Or going back, the Celtics got [Rajon] Rondo [after the Suns drafted him] at 21. There are always gems you can find after 20. It seems like the smartest teams are finding them."
Ebanks' said he can see his 3-point shot, long viewed as a weakness, starting to improve.
"I just keep working on it," Ebanks said, "keep shooting it and having more confidence in it and just knock it down."
"He's helped me a lot on my jump shot," Ebanks said of Abunassar. "I've just been working hard at it every day."
Ebanks made three of 30 3-pointers in his second and final season at West Virginia, never making more than one 3 in a game. He was 2-for-3 from 3-point range Saturday, boosting his two-game total to 3-for-6.
"It's just repetition, my form is the same way," said Ebanks, who bolted to the No. 1 spot in Drew Packham's NBA.com Rookie Ladder after Saturday's smooth-shooting performance.
This and that
In the first quarter of the Lakers' game against Denver, a rowdy Lakers fan took advantage of a quiet gym to deliver a message to Kupchak, who was sitting courtside with Lakers vice president of player personnel Jim Buss. "Re-sign Fish!" the fan screamed. "Give him his $5 million! I know you can hear me!" Ebanks -- a dead-ringer for former Laker Trevor Ariza, even down to wearing the same No. 3 jersey -- addressed the resemblance, "Obviously everybody says [we look alike]," Ebanks said, "but I just try to come out and be me."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.