Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The Mavericks point guard situation has been inconsistent at best, eye-gouge worthy at worst. Through it all, Darren Collison has continually improved and it's time he gets the role he deserves.
When Mike James hoisted that potential game-winning three-pointer in the Mavericks overtime loss to the Thunder last week, that was probably the best thing for the Dallas Mavericks.
Sure, if James rattled in that three and won the game, it'd feel great. Super. Awesome. Terrific. The Mavericks would have a (current) six-game winning streak and found their "answer" to their point guard problem.
The morale would be high. Local media scribes would be tweeting things like, "And THIS is why Mike James was brought in," and "James veteran presence is EXACTLY what this team needs right now" and "Only Mike James had the BALLS to drain that dagger three, exactly what this team needs...RIGHT NOW."
It would amplify on the radio. Broadcasters would harp on Darren Collison being a nice player that just shrinks in crunch time, that Rick Carlisle is a genius and that Mike James' veteran-ness just oozes from his veins and infects the rest of the team. Or something.
But, I'm ultimately glad Mike James took that three-pointer and missed it terribly. I'm so very glad. Because I am willing to sacrifice one win against the league's best team (and taking them to overtime was a good enough feat for the Mavericks to feel better about themselves anyway) if it ensures that we rid the Mike James plague from our collective minds and basketball watching.
Because Mike James isn't very good. I'm sorry to shock all 22 non-family Mike James fans out there, but the 37-year-old point guard who hasn't played meaningful basketball since 2009 isn't that great. As infuriating as the Derek Fisher signing was, there was at least some credibility to it: Fisher has the "skins on the wall" and for whatever clubhouse leadership means to a team (unless we're on the team, we will never know how to truly value this) the players responded well to Fisher's arrival.
But Mike James? 37-year-old Mike James who parlayed one good season in Toronto into a substantial NBA career? The Mike James who was just chilling, playing hoops in his local gym that NONE of the other NBA teams even bothered to sign? And it's not like point guard is just a bountiful position in the NBA. There are several teams that need some stability at the point guard spot (The Lakers desperately need a back-up point, so do the Grizzlies, Hawks, Pacers and almost EVERY TEAM IN THE LEAGUE. Getting a good starting point guard is hard enough. Having a serviceable backup? That's double the challenge. Ask the 2011 Mavericks and Heat about how crucial/detrimental the backup point guard position was to their respective teams.)
It'd be different if it were someone like Patrick Beverly, a young player that slipped through the cracks and became lost like most dropped second rounders do (by the way, Beverly has come to Houston and posted a very respectable 14.89 PER in six games with the Rockets...in seven games, James has a 2.93 PER.)
What's more insulting than the mere thought of James coming in and becoming the crunch-time point guard is what it says about Darren Collison...or what it should have said. It should have said Darren Collison has been such a disaster that Rick Carlisle is left with no better choice.
Except Collison isn't playing nicely with that narrative. After being yo-yo'd all season by Carlisle, getting benched in favor of both Fisher AND James, Collison has rebounded from a dreadful November and December to post a very solid January.
In January, Collison is averaging 13.7 points, 5.5 assists and 1.7 turnovers per game (with a respectable 3.2 assist/turnover ratio.) He's doing that while shooting 50 percent from the floor, 50 percent from three and 92.3 percent from the foul line. Collison hasn't had more turnovers than assists since Dec. 23 and while his finishing at the rim at times looks a bit weak, he's shooting a career-high 68.2 percent at that range. For what it's worth, he's also averaging a career-high in shots attempted and made at the rim per game.
(Also for what it's worth, Collison is posting better assist/turnover numbers this month then Steve Nash. Even though the situations are hard to compare, I couldn't resist in joining in on dumping the Lakers.)
The defense is still...trouble. In the game against the Magic on Sunday, Collison was routinely lost/confused/destroyed on off-ball screens to free up Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick. Redick's last three-pointer that made the game closer than it should was partly Collison's fault, as he watched Redick get off a clean look instead of helping of his man and trust the defense behind him.
But that's nothing compared to Mike James. In his limited time on the court, James is allowing a staggering 36.5 PER to opposing point guards, per 82games.com. Opposing point guards also have an effective field goal percentage of 61.1 percent against James. That is beyond awful. The small sample size is the only thing that prevents me from lurching my lunch as I type that.
In fact, it's amazing that Collison hasn't already whittled under Carlisle's yanking and pulling of his rotation spot. So far this season, Collison has been the starting point guard, back-up point guard, starting point guard and starting-but-not-closing point guard.
Remember the other young, talented point guard that went through that same ritual? His name is Rodrigue Beaubois and his corpse is sitting somewhere at the end of the Dallas bench. And while I think that Beaubois' foot injury before the 2010-2011 season is what derailed him the most, his confidence is beyond repair and there's no doubting that.
Cue up some film of Beaubois during the Mavericks opening night (then) upset of the Lakers in October. Beaubois looked confident and played 17 minutes, dished out five assists (with no turnovers!) and scored 11 points. Beaubois played another 15 productive minutes against Utah before twisting his ankle before the Mavs third game.
When Beaubois returned he played five straight mediocre-to-bad games and then...gone. Fisher was brought in, Dominique Jones played in front of him and Beaubois has been pretty much buried at the end of the bench since. He has three DNP-CD's in a row and has averaged 12.6 minutes per game this month.
While Beaubois' play wasn't inspiring in those five games back, there was no vote of confidence from Carlisle. After those five games, it was over. So, after what looked like would be a great bounce-back year, another injury and another seat at the end of the bench has dried up any usefulness Beaubois may or may not have had.
Somehow, Collison went through almost the same process. He was benched and played 10 minutes in a loss to Memphis and then just two games later, Carlisle had to start him by default against the Thunder because Fisher left the team. Somehow, Collison played 40 minutes and scored 32 points.
Throughout it all, from reports, Collison has showed professionalism and support for his teammates, whether he's benched for a 37-year-old or asked to start against the league's best team. After getting benched in crunch-time in favor of Mike James, Collison came in to close out the Magic game and promptly nailed a dagger three-pointer. Like it was nothing. Bless you, Darren Collison. I don't know how you have survived this long and on your third team in four years.
So, Rick Carlisle, you have a choice. You can play the 25-year-old point guard that is improving as the season goes despite your start-him, bench-him, sit-him effects AND the weak shooting from your MVP-centerpiece or you can play the 37-year-old point guard on his second 10-day contract who turns opposing point guards into a LeBron-Durant-Jesus like basketball monster.
Your call, Rick.