In the NBA, depth is, at once, all things and nothing. It is overrated and understated. Assumed and glaringly evident. Precious and nonessential. It’s a valuable tool in enduring injuries and the rigors of the regular season, but rarely a true advantage in the playoffs. And yet, it’s difficult to find favorable playoff positioning without solid depth, regardless of the non-impact it plays on the next level.
This season, the Mavs have had their own fun little adventures in bench depth. In the past, the Mavs were considered one of the league’s deepest teams: they boasted either DeSegana Diop or Erick Dampier, a productive bench scorer in Jerry Stackhouse, assorted veteran defenders in Adrian Griffin and Devean George, a sparkplug in Darrell Armstrong, and versatility in players like Marquis Daniels. At the start of 2008-2009, they had Jason Terry, a slightly regressed Diop, an injured Stackhouse, undersized forwards, an undersized point guard, and a few aging pieces. Things only seemed poised to fall from there, with Diop regression from shot-blocking force to interior waste of space. Stack’s foot got sick and never got better. And the rest of the bench unit played like they suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of forty.
Diop is long since gone, with Ryan Hollins and Ryan Hollins taking his place. It was a trade that seemed largely financially motivated, a desperate attempt to save as much as possible by dealing Diop’s now incredibly generous (previously it was just ‘quite generous’) midlevel contract. But since that time, Ryan Hollins has bolstered a bench rotation that has impressed time and time again, showing demonstrative growth since those early months. We wondered where the Mavs would find a filler at center without Diop, but Brandon Bass, James Singleton, and Ryan Hollins have fit the bill. We wondered how J.J. Barea would be able to get by defensively, but his improvement and Jason Kidd’s defensive versatility give the Mavs plenty of options. We lamented the lack of size and interior scoring, but Bass and Singleton have been relentless rebounders and effort scorers. Combine those three with Jason Terry, and you essentially have created a bench from nothing.
Barea’s growth in particular has been remarkable. At the beginning of this season, I wondered whether Barea wouldn’t be better served as a team’s third point guard, a spark plug to fill to role of the now retired Darrell Armstrong. His shot came and went, he seemed to get blocked frequently, his passing was often careless, and at 6’0” (yeah, right), he was a huge liability defensively. Virtually all of those weaknesses have been washed away. Barea isn’t just a sparkplug, but a bundle of energy able to channel his energy into aggressive drives to the rim that produce scores for himself or others. He’s developed a heightened court sense, more aware than ever of how the defense will respond to his moves and the moves of his teammates. It seems petty, but things as simple as picking his spots and being in the right place for a spot-up three have been huge differences in his game. Barea rarely forces the issue anymore, and is a contributing scorer on a regular basis. He’s not a great defender, but his counterparts perform at an average level (15.6 PER). He uses his size as an advantage, drawing offensive fouls on a regular basis. This is a six-foot, undrafted point guard who has taken his role on the team by the throat, earned every minute on the floor, and excelled. I don’t know if Barea will ever be a starting caliber point guard in the lig, but as a back-up, the guy has been studly.
Brandon Bass has emerged as a quality rebounder, a strong defender, and a dominant scorer for stretches. His touch from midrange is feathery soft, and his dunks are solid as a rock. And, like Barea, he’s picking his spots more carefully. He’s not playing for a spot in the rotation, he’s playing because he helps the team wins. Maybe having that security is just what Bass needed, but regardless, Bass’ play on both ends is more disciplined and more effective.
If Bass was, in part at least, a known commodity, James Singleton has been this season’s big surprise. He can’t contribute offensively in just any situation, but his work on the defensive end and on the glass is universally effective. He’s a big, strong body that can give lots of players trouble, and he plays with an energy that few opponents can match. He’s 100% effort and a quality look at the 3,4, or 5, which is the kind of defensive versatility the Mavs had no idea they had.
All of this, and the Mavs still have Ryan Hollins and Gerald Green in the oven.
Depth isn’t the be-all and end-all. But it ain’t nothin’ neither. When the situation calls for it, a coach needs to be able to rely on his bench to not surrender a lead or the team’s momentum. I definitely feel that between Terry, Barea, Bass, and Singleton, Carlisle has that. Would a lack of depth be the Mavs’ vulnerability in the playoffs? Luckily, we won’t have to find out.