It’s possible that the current vacancy in the Mavs’ starting lineup — the one that sprang from Rodrigue Beaubois’ broken foot — is merely a product of overthinking the plethora of options Rick Carlisle has before him. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd are fixtures in the starting five, and that trio is likely to be joined by both Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler. Opposite Butler on the wing, should the Mavs go for size and defense with Shawn Marion? Should they be persuaded by Rodrigue Beaubois’ promise upon his return from injury? Should they flirt with Dominique Jones?
Or maybe they should look to the one consistent scoring option they’ve had hiding on the bench all along.
The Mavericks’ most successful seasons this decade have come with Jason Terry as a starter in some capacity (either a primary playmaker or supplementary scorer, but often both), and yet he’s assumed as a natural candidate for sixth man duty due to the last three years’ routine. Change is good if it brings you a valuable player via trade or free agency, but apparently bad if it means fiddling with rotations to find the most effective fit. Even more perplexing is this: slow starts were a thorn in the Mavs’ collective side last season, and the tendency to spot opponents a few points in the first quarter has persisted into this year’s preseason and yet the idea to shift JET into the starting lineup is somehow a new, revolutionary development, rather than a natural evolution based on team need.
If you subscribe to Terry’s poor showing in last year’s playoffs as being indicative of a greater decline, then moving him into the starting lineup accomplishes little. I don’t think the basis for such an assertion is necessarily air-tight (Individual performance aside, did you know that Terry was a part of the Mavs’ five most productive lineups in last year’s playoffs according to adjusted plus-minus?), but there’s also no use in arguing around JET’s overall inefficiency in six unfortunate games against the Spurs last April.
Regardless, JET is still the most logical option should Carlisle look to supplement his embedded starters with another scorer. This particular job may have once been Beaubois’ to lose, but what’s the harm in making Terry, who is experienced, still productive, and most of all, healthy, the default? As long as doing so doesn’t curtail Beaubois’ opportunities on the floor, is it really such a bad thing for Dallas’ son to be promising but not adorned with a veteran’s spoils?
The Mavs will need Beaubois to produce (and have the minutes necessary to do so) this season, but starting isn’t the only way to achieve that end. For those who truly believe in Terry’s value as a reserve, those same virtues could be placed with Beaubois. Rodrigue shares Terry’s ability to generate offense for himself, while also being able to penetrate and create for others, an invaluable skill when playing among second-string talent. Then again, at the risk of writing myself in circles, that very same ability to function as a creator may be JET’s true substitutional value. He may not be able to get to the cup like Beaubois, but he’s clearly the steadier hand at this stage.
The circular nature of these types of arguments should hopefully be apparent, and largely so for one reason: at this point, there is no right answer. All we have now is the game tape of a handful of preseason contests with wonky rotations and bastardized allocations of minutes and shot attempts. All of which, as I needn’t remind you, has a conspicuous lack of Rodrigue Beaubois. So we take what we can and we take what we know, and roll ideas around so that we can follow their path and see where they take us. Many will insist that Beaubois, whether healthy, gimpy, or even still on crutches, is the starter absolute. That’s the kind of certitude that has no place before the regular season’s tip. It’s likely that a fully-functioning Beaubois will not only be worthy of a starting gig but also the optimal choice. At present, though, there’s no reason to think that he’s infinitely more palatable in that role than Terry.
Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd will start. Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood will get the benefit of the doubt to kick off the season. Everything else is open for debate, and Jason Terry has a good of a case as anyone.