There's a lot that could have been taken from Friday's loss to the Spurs. One could focus on the poor defense, the unforced turnovers, the open shots clanking off the iron. The slow start in the first quarter was when the game was lost. The slow collapse in the fourth quarter eliminated the chance of sneaking any undeserved victory.
All those are problems for the Mavericks, but obvious ones. There's another thing that can be taken away from that game, though, something that most people did not even seem to remember. That's Shawn Marion, and how important he is to the Mavericks. His injury causing him to miss the second half of the game was a huge game changer, and while the Mavericks clearly deserved to lose, its easy to wonder what his presence could have effected the outcome.
Most people have realized Marion's value to the team by now, but he's still the easiest player to underrate on this team. Much of his offense seems to come from just being in the right place at the right time, either to grab offensive rebounds and get the putback, or to get easy layups or dunks in and around the basket. When he creates his own offense, off the dribble or in the post, it looks ugly at best, even when it goes in. He is a great rebounder, but rebounding is not something that anyone notices unless it is forgotten, especially from a small forward who isn't putting up gaudy numbers, but just a consistent five, six, seven a game. And his defense, even though everyone knows its good, is not based on flashy blocks or steals, but simply by staying in front of his man and contesting shots. Its effective but there are no constant reminders of it, unlike Chandler getting a huge swat out of bounds or Kidd playing the passing lanes to perfection.
Quite simply, Marion does not always look very good when he's on the court, especially when he's missing a relatively easy layup inside. His absence in Friday's game, however, reinforced that he is actually very good.
In fact, Marion was the driving force behind the Mavericks' comeback from the eighteen point deficit which the Spurs held in the early second quarter. He entered with 3:21 left before the half, and the Mavericks went with their three guard lineup (Kidd-Terry-Beaubois) with Marion at the 4 and Haywood at the 5. In just three minutes, he hit three field goals and grabbed two defensive boards as the Mavericks closed to within five. He closed with 13 points in 6/8 shooting in just the fourteen minutes he played in the first half.
At times, it may just seem like giving Marion touches in the post to throw up that little hook shot is just appeasing him, much like the Mavericks give Haywood the ball occasionally after a good defensive series. Marion isn't an offensive slouch at all, though. No, he doesn't shoot jumpers, and yes, he'll miss some easy layups down low, but he's a 12 PPG scorer shooting 51%. He knows how to find the holes in the defense and the right times to leak out for an easy dunk. So far in March, he's actually averaging 14 a game on 53% shooting, something that every team would love to have
Its not just that Marion can score, though, but his role. His ability to cut and slash forces the defenses to collapse, and when he doesn't get the ball, it opens up space for jumpers and (once in a blue moon, with this team) a lane to drive. That role is doubly important because the Mavericks do not have any other players with that sort of mindset. He's the change of pace, the scorer who doesn't rely on a long two pointer to put points on the board. For the Mavericks, its about diversifying, because they clearly already have enough people to jack it up for 20+ feet (
some one more effectively than others).
The second half on Friday was a clear indicator of how much the Mavericks missed the easy buckets and the solid defense that Marion consistently supplies. Shawn Marion may only be a role player, but its a very important role he fills for this Mavericks team.