CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 18: Bernard James #5 of the Florida State Seminoles shoots against Andrew Darko #12 and Nathan Walkup #45 of the Texas A&M Aggies in the first half during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the United Center on March 18, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
September is half-way over, training camp is two weeks away(!), actual Mavericks exhibition basketball is three weeks away(!!!), and so it's time to take an in-depth look at the roster, and try to establish a baseline for expectations in the upcoming season.
First up is Bernard James, the rookie center from FSU who is not a lock to make the team(and one could argue that the odds of such went down ever so slightly with the reported reacquaintance of the Mavs and D.J MBenga), but would certainly be one of the league's more inspirational stories if and when he plays his first NBA game.
Regular readers of this site or more devoted Mavs fans probably already know the gist of that story: after high school, Bernard James served six years in the Air Force, and didn't truly start taking basketball seriously until some point during that time. Transferring from Tallahassee Community College to Florida State, James' rise to the 33rd pick in the NBA draft would have been impossible to predict, a fact he's admitted himself.
A breakdown of the FSU career of Bernard James, courtesy of sports reference:
Season School Conf G MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS 2010-11 Florida State ACC 34 21.1 3.4 5.2 .657 0.0 0.0 1.7 3.4 .504 5.9 0.2 0.9 2.4 1.5 1.6 8.6 2011-12 Florida State ACC 35 28.0 4.5 7.4 .606 0.0 0.0 1.8 3.3 .552 8.1 0.5 0.7 2.3 2.1 1.9 10.8 Career Florida State 69 24.6 4.0 6.3 .627 0.0 0.0 1.8 3.4 .528 7.0 0.3 0.8 2.4 1.8 1.8 9.7
For James, unfortunately, perhaps what makes him such an interesting writing subject also diminishes his chances of having sustained success in the NBA. He will be 28 years old by the time the season ends. For comparison, Dwight Howard is a full 10 months younger than Bernard James. The man known affectionately as "Sarge" spent most of what for other players would be prime years serving his country and getting his degree. While this does, to offer a counterpoint, clearly reduce the mileage on his body, the lack of experience and delayed basketball growth puts him behind the learning curve, and means that he won't physically have the luxury younger players do to sit and wait for a few years before being ready to come in and play.
The other issues making James' battle(if you'll pardon the unintended pun) an uphill one are that he's maybe a tad undersized for the center spot, measuring at barely 6'10 in shoes and just under 230 pounds, and that on offense at this point he is going to be a "catch it under the hoop" guy only. Given the aforementioned lack of experience, it is conceivable to think he might develop some kind of move in the low post, but as of right now he's very likely an energy and defense guy exclusively. Note the poor free throw percentage If there is a measurable worth mentioning as positive, it's James 7'3 wingspan, which should allow him to block shots as he did at FSU.
Sarge's biggest strength, in my view, is his...well, strength. Not physical strength, necessarily, but his strength of will, of character. Much like the man taken right after him, Jae Crowder, Bernard James is a self-made NBA player. He wasn't highly recruited going into college, wasn't highly touted leading up to the draft, and at every stage James has persevered, and pushed himself to the next level. Really, think about it: how many servicemen would have even considered trying to enter into professional athletics after all that time? The fact that he's here at all shows that he is a determined. If he fails as an NBA player, it won't be because he didn't work enough, didn't try hard enough, or didn't do his job off the court. You can tell from how he conducts his interviews that he's all-business.
A lot can change during training camp, and the preseason. Right now, my expectation is that Bernard James will begin the season(or at least spend some amount of time) with the Texas Legends, under new coach Eddie Najera, who would undoubtedly find a kindred spirit in James. If Sarge does make the team, it's going to be tough for him to crack out a regular rotation spot, with Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, and Brandan Wright at least all theoretically ahead on the depth chart. However, given James' advantages in bulk and his time anchoring the defensively stout Florida State squad, it isn't unfathomable to think he could surpass Brandan Wright, who, for all his athletic gifts, has struggled at times to fill the role defensively that Dallas expects from the center position.