A Daily Babble Production
Coming off his most statistically productive season as a pro, Sixers center Samuel Dalembert has his sights set on making another jump forward this season.
The News Journal's Martin Frank reported Tuesday that the defense-oriented center is talking about the idea of being an All-Star in 2009: "Ben Wallace has been an All-Star before by just playing defense...You don't have to score 20 points a game. My goal has never been scoring. I want guys like Elton Brand to have the ball. I want guys like [Andre] Iguodala to have the ball. I can score off them without having any plays run for me. My main goal is to be a force, a presence inside."
This is a guy who sounds like he has his head planted firmly in the right place, particularly as a center. It's particularly in that final comment about being an interior presence that Dalembert cuts right to the heart of the issue: Though it would be nice for him to build on his first career double-double season (10.5 points, 10.4 boards to go with his 2.3 blocks per game) from a statistical standpoint, getting to the next level will require Dalembert to focus on something that won't show up in his line in the box score anytime soon.
That something would be his positioning and defensive technique.
Dalembert is right on the money that making an impact defensively is his most crucial role as a center, and that only rings more true with the addition of Elton Brand next to him in the frontcourt. But Dalembert's blocks numbers have always been good. He averages two per game for his career and has placed in the league's top ten in average shot-blocking three times in the past five seasons. The 6-11 center is a gifted leaper, and he has used that to turn in his share of highlight reel swats.
But it will be in harnessing that leaping ability that Dalembert may have a chance to become an upper-tier defender. For a guy with the jumping and timing skills that Dalembert has, he has been a disappointing defender for most of his career because he has been overly reliant on his hops. Too often in prior seasons, it seemed he didn't fight hard for position underneath, didn't grasp the concept of "doing your work early," and tried to compensate for his slimmer center's frame (he is listed at 250 pounds) with his jumping. The problem is that while this leads to a few nicely timed blocks per game, the parts you don't see on SportsCenter aren't pretty. In the past, it looked very easy for other big men to muscle Dalembert right at the start of a play, get position and the rock, ball-fake hard and then go around the leaper for easy buckets. While the individual numbers looked impressive, the lack of technique created problems for his team's defense, which is of course what ultimately matters.
To his credit, Dalembert made considerable progress last season and seemed to be doing a better job of picking his spots to rise up in attempts to block shots. But he still needs to focus on working his tail off at the beginning of each play to prevent his man from camping out comfortably on the low blocks. If Dalembert can push opposing bigs away from the basket early on in most sets, he'll put the onus on them to get past a quick, long defender, and he'll still have his leaping as a safety valve.
Doing his work early and improving his footwork on the ground could make a huge difference for Sam Dalembert in getting offensive bodies out of the lane and preventing easy baskets against the Sixers this year. With Theo Ratliff in tow as a mentor and Dalembert claiming to be committed to getting better, it's certainly a doable proposition, and it's one that could take his game to the next level.