Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
For the past 15 or so years in the Dallas Mavericks organization, there have been three constants with this club: The presence of the great Dirk Nowitzki, General Manager Donnie Nelson, and our love him or hate him attention-magnet of an owner, the outspoken Mark Cuban. Besides that, the Mavs are, and have always been in a constant state of change, whether it be new arenas, new staff, and especially new faces on the hardwood.
One position in particular that has regularly been plagued over the years with inconsistency and erratic play is the five-spot ( i.e. Shawn Bradley, Erick Dampier, the one dreadful year of Chris Kaman). The most consistent defender, rebound grabber, and engaged player the Mavs have ever had to play center alongside Dirk, Tyson Chandler, has been goofing off with Mike Woodson in New York(*cries*) ever since the historic 2011 championship run(*cries again*).
This off-season, after striking out on a “big fish” once again with the Rockets nabbing Dwight Howard, the Mavs signed the veteran from Haiti, Mr. Sam “Slam” Dalembert to a 2 year contract, as well as the four-year NBA vet DeJuan Blair to a 1 year deal. They also re-signed Brandon Wright to a 2 year, $10 million contract. They paired these three with Dirk as well as Bernard James.
The biggest surprise in the second half of the season for the Mavs in my opinion, has been the play of one Sam Dalembert. His energy and effort, rim protection(averaging 1.64 bpg this past month), as well as his month of March numbers of 7.3 ppg and 7.8 rpg, have truly solidified the starting front court and made life a little easier on the Big German dude. The front courts backups, well that is a bit of a different story…
The backup rotational big men, Brandon Wright and DeJuan Blair, have been sharing most of the available minutes throughout the year, even though Blair got extended playing time at the beginning of the year as Wright was sidelined with a shoulder injury. From then on, their respective playing time fluctuated week to week depending on who Carlisle wanted in the game for match-up reasons. Pre All-Star break, Blair averaged 7.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg in 18.6 minutes per game, while Wright put up 9.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and 18.4 minutes per game in about 20 fewer games than the rest of the gang.
Post All-Star break, however, things changed, as you could see Carlisle begin to favor lineups that featured the athletic Wright versus the wrecking ball-esque Blair. In the second half of the season, Blair has a stat line of 3.8 ppg, and 2.2 rpg in 8.6 minutes per game. Can you say regression much? While Blair’s stock and playing time was plummeting, Brandon Wright seized the opportunity and took over as the “go to big man in the 4th quarter,” all while posting similar numbers to his first half of the season.
The stats do not do this situation justice however, as the eye test really displays Wrights’ impact on each and every game. When I watch Blair play, I just get a feeling “hey, the guy is giving some effort, but it’s not really working”–because he never really has an impact and just seems ineffective no matter the situation. I mean he will occasionally toss-up and in a floater, and sometimes even bear hug/wrestle an opposing player down to the court, but besides that, he’s rather meh. Brandon Wright on the other hand, is the polar opposite of Blair. He provides viewers at home non-stop excitement, whether it be by the way of slipped pick-and-roll dunks, high-arching jumpers, and even timely offensive rebounds in crunch time, and he always stands out as being very active and engaged.
I cannot express enough how much I enjoy watching teams, time after time, being fooled by a Wright high screen at the top of the key, and then–you guessed it– he slips the screen, hauls in a pass , looks into a barren paint, and then absolutely destroys the rim with his monstrous dunk. Wright men can jump.
You get it?
Now please don’t misunderstand, while I love the way Wright plays and the athleticism in his arsenal, I am not oblivious to his obvious shortcomings. The dude can’t really guard anyone that utilizes power moves whatsoever, whereas Blair, despite his lack of “prototypical” center size, has the body type to guard some of the stronger guys in the league. Also, Wright far too often disappears for minutes on end when it comes to defensive rebounding.
What it really comes down to for Mavs fans in deciding who deserves the backup center minutes is quite simple: Would you rather give them to Blair, a consistent player that doesn’t do much to stand out, or would you rather distribute those minutes to Wright, a high-flyer who always makes an imprint on the game somehow, but who also gets lost at the defensive end of the floor as well as on the glass quite often. When weighing out both options, I personally REALLY hope Coach Carlisle chooses the latter option to finish out the season.
Quick Note: Versus Golden State on Tuesday night, Wright, for perhaps the first time all season, came off the bench before Blair, while putting up 14 and 5 in a total of 25 minutes. Then Blair, in a more suited role for this team in my opinion, came off the bench to play limited, but effective minutes, acting as spark plug fourth depositing a couple of layups off of Monta assists. I thought the way Carlisle utilized the combination of Blair and Wright Tuesday night was the most effective employment of their talents all season. *then remembers the blatant missed goal tending call and Stephen Curry‘s dagger and cries once more*
This is just, just sick…