Mavericks rookie Justin Anderson dominated the D-League on Friday, scoring 34 points on 24 shots with the Texas Legends. He was going to suit up for the Legends again Saturday before Deron Williams' illness led the Mavs to recall him back to Dallas.
Anderson then played a zero minutes against the Wizards. In an embarrassing loss.
Even as the Mavs went down by as much as 21 points late in the third quarter against Washington, Anderson couldn't get off the bench. Neither could Jeremy Evans, who scored 17 points in the same D-League game after volunteering to spend time in the D-League. Instead, Rick Carlisle went with a three-guard lineup for much of the second half, even playing a four-guard lineup at times with Wes Matthews and three point guards. Dallas eventually came within one point the final seconds after a torrid comeback effort before eventually falling short.
A last second loss in early December without your starting point isn't that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. But you have to wonder if Anderson can't get any minutes with the starters falling so far behind in this kind of game, when does he play? The Mavs' undersized lineup eventually got them back into the game but only after giving up 39 points to the Wizards in the third frame.
Anderson probably still doesn't have a great grasp of team defensive concepts -- most rookies don't two months into the season. And there's nothing in advanced numbers from his recent appearances to suggest he's having a huge impact on that end of the floor when he's in the game. But it's hard to imagine Dallas doing much worse than the six 3-pointers the team gave up in the third quarter on Saturday night -- many of them wide open looks for Washington forwards Otto Porter and Jared Dudley. It probably didn't help that the guys closing out on those shooters were usually 6'3 and under. With a 6'11 wingspan, Anderson has the type of length to at least make perimeter shooters give a little extra thought to an attempt.
The last time the Mavericks' first round pick got any significant playing time was Nov. 28 against the Nuggets, when he was minus-14 in nine minutes. And the tape from that game would look just as bad as those numbers.
We can't know what a player looks like in practice. But if Carlisle and the Dallas coaching staff are going to use spot minutes with other third-stringers to say that a player is ready for a bigger role, we could be waiting a while for Anderson to carve out more minutes. It's hard to see what the downside would be if the team started force feeding more PT to the rookie. Chandler Parsons has been a net negative in December. And the team knows what it's going to get out of guys like J.J. Barea, Devin Harris and even Ray Felton at this point.
The Mavs owe it to themselves to eventually give Anderson a shot in lineups with stronger teammates to see if he could at least hold his own, even if more minutes would come with their share of hiccups. Of course, we've written this plea to Carlisle a half dozen times before, and a half dozen times veterans like Mike James or Eddie Jones ended up with the minutes instead. Rookies make mistakes that veterans don't and Carlisle is a man who strongly dislikes surprises.
But this isn't a team with a lot of raw talent and -- outside of Parsons' slow return to full health -- Dallas can't expect a lot of internal improvement from this squad. The only potential exception is younger players like Anderson and second-year big man Dwight Powell earning bigger roles. Maybe slogging through some mistakes is worth it in the long run.
All three of the Mavericks' backups guards (Barea, Harris, Felton) can make contributions in limited roles. But the only way to raise the team's ceiling for next spring is to see what Anderson is capable of with consistent minutes.