Report Cards: DJ Mbenga, Chris Mihm
Both were seldom used big men: Might as well group them together and conserve the Internet's version of paper, right?
We'll start with Chris Mihm, for whom I debated simply linking last season's report card and calling it a day. He may have stepped on the court this year, but the end result was basically 2007's story. A nasty 2006 ankle/foot injury preventing headway into regaining his old form. Mihm began the season active (if not always effective) and notched a few decent starts while Kwame Brown was hurt and Andrew Bynum was still a bench mobber. Then came yet another surgery required (this time to remove a screw from his heel), and he was never in rhythm during subsequent rare court appearances (most recently demonstrated in three disastrous minutes against the Celts).
The good news, however, is that Mihm is confident that after all the trial, error and frustration, he's feeling like his pre-injury self again. How that optimism will play out remains to be seen. For that matter, Mihm's 2009 could go a lot of ways. He could rebound with a solid season as Bynum's backup. He could remain glued to the bench. He could end up on another team, as his expiring, inexpensive deal makes him easily movable. Whatever the future holds, I hope it includes good enough health that Mihm can dictate whatever fate may bring. He's been dealt a very crappy hand along those lines the last two seasons, to say the least.
DJ Mbenga, the cat who put the "taco" in "tacos," found sporadic PT after signing with the Lakers on Jan. 21, along with sporadic effectiveness. There were nights (such as Game 2 against Denver, when Ronny Turiaf's tonsillitis thrust him into action) where he blocked a few shots, pulled down some boards, even canned a turnaround jumper (followed by the immediate heat check). But there were just as many where he wasn't particularly active on the glass, drew hella whistles and displayed what BK jokingly referred to as the "feathery touch" putting up anything outside point-blank range.
Mbenga is, to say the least, a limited player, which fans often forgot when other Laker bigs were ineffective, prompting curses that PJ wasn't playing a "defensive stopper who brings some offense." Dude's averaged 1.6 ppg on a career. He's also never averaged 10 mpg, meaning he couldn't shore up a D that much. Similar to how Mom now remembers our long deceased family pet as "just the sweetest dog" (as opposed to when Chip was alive and she threatened to get rid of him every other day because this ultra-loving canine was also dumb as a post, more neurotic than Woody Allen and required intestinal surgery to disentangle about three dozen socks he'd eaten, a procedure that failed to curb his taste for footwear), absence often creates positive revisionist history. Mbenga had his moments, but like most raw players, returns tend to diminish as court time increases. I doubt Mbenga will be back next season, but I hope he finds a spot on another team. His journey to the NBA is an unbelievable story, one I'd love to see continue.
Final Grade. Mihm: D/Inc. Mbenga: C-