When Jason Terry missed five games while recovering from surgery to repair his orbital bone, plenty of his offensive opportunities went to Rodrigue Beaubois (who was plugged into the rotation using Terry’s suddenly available minutes) and Shawn Marion. Both performed brilliantly on offense given the extra shot attempts, but when JET returned to the lineup, I naturally assumed that the offense would revert to its usual balance. That would theoretically include Marion sliding back into his usual role as a primary defender and purely supplemental scorer, relying almost entirely on transition opportunities and backdoor cuts for his scoring possessions.
Not quite so. While Marion’s FGAs have dipped since his notably high 16.2 in the five games without Terry, he’s settled in at 12.6 attempts for the 14 games in March. He’s also shooting his highest percentage from the field (56.8%) and averaging his highest monthly scoring average (15.6 PPG) excluding his three-game October.
None of this is accidental. Shawn Marion was absolutely terrific in the first quarter against the Nuggets, and the Mavs looked to be taking an almost Howardian approach with Shawn’s production. The offense actually went through Marion for a good portion of the first 12 minutes, perhaps with the understanding that when the fourth quarter comes around, there are only two wing spots available for three very capable players. Sometimes that includes Marion, sometimes it does not. Either way, the Mavs’ decision to make Marion a more central part of the early-game offense paid off. Shawn had 10 points and two assists in the opening frame, and with Marion and the Mavs playing quality defense on the other end, Dallas took a lead it would never relinquish.
With scorers like Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler, and Jason Terry in the fold, Shawn Marion seems like anything but an obvious offensive option. Marion doesn’t have a sweet jumper, he’s been somewhat notorious for missing open looks at the rim, and his ability to create off the dribble is anything but breathtaking. None of that has stopped Marion from looking like a dynamic offensive influence in recent weeks, and the primary difference appears to be the situations in which Shawn is used as well as the infused confidence that comes with increased and varying opportunities. Rick Carlisle’s trust and willingness to include Marion in the offense more frequently are clearly growing. The result is a re-invigorated Marion, who is averaging 15.4 points since Terry’s return. That’s over three full points per game above his season average, which is fairly notable.
Even more influential than Marion’s output though, is the nature of his scoring opportunities. He still runs out on the break and finishes with layups and dunks, but Marion has been able to create his own shot and shoot mid-range jumpers more and more of late. Those aren’t looks where Shawn is being force-fed on the break like an inept role player, but situations where has has options to choose from. Those types of opportunities can be completely intoxicating, but understandably fulfilling. It’s as if Marion is no longer at the kid table, where Jason Terry and Jason Kidd will bring him a plate of chicken nuggets, but that he’s finally allowed to serve himself. It’s an imperfect metaphor in that Marion’s problem has never been his inability to create his own offense, but the reluctance of coaches to entrust him with that responsibility. His offensive game isn’t diverse enough, efficient enough, or reliable enough to be a go-to scorer, and I think those perceptions are exaggerated into the idea that he’s somehow a limited offensive player.
It’s hardly the case, and the Mavs have seen the benefit of delegating more offensive responsibility to Marion. On some nights, Marion’s scoring may just be an added benefit of his game, but on others — like those when Caron Butler is turning in a four-point night or a nine-point night — it could quite literally be the difference between a win and a loss. That distinction means plenty now, but it will mean even more in three weeks.