While the Mavericks' playoff MVP for these playoffs is without a question Dirk Nowitzki, their second best player is a lot more hazy. They've got contributions from every rotation members, and even some from a player who isn't (Corey Brewer). Seemingly on a game-to-game basis, there is someone different stepping up big to accentuate Dirk's heavy lifting, disproving the meme that teams must have a true second option to go deep into the playoffs. So far, the second option is a constantly shifting role, while keeping the same effectiveness that it would have if Caron Butler or Rodrigue Beaubois were playing and scoring 18 points a night, as we all thought and hoped.
Taking it series by series, there was Jason Kidd in the Portland series. He struggled to close the regular season, seemed mentally and physically done, but turned the clock back to come up with two huge games to set the tone for the series, hitting threes at seemingly the same rate he was missing them prior to the playoffs.
When the Mavericks hit their next challenge, no one expected them to win. Jason Terry, who as we all probably know by now is a proud owner of a Larry O'Brian trophy tattoo, made sure that the Mavericks weren't going to waste this opportunity now, with their chances dwindling by the season. He lit up the Lakers in the final two games, including hitting a playoff record nine threes in Game 4.
Now it was Oklahoma City's turn to try their luck. Shawn Marion's stellar all-around defense and twenty-six point Game 5 ushered them out the door. The young talent of the Thunder? They were talented, alright, but their facial stubble and acne could not compete with the consuming baldness of the Dallas vets.
So as the Mavericks head to the NBA Finals, who will have to step up this time around? The Mavericks center around Dirk Nowitzki, but he will need help somehow, somewhere. Here's three players who need to prove their value in the spotlight by performing well like everyone knows they can.
Shawn has to be the first x-factor. After a quiet postseason, he broke out against Kevin Durant and co., honing in on Kevin Durant on the defensive in while finding and exploiting opportunities offensively. Durant? Well, LeBron James is more of a nightmare. Everyone knows that he is one of the world's greatest athletes, and the Mavericks best chance of keeping him in check is tight defense by Marion. He's got the height and quickness to keep with LeBron and contest shots, but also has enough bulk to not be bullied around. That is extremely important, because while people may point to Stevenson and Brewer as being good matchups for James, neither have the size to fight down low. LeBron may not have a post-up game, but receiving the ball at fifteen feet and facing his defender up will be the beginning of the end for the Mavericks, with Wade, Bosh, Miller and Haslem all also having to be accounted for. The Mavericks must keep LeBron at the three point line and farther, inviting him to settle for contested jumpers rather than taking shots around the basket (which, as you might have noticed, he's pretty good at converting). Marion has the bulk and size to push and push and force hm out further than he might want.
Marion's offensive game also cannot be discounted. He always has the potential to be able to break out with 20+ points, capitalizing on cuts and offensive rebounds and the occasional deep post. Getting out and running should also help some of the Heat's own deadly transition game. The Matrix being able to step up and give the Mavericks stellar offensive and defensive production will be critical.
The Mavericks have feasted on jumpers and three pointers all postseason, which is the primary reason that they've had the best offense in the playoffs. However, excluding the Lakers simply not caring, the Mavericks will have to work to get good looks. Dirk will draw doubles and will drive and kick, but the other key player will be JJ Barea. He's had a great postseason so far, and though he's been criticized for calling his own number a little too often, many people don't realize he's a key factor to getting the open looks from deep. Despite his faults, JJ penetrates, and does so frequently and relentlessly. He's a exceptional finisher inside for his size, but once the defense collapses a little bit too much, or the lane clogs with help defense, he knows how to find the open man. The Mavericks unselfish passing and quick ball movement does the rest, and if somewhere, somehow, an open three point shot can be had, the Mavericks will find it.
Stevenson has started at the 2 in these playoffs primarily for his defensive prowess, and in that regard he's actually done a pretty darn good job. However, his abilities will be put to the test when he will be an option to stop
Stevenson hitting a few threes would also be welcomed for the Mavericks. The Mavericks have plenty of three point shooters, but when only five players play, one more is always welcome. It seems very likely that Stevenson is the one that the Heat will likely gamble on and choose to ignore, and Stevenson hitting a shot or two will help space the floor early, especially considering that Marion is also a non-factor from deep in the starting lineup.
Dirk is the center point of this series for the Mavs. Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Tyson Chandler are all mostly reliable and have proved their value in a majority of the games this postseason. However, those three players are the x-factors, because it may be up to them to shift the tide of a game that otherwise would be lost. It will be interesting to see, to say the least, how they respond to the pressure.