When Rick Carlisle switched Vince Carter for Delonte West in the starting lineup, he mentioned how unstable the off-guard spot in Dallas' starting lineup has been since his tenure. From playing small forwards out of position (Josh Howard, Caron Butler), using the sixth man (Jason Terry), and plugging in one way players (DeShawn Stevenson, J.J. Barea) the Mavs have seen quite the mix of starting two's in Carlisle's time in Dallas.
And by all accounts, Delonte West might be the most complete player of the bunch.
West's season will never be noticed by national pundits or casual observers, after all, the Mavs are an ugly 1-4 after being run out of the gym by Miami and Denver, hearbroken by Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City and laid waste by Ricky Rubio's coming out party. There isn't much to Dallas to watchers outside of diehard fans/NBA writers other than their horrible start both offensively and defensively. It's hard to praise the play of an individual when the team has been just so bloody awful. But West deserves the one ray of light cracking through the rubble.
He's provided Dallas something it didn't have at the off-guard starting spot all of last year: two-way play. While Stevenson and Barea both had their merits, neither featured a well-rounded game. Stevenson was defensively focused (with a surprising three-point shot) and Barea was all offense, the Mavs only true penetrator in pick and roll situations. West is a combination of the two.
His shooting percentage's aren't sparkling in either normal or advanced metrics, but he's getting to the rim right now than he has at any point of his career. And not only is he getting to the rim (three shots per game according to HoopData) but he's also finishing well, shooting 66.7 percent. That has to do with being in a better situation and having better offensive post players then he had in Cleveland and Boston, his two biggest playing time destinations.
His ability to run the pick and roll much like Barea has given the Maverick's starters a welcome boost for the first seven minutes that Carlisle gives West before subbing him in for Jason Terry. His assist rates have been solid throughout his career and this year is no exception. West's passing never catches attention because he lacks the flashy assists that lead to lob dunks or transition magic. But he consistently makes the right pass, the right play in a pick and roll and sometimes, that's a far more valuable trait. In such a short time, West looks completely comfortable working the two-man game with Dirk, realizing when to turn the corner hard and get to the rim, when to drop it off to Dirk, or when the play has been blown up and then in turn set a screen for Dirk to find himself open for a corner three or short 18-footer.
Defensively, West possesses less size than Stevenson, but makes up for it with surprising strength and smarts. West's defensive fundamentals are sound, shuffling his feet and keeping his man in front of him on dribble drives, something most of the other Maverick guards can't say. He flat out works and his strength was showed off in the Miami game, as Dwyane Wade tried to post up West multiple times and West was fighting and holding his ground. Wade is a spectacular post player for a guard thanks to his craft footwork and considerable upper-body strength for a two-guard, but there was West, not budging. Wade got to him a few times but that speaks more to Wade's brilliance then any defensive limitations on West's part. West still has a ways to go on defensive rotations to the corner, but there's no reason he can't pick that part up. He's also quite the thief, using his smarts and solid footwork and hands to put himself in positions of creating turnovers. His 1.8 steals per game are only second to Jason Kidd.
Which is why it's currently hard to take that West only grabs about 22 minutes per game, while Jason Terry and Jason Kidd close out games. It's hard to want to take away Kidd and Terry's play down the stretch, the two just won an NBA title thanks to their steller guard play to close out games, but clearly something will have to change as the Mavs don't have the personell to make up for Kidd and Terry's limitations when playing together. One of our own, j0Shi, has kept track of the Kidd/Terry backcourt and it isn't pretty. Right now when the group is on the floor, the Mavs defensive efficiency is a putrid 133.14 (that's points allowed per 100 possessions). Right now, the slow feet of Kidd and Terry can't be erased by Tyson Chandler, as now more than ever, the Mavericks need better individual defenders as the team defense suffers without its anchor.
Perhaps that night will be tonight, with Dallas on the second night of a back-to-back against the scary guard matchup of OKC. In the condensed schedule, West deserves his chance. The Maverick's aren't last year's team, so trying last year's formula might not work a second time around. West can help with that, on both ends, perhaps more than anyone else on the roster.