A Diamond in the Rough

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 2, 2009 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

25 minutes: 19 points (7-10 FG), 12 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block
34 minutes: 14 points (5-10 FG), 14 rebounds
21 minutes: 2 points (1-2 FG), 7 rebounds
25 minutes: 12 points (5-6 FG), 9 rebounds, 1 steal, 3 blocks
33 minutes: 12 points (4-8 FG), 16 rebounds, 1 steal

That’s some pretty ridiculous production from an end-of-the-bench hustle player who is making around $800k for the season.  Five games, four ridiculous flurries.  Based on his total production for the season, Singleton registers 12.5 points per 36 minutes and 10.9 rebounds per 36 minutes.  Over his last five, he’s coming in at 15.4 points per 36 (on 61.1% shooting) and 15.1 rebounds per 36.  That is bananas.

With Singleton, it’s as much style as it is substance.  He rips rebounds out of the hands of star players, he swats shots into the front row, and his dunks probably send war veterans into shell shock.  He complements Dirk’s ‘invisible’ dominance with an impossible to overlook display of effort and tenacity.  On top of it all, he’s a few steps removed from the downright nasty intimidators of the league.  Singleton’s drive and passion come with an air of professionalism.

The man’s a maniac on the floor and he’s playing like he’s never played before.  So what’s not to love?  Well, with Singleton, there’s one small problem: he’s currently playing center for the Mavs, and he happens to be just 6’8”.  He’s out-playing the 6’11” Dampier and has shown a better ability to guard the league’s more mobile power forwards and centers, but is he capable of being the Mavs’ starting center?

In a word: no.  The future of the center position is a huge issue for the Mavs, and Singleton could end up playing a prominent role…as a reserve.  It’s hard to argue that the 5 is evolving, mostly due to a lack of traditional post men.  It isn’t a good or bad thing, it just is.  Does that mean that Singleton will be able to play big minutes against the faster, smaller neo-centers?  Absolutely.  But is that approach really going to be effective against the occasional true center?  The Dwight Howards and Yao Mings and Shaquille O’Neals?

Erick Dampier isn’t a premier defensive center in the league, but it’s an incredibly underrated aspect of his game.  He has the size and strength to make life hell for big men.  Dampier also has one more feature that Singleton does not: motivation issues.  In 2006, the two-headed center of DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier was fine and dandy.  All was right in the world.  Since that time, however, we’ve seen the most pronounced criticism of Dampier take center stage: Damp’s outbursts are merely glimpses into a world of fantasy.  Damp will never be the type of center that can provide superb production on a regular basis.  For every 15 and 15 game, there’s a 2 and 2 game.

James Singleton, on the other hand, has gone through a career of rejection.  He wasn’t drafted, and spent last season out of the league entirely.  His style of play makes him seem expendable, but he’s surprisingly valuable.  Singleton has unquestionably been the better of the two over the last five, but which is more likely to come off the pine and still contribute?  It may be a pity, but motivation is a very real issue in professional sports.  If you buy into the fact that starting actually means something (which to some, it does), then Singleton outplaying Damp could seem like a travesty to the rotation.  In a perfect world, that would be true, but it’s just too easy to simultaneously accommodate Dampier and hide Singleton’s lack of height in his current shot-in-the-arm role.  It gives Carlisle options, the importance of which should never be discounted.

I’d hate to overstate the significance of such a small sample size, especially when four of the five games came against fairly inferior teams (Toronto, OKC, Milwaukee, Sacramento), and Singleton’s worst game of the bunch was coincidentally against the San Antonio Spurs (although Duncan and Ginobili missed the game due to injury).  I’m not ready to pronounce Singleton the Mavs’ savior.  What he is, however, is a helluva back-up plan at the 5.  His career per-minute numbers are impressive enough to feel optimistic, but the strategy should still be to default Dampier.  If he has trouble on the defensive end or lacks energy, you throw Singleton into the mix and see what happens.  It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s likely the best one the Mavs have under the circumstances.  The Mavs still don’t have that dynamite option at center, but if Singleton can continue to do as Singleton does, Rick Carlisle may have just stumbled into a way to solve his back-up center problems.

  • Charles

    There was one particular play last night, Bosh got the ball high post against James. He drove, spun, and did all the Boshy things he usually does. What did James do? Play perfect defense against a guy 3 inches taller than him without the slightest hint of a foul, hands all up in the air.

    I had tears in my eyes.