It isn't often that the Mavericks bring in exciting young talent. Sure, in the 1990s the team loaded up on young, skilled players. However, that didn't work out (thanks, Toni Braxton).
Since the turn of the millennium, the team did bring in some nice young talent such as Josh Howard, Marquis Daniels, and Devin Harris. Despite their skill sets, they never really had awe-inspiring athleticism. Instead, the team under Avery Johnson was focused on defense, making the right play, and half-court offense. In 2006, though, the team brought in a player who defied this fundamental approach to the game. He was a long energetic player who lived for the highlight play. He was Pops Mensah-Bonsu.
Mensah-Bonsu spent his college career at the George Washington University. He made a name for himself there leading the Colonials to two consecutive NCAA Tournament berths in his final two seasons, including a school record of 27-3 in his final season. In his four years, Mensah-Bonsu average 11.7 points, six rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game. He totaled 141 blocks during his time at George Washington. Kevin Durant would later learn about his shot blocking prowess.
Of course, what made him stand out were his dunks. They were ferocious. It's a wonder how he never brought the backboard down. These plays endeared him to SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt, who, for a time, would look to mention him during broadcasts.
Despite the promise Mensah-Bonsu's game showed, he was sidelined by injuries for stretches during his final two years at GWU. As a result, he went undrafted. However, the Mavs took a chance on him, initially signing him to a two-year contract. Mensah-Bonsu would play for both of Dallas' Summer League teams in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. He averaged just over eight points, five rebounds, and one block combined in Summer League play.
This impressed the Mavericks and he made the roster. He appeared in just one game before he was sent to their D-League affiliate Fort Worth Flyers in December of 2006. With the Flyers, Mensah-Bonsu was selected to the D-League All Star Game, winning MVP. He scored 30 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the game.
Soon after, he was called up by Dallas, joining the team on February 8, 2007. Sadly, Johnson never quite knew what to do with Mensah-Bonsu. He was spent the rest of the season being sent down the Flyers and recalled several times. Mensah-Bonsu did see enough time in the NBA to play in 12 games during his first season. In those 12 games, he averaged 2.4 points and 1.8 rebounds in 5.9 minutes. They aren't great numbers but his per-36 minutes numbers are outstanding.
Mensah-Bonsu never really had the chance to display his full range of skills with the Mavs. The Little General wasn't one to hand out opportunities. They had to be earned and even then it wasn't a guarantee. It's really a shame. Mensa-Bonsu's insane athleticism was a gift. He exited the crowd with his hops and his energy. In reality, though, Dallas was a perennial playoff contender. The team just didn't have room to experiment with young, raw talent. They didn't need to.
Anyone who saw Pops play knows that Dallas missed a chance to sell some jerseys. Fans at American Airlines Center are always looking for a player off the bench to cheer for; to become endeared to. Mensah-Bonsu fit the mold.
At least, several years later, he became such a player for the Toronto Raptors and Great Britain's national team. In Dallas, he was just another body on the bench.