Ask an NBA fan about the first thing that comes to mind when you say the name DeShawn Stevenson, and you will get a variety of responses.
Maybe they remember his feud with LeBron James. Maybe they remember that that feud caused Stevenson to get dissed by Jay-Z in one of his raps. Perhaps they think of DeShawn's neck tattoo of our sixteenth president, who occasionally makes appearances at Mavericks games. If they are truly diehards, you might even get told that he was the second place finisher in the 2001 Slam Dunk Competition.
Very rarely will his on court play be the first thing brought up, but this year, he's trying to change that.
Stevenson's career has been up and down, to say the least. He was a high school star at Washington Union High School, averaging 30 points, 10 boards and 6 assists, and stood out by getting named to the first team of the All-USA Today Basketball Team. Basketball scouts saw him with huge potential, even comparing him to Jordan. Though he was committed to play at Kansas, he chose to enter the draft.
Drafted 23rd overall by the Utah Jazz, he understandably struggled. Very few kids coming straight out of high school were instant stars, although the few exceptions would lead one to believe that they all became instant superstars. Stevenson's first good year was his fourth one, despite a mid season trade to Orlando. He ended the year with 11 points and 4 boards per game, while also developing the reputation as a tough man to man defender.
His 04-05 year with Orlando was disappointing, but was followed by another solid year, statistically similar to his fourth season, in which he started all 82 games. His next stop in the NBA was with Washington. Here, he finally established himself as a three point marksman, once again starting 82 games for the Wizards. Previously, his long range effectiveness had been very erratic and not that effective. In 06-07, he made 75 treys on 40% shooting, and the following year, exploded for 158 made on 38% shooting, averaging five attempts a game.
But just when you thought he was finally starting to figure his potential out, he went off and had his 08-09 season. After three straight years of starting all 82 games, he only played in 32. His percentages dropped way off the charts. The next year was no better, his three point percentage dropping below 20%, and when Dallas and Washington negotiated their trade, the Wizards were more than happy to part ways with Stevenson as a throw-in.
Now, Stevenson was able to get a little bit of burn last year, mainly due to his tough, physical defense. However, what I saw was a player thought he was a lot better than he was, and his shots reflected it. In late game blowouts, I seem to remember very few passes, very few drives to the hoop, just lots of perimeter shots and lots of misses.
This year, Stevenson is shooting 57% from three point land, showing off that he might just have found the stroke on his shot once again. This year, Stevenson knows his role...perhaps his 0.4 assists isn't the best measure, but just watching him play, one can see he is taking good shots, and deferring to his teammates.
He's a completely different player.
How big is this for the Mavericks? It means that Brian Cardinal doesn't have to be played just so that a three point specialist can get on the court. It means that less pressure is on Jason Terry, who will go through cold streaks, and Dirk, who prefers the twenty footer, to hit threes. It means that Shawn Marion and Caron Butler can spot up outside the less and less, which, as everyone will agree, is a fantastic thing. And it means that at least until Rodrigue Beaubois gets back, our starting lineup is set.
Is it a guarantee that this is the new DeShawn Stevenson? No. But if he keeps it up, he might finally be known as a basketball player first.