Shawn Marion is a Maverick. He’s a big name and a notable contract to be sure, but the Mavs are banking on him being more than a shade of his former self. They’re banking on him being more than his 16 PER last season, on more than his 18.9% from three last season, and more than an aging athlete on tired legs.
For what it’s worth, I think the Mavs’ brass may have been on-point with this one.
There are a lot of reasons not to like Marion as a Maverick, or really Marion on any team for any substantial amount of money going forward. He’s coming off of a miserable season, one that lends plenty of credence to claims of a decline. Marion made a name for himself as an impressive finisher with unbelievable athleticism, and as a quick, strong wing defender. While Shawn can certainly still get above the rim, I think it’s safe to say that 28,000 minutes have taken the edge off of his vertical. Sadly enough, the same goes for Marion’s defense. Marion was once a modern marvel on the defensive end, capable of guarding just about anyone on the floor. He had the lateral quickness to keep up with guards and the height and reach to contest forwards. Dirk once credited Marion as one of the best defenders he had ever faced, which is no light praise. But the Marion that will be suiting up for the Mavs this season is likely not that same Marion. That is, if you accept what recent memory has told us about Marion’s regression.
It’s easy to say that Shawn Marion isn’t quite the athlete he used to be, but it’s more difficult to pinpoint exactly why 2008-2009 was Marion’s worst outing since his rookie campaign. Marion did look shackled, but not necessarily by the rigors of an aging body; he looked completely uncomfortable in offenses that weren’t tailor-made to his strengths, he seemed lost without Steve Nash’s guiding passes, and he seemed overwhelmed as an offensive focal point.
The Mavs do (or will, if you want to be technical) employ one Jason Kidd, whose lobs and knack for maximizing the talents of role players with finishing abilities should make Shawn flashback to brighter days. That’s one regard in which the Heat and the Raptors could never compete. Jose Calderon is a fine point guard, but isn’t a gun-slinging, risk-taking playmaker in the Kidd/Nash mold. Dwyane Wade is a good passer, but he was created of flesh and metal to score the damn basketball, not appease Marion.
While the Mavs won’t be confused with the SSoL Suns, it’s still easy to see Marion fulfilling his same duties as a one-man fast break. But more than anything, the Mavs are somewhat reliant on the notion that putting more weapons around Marion will boost his effectiveness and his efficiency on offense. Marion was a second offensive option on his last two stops, but with the Mavs he moves a bit further down the totem pole. The Mavs have an elite scoring talent in Dirk, but also boast shot-creators in Jason Terry and Josh Howard. The attention that those three draw should definitely relieve some of the pressure from Marion, but the question is: Will it be enough?
Of course, the offensive end has rarely been the trouble with the Mavs. That end of the court has a tendency to work itself out. Far more glaring problems present themselves on the defensive end. Josh Howard and Shawn Marion are both natural small forwards, so something has to give. Logic points to Howard moving into the backcourt. As far as offense goes, I couldn’t care less; Howard will likely contribute in exactly the same way against similar wing defenders. The defensive end is going to be where the Mavs could struggle, and Josh Howard’s ankles will be right in the cross-hairs. It’s what happens when you make periodic appointments to go under the knife; Surgeries make men from myths and introduce mortality into the equation. Howard may have once been an elite defender for his position, but asking him to defend quicker guards on two bum ankles seems poised to end in failure. It’s the kind of thing that can fly under the radar for most of the regular season, but that comes front and center under the playoff microscope.
Josh Howard and Shawn Marion do, however, significantly deepen the Mavs options in regard to the perimeter defense. Antoine Wright was option 1A on the wing last season, with Jason Kidd also drawing significant assignments on opposing 2 guards. But with both Howard and Marion, gimpy and aging though they may be, the Mavs have quite the defensive pedigree. If Howard’s technique and physical attributes don’t fly against a particular opponent, then maybe Marion’s will. They’re somewhat interchangeable as far as position goes, and yet both possess very different approaches to defense. Beyond those two, new Mav Quinton Ross should see plenty of time as a stopper off the bench, a role left unfilled by last seasons’ Mavs. While the group off the pine last season did a lot of things right, they were light on providing defensive reinforcements. That’s about to change, with Ross coming off the bench along with either Marcin Gortat or Erick Dampier, and with both Josh Howard and Shawn Marion capable of playing multiple positions alongside the reserves.
It’s hard to say exactly where the Mavs’ moves thus far put them in the context of the Western Conference. They’re clearly still inferior to the Lakers, and probably the Spurs, but I’d certainly put Dallas in the “right there” group. It’s not a bad place to be, all things considered. For every little flaw I’ve picked at in this post, this is still Shawn fricking Marion. Even Shawn’s harshest critics would have to concede that Dallas improved as a result of this deal. For every minor issue Marion brings to the forefront, he solves a handful of others. While he may not fit like a glove, the acquisition of Marion is far from forcing a square peg into a round hole.
Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban showed some creativity in getting Marion to Dallas, and now it’s up to Rick Carlisle to show some creativity in getting him to excel here.