Former Mountaineer Devin Ebanks has started for the Lakers in their two playoff games.
MORGANTOWN - Bob Huggins hasn't had a chance to watch much of what Devin Ebanks has been able to accomplish in recent days and weeks because he's been on the road so much, including Big 12 coaches meetings in Phoenix and Mountaineer Caravan stops around the state.He has managed to follow the former West Virginia star's emergence as genuine part of the Los Angeles Lakers rotation and isn't surprised."Dev's got a great aptitude to learn and grow,'' Huggins said Thursday. "And I think he's just figuring out what [Lakers coach] Mike [Brown] wants him to do.''After spending most of his first two seasons bouncing back and forth from the Lakers to the NBA Developmental League, Ebanks has begun to settle in with Los Angeles as the NBA playoffs begin. He's started the Lakers' first two playoff games against the Denver Nuggets, including a 12-point first half in a Game 1 win.Ebanks is far from a scoring machine. The 12 points he had in the first half of Sunday night's playoff opener (he didn't score in the second half and had just four points in Game 2 after getting two early fouls) marked only the third double-digit scoring effort of his NBA career, much less a single half.But it was also his second strong game in a row after he scored 14 in the regular-season finale against Sacramento when the Lakers sat stars Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.More significantly, since April 7, the 6-foot-9, 215-pound small forward has averaged 24 minutes per game. He's scoring just 6.1 points per game, but he's solidly in the team's rotation.That Ebanks is in the starting lineup now is because of the seven-game suspension of Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest), but that he is in the rotation is due to his rapid improvement.
Huggins figures it's only a matter of time before he improves even more."When Dev starts shooting more and learning where his shot is, he's going to be fine in that league,'' Huggins said. "He can already do everything else. He handles the ball, he passes the ball, he guards. He just has to jump up and make shots.''Since leaving West Virginia after his sophomore season and West Virginia's 2010 Final Four appearance, Ebanks has spent most of his time with the Lakers, but his playing time has been generally little. He spent just a handful of games last year and this in the D-League, averaging 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in six games a year ago and 18.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in just three games this season.When he's been with the Lakers, though, playing time has been hit and miss. He started the first four games of this season, but then between Dec. 29 and April 7 played double-figures in minutes just twice. Then beginning April 7 he was back in the starting lineup when Bryant sat out seven games with an injured shin and the Lakers went with two small forwards and no shooting guard.When Bryant returned, Ebanks went back to the bench, but only for two games. He was back in the lineup when Artest was suspended.That Ebanks has taken a while to adjust to the NBA is not surprising. He was just 20 and on the thin side when he left West Virginia and even now is still getting stronger. And, of course, there is the adjustment to the game."The games are so much faster and he had to get used to that,'' Huggins said. "It's not just the 24-second clock instead of the [college] 35-second clock, but everything about the game.''
The Lakers, up 2-0 in the seven-game first-round series with the Nuggets, play again tonight in Denver.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.