Last night's Mavs game was very interesting. Not because they won by a lot, without dirk, with only a few points from Monta, or not just because of it, as for whatever reason it's not exactly uncommon for a team to go hog wild for a game or two without their star. It's because the Mavs have pieces that can be used in different ways than they're generally used, and for just one game, Monte Mathis, stepping in for an ill Carlisle, gave us a little glimpse of what that might be like.
The way things are, and the way things have been, are not the only ways they could be. Monte Mathis gave us a glimpse into several Mavericks alternate fantasy scenarios, if the pieces the Mavericks had were used differently.
A lot of that had to do with the nature of the game which was a 59-41 blowout by halftime, but, for example, for those fans who've been clamoring for more Wayne Ellington, tonight as your night, as Wayne went from basically zero to 23 minutes in this game. For those who have been clamoring to unleash Shane Larkin, he got 25 minutes, just behind Carter, Blair and Crowder, fourth most on the team. Crowder started and played the most.
And lest it seem that it was just because it was a blowout, some guys were not beneficiaries of that fact. While Bernard James played 10, Sam Dalembert didn't play any. Shane may have had a lot of minutes but Mekel only got 7.
Some of it was because of the blowout, sure, but a lot of it seems to have been Mathis trying out a different arrangement of the Mavs' chess pieces, and seeing what happened. So let's talk about that. Let's talk about Mathis' fantasy worlds.
Alternate Fantasy Scenario: Wayne Ellington and Shane Larkin get starters (or six and seventh man) minutes
One of the interesting things that happened, in the smallest of sample sizes, is that Carlisle's judgments, unsurprisingly, were basically confirmed. This doesn't really mean anything, it was one game, but for fans who've been clamoring to see more of these guys it was a little bit of a shouted "slow your roll". With how bad Carter has looked, it's certainly seemed like Ellington might be due some of his minutes, and I am far from the least guilty in agitating for that. But here's the thing:
Ellington has once in his career averaged more than 6 minutes a game, and it was two years ago. Meanwhile he's averaged 19 minutes a game over his career. Obviously it FEELS like Ellington could do, at this point, everything Carter does. But there's something the great ones have, something it's hard to see. It's not a big deal that Wayne went 3-11 from the floor or 1-5 from three, it's not destiny. He could easily have gone 5-5, 8-11. He's a good defender with a good shot, a "3 and D" guy. But Carter, who only made two more shots than Wayne, is still clearly the superior player, and he led the team with 9 assists.
As for Larkin, a guy who I'm sure will make good use of his burn, what can you say except that he keeps looking good and keeps not contributing all that much. His 25 minutes featured energy, but just 6 shots, just 2 makes, no threes taken or made, just 3 assists, no steals, and 2 turnovers. One game doesn't mean anything, and there's a reason playoff series are best of 7 games. But this is what it looked like last night.
Alternate Fantasy Scenario: Bernard James is the Mavs' second center
This one was probably more accident than design. With DeJuan playing very well, and Brandan--welcome back, Brandan!--playing very, very well, the Mavs went small and thrived, and since Sam's an older guy there was no reason not to let the young guy do the mop up duties. James, unfortunately, did not impress. His 0-2 is one thing, his 3 rebounds in 10 minutes is another, his -13--one of only three negative numbers on the court for the Mavs, including a -6 for Shane, and a -13 for Gal, is pretty eloquent.
This season I've seen Sarge look good and capable, and I've seen him still look lost. And for a now 28 year old player, the clock is not his friend. There will be some more occasions for Sarge to show he can handle this, and his cheap salary--which runs out this year--prevents him from being a burden of any kind--but with Wright back, Sarge missed one of a diminishing set of chances to keep his NBA hopes alive.
Alternate Fantasy Scenario: Jae Crowder, starters' minutes
The MMB staff is bitterly divided on the subject of Jae Crowder, with me on one end and Doyle on the other. He's a coach's dream in a lot of ways, a hard worker with great defensive positioning and decent basketball instincts. The problem is, he can't make a shot. Period. He cannot score in the NBA. I watched him in person in the Summer League, this summer, and he couldn't score then either. Sometimes people treat this as a trivial issue, something that he'll figure out, something which will naturally come, a disease he will get better from. It almost certainly isn't.
Last night, Jae got by far the most Mavericks minutes. He was the only guy to crack 30 and he had 34, 5 minutes more than DeJuan Blair, 8 more than Vince Carter, more than that over everybody else. He went 2-9, 0-4 from three. On some level it's not even about how badly Jae's shooting as his 44% from the floor and 36% from three aren't exactly the worst numbers anyone's seen from quality rotation players. It's about how Jae is shooting after his magical start, where he couldn't miss.
This month, in six games, Jae is shooting 33% and 18% from three. Since completing a dashing 13-19 from the arc to start the season, he's gone 10 for 43, good for 23%, over 19 games. Take out his one sizzling performance since, a 3-4 game in the win against Golden State, and it's 7 for 39, 18%. In my opinion, there's no coming back from that. In my opinion, Jae is on his way out of the NBA.
But, there are other perspectives. He does many things well, and there's a reason Carlisle, one of the sharpest minds in the game, gives him a lot of time and a reason Monte Mathis gave him even more. My question is, can a non-center be this bad at offense and have a career? I think not. Some say yes.
Alternate Fantasy Scenario: Brandan Wright Smashes Everything
Wait, this isn't a fantasy scenario. This is real life.