Today is one of SB Nation's League-wide theme days, and the subject this time around is something often discussed and rarely defined: hype.
What exactly is "hype"? A fairly subjective thing, to be sure. Hype, in my view, is synonymous with another word, one separated by a single letter. Hype is hope.
That's invariably what I think about when I look back at the time Rodrigue Beaubois spent in Dallas. In a time before Dallas captured their first title, when the team looked old and their window seemed to be on the brink of closing, Roddy B was the man who represented hope that Dallas could finally put a star next to Dirk Nowitzki again. As we all know, Dallas was able to raise that banner, but they did so without Roddy's help, and now, as Dallas moves further away from that high-water mark, they do so without Roddy altogether.
The French guard, still just 25, was made an unrestricted free agent by Dallas this offseason, and has still yet to sign with an NBA team. As we enter September, the possibility exists that Roddy has finished his professional career in the United States. That would have been completely and utterly unthinkable just three seasons ago.
It seemed fitting to dedicate today's theme of hype to Roddy, as now it seems the final chapter on "Roddy Buckets" as a Mav has been written.
Beaubois was acquired on a draft day trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2009. Discovered by fellow native of Guadeloupe Mickael Pietrus, Beaubois was a relatively unheralded prospect initially who shot up draft boards with an impressive combine showing where he displayed his extraordinary length (a 6'10 wingspan) and leaping ability. Intrigued by his athletic tools and upside, Dallas brought in Rodrigue, and though there was speculation Beabuois would stay overseas to help harness his raw ability, he instead made an instant impression on coaches and fans alike.
A week into the season, Beaubois made his first start, replacing the injured Quinton Ross, and Roddy scored the Mavs' first nine points, the first basket being what would become a staple of his repertoire, the "Roddy Oop", where Roddy would hand the ball off at the top of the circle, blow past his defender thanks to a high screen, and soar for a lob dunk perfectly placed by Jason Kidd, all before the defense knew what was even happening.
Even for coach Rick Carlisle, notoriously stringent in giving out minutes to rookies, Roddy was hard to keep benched. As the season wound down, and Beaubois had continued to do well in limited action, Carlisle set him loose in the month of March. Beaubois would serve notice: he averaged over 13 points in 18 minutes per game, shooting 56% from the field and 46% from three. After putting up 24 against Chicago and 22 on the Kings, Beaubois simply went off against Golden State in a game that is now Mavs lore: 40 points, 9-11 from 3, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks for good measure. The 6'2, 170-pound-when-soaking-wet kid had now exploded onto the scene. The Free Roddy B movement was in full swing.
Just looking at that highlight reel...it's not really all that difficult to see why Mark Cuban called the kid "untouchable", something now used as a punchline against both he and Roddy B. You see a complete offensive package: spot up threes, floaters in the lane, transition dunks. You see a young man with tremendous physical gifts, refined dribbling and shooting skill and sky high confidence.
The game I'll remember perhaps even more than that one, which in honesty was a relatively unimportant late-season matchup with a clearly inferior opponent, is Roddy's performance that same year in game 6 of the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs. Dallas was down 22-8 (yes, 8) after one quarter, and down 39-19 midway through the second quarter, when Carlisle put in Beaubois. Dallas looked like they were going to be booted out of the stadium and the playoffs pretty unceremoniously and the move was clearly of the "what the hell" variety.
Then, when Roddy came in, the game changed. It actually changed. It felt different. The way a game feels different when a star player reenters after a brief rest, and you can sense the opponent collectively taking a deep breath. Dallas would climb all the way back and even take the lead in the third, at 57-56, and in that moment I believed Rodrigue Beaubois was special. Not just because he could seemingly score at will, and against playoff caliber defense rather than Golden State caliber defense, but because there was this clear sense that he was single-handedly altering the dynamics of the contest. When he was on the court, there was hope.
Dallas lost when Roddy inexplicably sat on the bench most of the final quarter, and the Spurs marched to a double-digit victory. After the game, Rick Carlisle vowed to not make the same mistake again, stating that he would play Beaubois more the next season. For anyone who doesn't quite remember that period in Maverick history, that felt like just about the best thing Dallas had going for them, with an aging core, no Tyson Chandler (yet), and a disconcerting dropoff in both talent and production from Dirk Nowitzki to whoever the team's second best player was.
In August of that summer, Roddy broke his foot training with the French national team. What we know with the aid of hindsight is that this was essentially the beginning of the end, which seems strange to say given Roddy's story barely has a middle.
What exactly contributed to Roddy's slow erosion as a player isn't clear, but it started there. Beaubois was expected to be back by that December, but didn't play his first game until midway through February. The not-so-secret secret was that Roddy had a serious setback, perhaps a second break, and the time off clearly cut into his development time. For many, the expectation wasn't that Roddy be close to what he was as a rookie, over even the same. For many, Roddy had the future of the franchise on his shoulders, whether he knew it or not, and he was expected to improve in ways that would have been next to impossible given his lack of healthy practice time.
There were moments in the following three years when Roddy hinted at the potential he'd previously hinted at as a rookie. But those moments were few and far between. When his shot wasn't falling, Roddy's confidence seemed to disappear, and when he seemed like he might finally be breaking out of his slump and gaining some momentum, a minor injury would crop up and Roddy would lose his progress. The hope was still there, and most of us wanted so desperately to see Roddy break through again. I can only imagine those within the organization felt similarly.
I have no idea what the future holds for Roddy. He could almost certainly have a career overseas, where his speed and creativity with the ball would seem to make him well suited to the fast-paced style of play. Whether or not he'll play again in the NBA is less certain, and if he does, it's hard to bet on him ever becoming a regular contributor.
For years, Dallas has been a veteran squad that employed cagey, reliable types, rather than exciting, athletic ones. The team has not seen an abundance of draft-and-development success stories. Roddy would have been one of the best, had he worked out, and perhaps an important part of franchise going forward, as the grains in the hourglass run out on the wonderful career of Dirk Nowitzki. I suppose, for me, that's the allure of hype. The possibility of what could be is so much more interesting to watch than the grey-toned reality of what is.
Of course, the real reason hype exists is because occasionally, it becomes reality. After all, once upon a time Dirk Nowitzki was a young, unproven, exciting kid, whose career could have gone in any number of directions. If you waited to appreciate Dirk until he was fully formed, you missed some of the best parts of the ride. So, I guess what I'd like to say, now that I've had some closure on all this, is: bring on the next Roddy B.