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Replacement players providing spark for Mavericks

They’re playing like pros

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks aren’t the Dallas Mavericks–at least not entirely. With positive COVID-19 results sidelining seven rostered players, the team resembles little of its opening night appearance. It’s a mishmash of players on 10-day contracts.

Dallas signed six replacement players in the past several days. Charlie Brown Jr., Marquese Chriss, Carlik Jones, George King, Brandon Knight, and Theo Pinson are the new faces. While their time with the Mavs will likely be short, they’re helping provide a spark to a depleted roster and a team that was doing little more than treading water.

“I think you give them a fair opportunity to fight–and their last two games, they did,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “For the guys this is their second game, Theo [Pinson] and those guys, [Marquese] Chriss, they did everything they could. And for the new guys, [Brandon] Knight, George [King], they’ve just got to get their feet settled.”

Thursday night, in a 102-95 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, both Chriss and Pinson got their second taste of action. Again, they put on a performance that indicates that they have the skills to compete at an NBA level.

Pinson played more than 21 minutes, contributing nine points–all three-pointers–four rebounds, and one assist. In two games, he’s averaging eight points, four rebounds, and two assists.

It was Chriss, though, who really provided a spark for the Mavericks. In 13 minutes, he poured in 13 points, grabbed five rebounds, and snatched two steals. He is averaging 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in 15.0 minutes.

“I feel like my role is pretty simple – set good screens, roll to the basket, play defense, and rebound,” Chriss said. “I think all of those things are controlled by my energy and effort. It’s not really that hard for me. I think the biggest thing was just sitting at home watching everybody else play and missing it and feeling like I could contribute and be somewhere and be myself.”

It’s not just Chriss and Pinson who are making meaningful contributions. Jones, King, and Knight also saw minutes against Milwaukee. For Jones, a Summer League standout who’s been playing well as a member of the G League’s Texas Legends, it was his NBA debut. He finished with two rebounds and three assists.

Adding six new players does bring challenges. They’re all still learning sets and plays. While it can make things difficult at times, their mentality and determination have been a benefit for the team.

“It’s a lot of positive energy actually,” Sterling Brown said. “A lot of guys are coming in and we all still think we can win. That is the mentality in the locker room. The new guys don’t know as many sets, so it is hard to get in a rhythm as a team. It is just a lot of positive energy trying to keep things going and keep the guys that have been here in a good rhythm.”

The energy and contributions of the players brought in on COVID-19 hardship exemptions are more than just stopgap measures to fill roster voids. They are providing a spark to a team spinning its wheels, playing .500 basketball. Dallas’ rotation players need to harness the effort and determination of the replacement players.

Chriss, Pinson, and the rest of the replacements helped the Mavericks hang with the Bucks for 48 minutes. Not a lot of players can say that. Dallas can use players like that. Unfortunately, the replacements won’t be around forever.

“Unfortunately, they’re on the clock; it’s only 10 days,” Kidd said. “I don’t know what the rules are but if you bring them back another 10 days, we’ll see who makes that. Again, against the world champs — depleted or not — we were in the game and those guys fought.”