Third-string centers are a bit of a novelty and a luxury, and it’s generally hoped that they aren’t forced to become much more. They are stop-gaps and a safety nets, and an elevation in the responsibilities of the third C typically has less to do with rapid improvement or flawed appraisal than it does a far more disappointing reality at the top of the rotation. Having three players capable of playing the position is practically an NBA necessity, even if the third is only really present to fill in the gaps and prevent a complete disaster.
Ian Mahinmi will slide into that role comfortably for the Mavs next season, as Dallas has reportedly agreed to terms with Ian on a two-year deal for the veteran minimum. (Note: Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com reported that Mahinmi will receive the full biannual exception, so it’s possible that Ian’s annual salary is closer to $1.9 million).
This is a fantastic move. Mahinmi had trouble earning playing time during his career in San Antonio, but he’s an energy big that can actually help the Mavs off the bench. During the 2007-2008 season, Ian posted a 23.0 PER for the D-League’s Austin Toros, and averaged 20.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes. Mahinmi is not really a physical beast, but he is long and athletic with pretty good instincts. This is exactly the kind of player the Mavs should be using to fill out the rotation, and with the full mid-level exception still intact (and likely the biannual exception as well) , the Mavs have almost their entire roster assembled. It’s obviously preferable that Mahinmi falls as the third center rather than Haywood’s backup, but one more reserve center aside, this team looks quite complete.
Creation on the wing is still a bit of a concern, but adding Mahinmi to an already talented roster is quite helpful. Ian is still, in many ways, more of a prospect than a player, but he does come in as a usable big with a better price tag and future than Eduardo Najera. Dallas could have shot for a big like Brad Miller or Matt Bonner (and reportedly, they did), but in Mahinmi the Mavs have acquired a piece that’s likely already a better NBA rebounder and shot blocker than either of those two vets. Even at 23, Ian is still growing into his game, and while he does have immediately usable skills, it’s conceivable that he’ll only get better and better during his time with the Mavs.
Here’s a tentative depth chart in light of the Mahinmi signing, assuming Rick Carlisle chooses to keep Butler and Marion as starters:
PG – Jason Kidd, Rodrigue Beaubois, J.J. Barea
SG – Caron Butler, Jason Terry, Rodrigue Beaubois, DeShawn Stevenson, Dominique Jones, Matt Carroll
SF – Shawn Marion, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson
PF – Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Ian Mahinmi, Eduardo Najera
C – Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, Eduardo Najera
TBD: Returns on Erick Dampier’s contract, the mid-level exception, and possibly the biannual exception