Before the season started, we knew the Mavericks had acquired a versatile and fairly unique roster. Dallas had a chance to play different styles and use a deep bench to constantly wear down opponents.
But there's no way any of us saw this coming -- 20 games in, Rick Carlisle has used 10 different starting lineups.While starting certainly doesn't matter anymore, it's a stunning number for a team that was used to a fairly static and stable starting lineup for the past five years.
Only two players have consistently started, O.J. Mayo and Shawn Marion (when healthy.) Other than those two, pretty much every Maverick save for first-round pick Jared Cunningham has seen a chance to crack not just the rotation, but the starting lineup.
You say Dahntay Jones received a DNP-CD? How about start in place of Shawn Marion! Brandan Wright, you haven't played much in the last week, but here's a start against Houston! Derek Fisher, you were resting comfortably in your solemn tomb last week, now you're the starting point guard!
It's a fascinating mix up of the rotation and it seems like Carlisle won't decide on what lineup he wants to use going forward until Dirk Nowitzki returns. It's further proof that starting doesn't matter, especially when you look at a certain team down South that is doing similar things and still torching the league.
Starting doesn't matter, but matchups and finishing the game do. It's why the Mavericks would start DeShawn Stevenson in the 2011 season, despite him rarely finishing the game. Carlisle liked how Stevenson fit in with the starting lineup, surrounded by better players. Could you imagine Stevenson checking into the game toward the end of the first quarter with J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic? Stevenson's primary asset (floor spacing + defense) would be rendered useless with fewer open looks generated by less-talented offensive players around him and his defense would be negated because he's guarding less-talented players.
If Stevenson is playing 17 minutes, wouldn't you rather a majority of them be checking Dwyane Wade than Mike Miller or Mario Chalmers? It's all about maximizing your talent, getting the right players on the floor at the right time. Whether that means you play the first seven minutes of a game is pretty meaningless when you consider the long-term goal of a team playing well in a 48-minute contest. It's why some players start games and play less than 20 minutes a night, while Jason Terry can come off the bench and close.
I'm rambling here, but it helps explain Carlisle's thinking. The problem with the Mavericks shuffled lineups is that it still isn't working -- the Mavericks are an average to mediocre 10-10. Carlisle is shuffling players in and out because the players are inconsistent.
It's easy to see why: the Mavericks employ a bunch of one-way players. Collison helps in pushing the offense faster but his horrible defense makes it a wash. O.J. Mayo is lighting up the league right now, but his defense has also been a major hindrance.
Brandan Wright takes the Mavericks offense to uber-elite levels, but his failure to be even an average rebounder means his minutes are in flux. Elton Brand has been a decent team-defender, but if he can't even convert at the rim better than some players are hitting threes, then why bother?
It's a frustrating dilemma for Carlisle. He has to make sure he gets the most of his roster in the time it plays. It means playing Wright just enough minutes for his offense to make an impact, but not leaving him in there for too long and watch the team get destroyed on the boards. It means bring Darren Collison off the bench, where his shoddy defense can be hid more in the first three quarters before rolling with him in crunch time.
Hopefully for Dallas, the players click. Perhaps it's bringing Brand off the bench, where his offense might thrive a little more. Maybe he should keep Wright in the starting lineup with Kaman so Kaman can help compensate for Wright's bad rebounding.
It seems like Collison off the bench is helping. He still isn't shooting the lights out, but he's taking less-talented guards off the dribble, earning free throws and not getting absolutely walloped by the team's best point guard for a full 35 minutes.
I think Carlisle's close. Off course, that means starting lineups 11, 12 and 13 are probably on the way. We knew the Mavericks would be flexible in its rotation this season. But there was no expecting this. Carlisle said he has "eight starters" on this team. He couldn't be more accurate.