Coming into this season many questioned the Dallas Mavericks ability to play defense, Monta Eliss’s efficiency, and if star Dirk Nowitzki was in the decline, but no one questioned the bench’s ability to contribute.
Last season’s bench averaged 41.51 ppg and shot 45% from the field and 36.5 % from 3. With an improving Brandan Wright and the additions of Devin Harris, DeJuan Blair, Wayne Ellington, and Shane Larkin the bench was expected to be top notch once again. But with early season injuries of Wright and Harris and a decline in 6th man Vince Carter’s play the bench has gone from a strength to a weakness.
The bench has seen its point and shooting averages decrease across the board to 31.26 ppg, 43% overall, and 33.8% from 3. Carter has struggled to lead the bench minus Wright (played in last 4 games) and Harris as he’s seen his number drop from 13.4 ppg, 43.5% overall, and 40.6% from 3 to 10.5 ppg, 39% overall, and 34% from 3. As much of the burden is on Carter to lead the bench as he did last season, the blame isn’t fully on him. 2nd year forward Jae Crowder hasn’t shown the ability to shoot a high percentage from the field on a consistent basis (43.7% overall, 34.8% 3pt). Throw in the inability of Ellington, Larkin, and Gal Mekel to earn a consistent role and minutes then there is no wonder that the bench has struggled to this extent. Also the removal of Blair from the bench to starter has hurt the bench as Dalembert has struggled to get on the court during his demotion.
As much as the bench has struggled early on, there is plenty of optimism to see the Mavericks bench regain form as the season progresses.
First enters Brandan Wright. Wright in his first 4 games has already exceeded expectations. Wright is already putting up 13.7 ppg, 5rbg, 2.25 bpg, and shooting 71% in just 21.7 mpg. Wright has quickly earned Rick Carlisle’s trust as he’s also been used to close games. With Ellis, Nowtizki, and Jose Calderon to play off of, it won’t be a surprise to see Wright put these numbers up throughout the season. In Wright’s 4 games the Mavericks bench has seen their averages increase to 38.8 ppg while shooting 50% from the floor. Wright’s ability to excel as the roller in the pick-n-roll has allowed Carter to see his field goal percentage increase (50%).
The final piece to the Mavericks improvement has yet to suit up in a game. Devin Harris has yet to play as he is recovering from offseason toe surgery. The hope was he’d be back already, but a setback has pushed his return date to hopefully early January. Rookies Larkin and Mekel have struggled to earn Carlisle’s trust to run the offense. Harris’s ability to run an offense will not just bring stability to the backup point guard position but will also lessen the burden on Carter to be the primary playmaker for the 2nd-unit. Harris’s ability to get to the basket should also create better looks for Wright, Carter, and so others. Harris also has the ability to play and guard both guard spots. He should also be able to play alongside either Calderon and Ellis, where Larkin and Ellington have yet. Also Harris’s ability to defend will surely be a welcome sight to Carlisle, where he will compete with Crowder to be the Mavericks best perimeter defender behind Shawn Marion. The Mavericks and fans must be patient upon his return though, as he has not even been able to build a chemistry with his new teammates.
If the bench doesn’t show greater improvement, the Mavericks may need more than the 72.3 ppg from the starting five, which is a jump from the 59.6 ppg last season. The Mavericks and Nowitzki are hopeful for an improved bench. A stronger and a more consistent bench allows Carlisle to limit the minutes and toll on Nowitzki, Ellis, Calderon, and Marion.
As we’ve seen the bench improve with Wright’s return, we can still expect this bench to get even better.
The starters have done their part, now the bench needs to show up.