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The unsung hero of the Dallas Mavericks season: Theo Pinson

Theo Pinson on his energy on the bench and his team-first mentality.

Dallas Mavericks v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

In late December, Theo Pinson’s eyes were set on Las Vegas and the G League Showcase. His bags were packed, and he felt the Maine Celtics had a good team, one that could win it. But right before he left for the airport, the Dallas Mavericks called to say they were interested in bringing him in for a 10-day COVID-19 hardship contract.

“It all happened so fast,” Pinson told me, laughing. “It was so crazy, cause my mom and dad had flown to Vegas to come watch me play for the showcase, and I had to call them, like ‘uh... I’m not going to Vegas anymore. I’m actually going to Dallas.’”

After signing with the Mavericks, Pinson racked up four steals in his first game, quickly becoming a fan favorite. He played more than 20 minutes in each of his first three games with the team, a role he earned by bringing the sort of energy and enthusiasm Dallas desperately needed. Prior to Pinson’s arrival in Dallas, the team felt stale. Fans had been watching virtually the same roster for years, and there was a general lack of gusto on the court. The Mavericks weren’t great, they weren’t horrible. They were just... fine. And “fine” is something a team with Luka Doncic should never be.

As COVID woes wane and players have returned to the court, Pinson doesn’t see big minutes anymore (most nights he doesn’t play at all), but his impact on the Mavericks is still crucial, which is why the Mavericks signed him to a second 10-day contract and then to a two-way deal to keep him on the roster for the rest of the regular season.

Pinson provides the enthusiasm and leadership from the bench the team was previously lacking. Check out this play from the Mavericks’ win over the Hawks.

After the bucket, Pinson jumps off the bench, comes onto the court, and daps up Dwight Powell. As a single act, it’s nothing special, but he does this sort of thing constantly.

Pinson has found a way to make an impact on the game without actually playing in the game. That’s a rare, special gift, one that Jalen Brunson thinks Theo Pinson has had for a while. When I asked Brunson about his teammate Theo and his energy on the bench, here’s what he said:

“Whether he’s in the game or on the bench, his energy is top-notch. That goes back to him even in high school. I remember in high school he was the same person with the same energy. He’s never changed. He’s always been that genuine person who really just cares about how others are doing. He truly embodies being a good teammate. When people say they’d do whatever for the team to be successful, he really means it.”

That’s extremely high praise from one of the leaders on this team. Brunson’s talk about Pinson’s team-first mentality makes it easy to see why he gets so hyped on the bench: he genuinely wants his teammates to succeed and thrive. There’s no jealousy that someone gets more minutes than he does. He just wants to see the Mavs win ball games.

“Everything [on the bench] is just genuine,” Pinson told me. “That’s just me as a person.” And his positivity doesn’t just come after nice plays, he loves picking people up after missed shots. He’s the ultimate encourager. “Every time Reg shoots the ball, if he miss, I tell him ‘Next one’s good on my momma.’ I put it on my momma! That’s how much respect and trust I got in Reggie every time he shoots the ball.”

What’s not to love? This is the kind of guy teams need, the kind of guy who makes the locker room more fun, the kind of guy you want in your corner. And he’s not just a hype man; Pinson calls things out on the court as he sees them.

At times, he said, he feels a bit like a coach on the bench. He recalled an instance in the January 25 game in Golden State. “I know one play exactly that I remember to this day,” he explained. “There was a big who fell on the other end, and they had no shot-blocker, and Tim had the ball. I don’t know if Tim realized it until I said it. I’m like, ‘Tim, go to the rim. There’s nobody out there that’s gonna stop you. There’s two little guys in front of you.’ It’s just little stuff like that to help our team get the advantage, you know what I’m saying? I think a lot of teams don’t have that and I try to make sure we do every single night.”

After we hung up, I looked up the play. Pinson’s analysis was spot-on: Tim Hardaway Jr. got the ball, and the only two guys in front of him were Steph Curry and Jordan Poole. He took the ball right at those two guys and got an and-one, something Pinson saw coming from the early stages of the possession.

His teammates aren’t the only ones Pinson has impressed. “Theo has been our MVP,” head coach Jason Kidd told me confidently, his facing lighting up at the mention of Pinson. “His spirit, what he’s done... he doesn’t play a lot, but he’s into the game. And we didn’t have that. That’s been a big part of our success internally. We needed someone to talk, and he’s doing it for 60 minutes because he’s talking in the locker room before the game, and then he’s talking after.”

The Mavericks’ record backs up everything Kidd said. They were 14-15 prior to signing Pinson. Since signing him? The team is 17-8.

Dallas is headed for a tough decision before the playoffs. Under the current rules, players on two-way contracts aren’t eligible for the playoffs unless their contract is converted to a standard contract. But if you watch the games and listen to everything the players and coaches say about Pinson, the decision shouldn’t be so tough after all. “Our spirit and our soul with Theo has been off the charts,” Kidd said.

It’s hard to imagine the Mavericks not wanting that spirit and soul with them when the games really matter.