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Los Angeles Lakers: Robert Sacre Rewarding Mike D'Antoni's Trust With Big Contributions

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Los Angeles Lakers: Robert Sacre Rewarding Mike D'Antoni's Trust With Big Contributions

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Robert Sacre has been a pleasant surprise in 2013-14.
COMMENTARY | Los Angeles Lakers center Robert Sacre went relatively unnoticed in his rookie season as the last man on the bench on a team that was supposed to go straight through the Western Conference and into the NBA Finals.

It's an understatement to say that the season didn't turn out well for the team as superstar big man Dwight Howard bolted for greener (flatter?) pastures in the Lone Star State for less money, leaving the Lakers in limbo. Instead of a clear path toward the future, the Lakers are now left wondering what their team will look like in the coming seasons.

Fortunately, for Lakers and all NBA fans, that future looks to include Sacre, the No. 60 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. Not only is the Canadian a riot off the floor, but this season he's also bringing some substance to the court with his defensive ability and effort on the glass and in practice.

About that effort in practice -- it's what fans don't see or often know about but can directly attribute to his increased playing time and improvement. Head coach Mike D'Antoni attributed his recent insertion into the starting lineup to the constant work and energy he's brought to the table.

By the numbers

The sample size is relatively small here -- Sacre has played in just eight games and started two this season. Interestingly enough, he's pacing to equal his total number of games played from a year ago (32), though he should far exceed that number given his recent insertion into the starting lineup.

Given the caveat of the relative short length of the season, Sacre's per-minute production has nearly doubled in several key areas. First, he's scoring 14.2 points per 36 minutes this year as opposed to 7.6 in 2012-13. But Sacre isn't a scorer. His best contributions to the Lakers come when he rebounds and defends. He's averaging 3.6 blocks per 36 minutes this season as opposed to 1.8 in his rookie year.

His improvement in efficiency is exponential. Sacre is posting a 19.6 player efficiency rating to this point as opposed to 3.4 during his rookie campaign. The effectively means that he's producing in all facets of the game more than he ever has. He's earned the right to see what he can do over long stretches, and he's trending in the right direction.

Jordan Hill takes a backseat

With one player's opportunity comes another's challenge. Sacre is getting more playing time in the rotation at the expense of Jordan Hill, who burst onto the scene in the 2012 playoffs and into the first half of last season before a torn labrum in his hip stopped his momentum.

This year, the Lakers gave him some early opportunities to succeed with increased minutes and 10 starts, but he's been relegated to the bench as the rotations continue to evolve. D'Antoni was clear that Hill is best suited for this Lakers team in a reserve role and brings energy to the second unit. More importantly, he stressed that Sacre has earned his chances.

Via Lakers Nation:

"[Sacre] can give us something that we need. He gives us great interior defense. He's a big body and he's worked his behind off. He's been getting more athletic. We've been talking about it for two weeks, he can play. If he can play, it's up to me in the sense that I have to have enough courage to go ahead and do it."

Howard left a major void in the middle when he left, and if Sacre can fill it even a little, he's going to be exactly the type of player the Lakers need this season. The Lakers can score effectively, but their ability to defend as a team is still in question, especially when it comes to stopping big bodies.

Hill is an elite level rebounder, but Sacre has the edge when it comes to the defensive end.

Making the most of opportunity

In the NBA, everyone's talented. For a player like Sacre who was drafted as more of a project than a bona-fide rotation player to begin his career, chances to develop in game situations don't often come around. After a season of living up to the "irrelevant" moniker during his rookie campaign, now is his chance to showcase what type of player he can be.

Fortunately for both parties, the Lakers and Sacre form a symbiotic relationship. They are going to depend on one another throughout this season. For the player, the Lakers give him a platform to show what type of skills he brings to the table on a consistent basis while the Lakers get production.

More specifically, Los Angeles gets production in those unsung areas where metrics don't tell the whole story. Sacre defends and brings youth, size and energy to a team that desperately needs it.

Here's to hoping the ride lasts long enough for everyone to enjoy it. The Lakers and the sports world need more of Robert Sacre.

Catch up with Michael C. Jones on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.

Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist and was Yahoo's 2012 Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and also contributes to SB Nation.

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