Make or Break

Posted by David Hopkins on November 13, 2012 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

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“Galactus does what Galactus must to survive.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

While watching the Mavericks play against the Knicks, I realized that with Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion out and with Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler now playing for the other team, there were actually more players from 2011 championship squad active for the Knicks than the Mavs. Then, I remembered that the Mavs had Dominique Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois — the yin and yang, the dueling fates, and the twins of a new Rome. The forgotten prophecy of a Dallas without Dirk. Do they even count?

During the Mavs’ championship season, Dominique Jones was in his rookie year, and saw more action in the D-League than in the NBA. Jones didn’t play a single minute during the playoffs. And Rodrigue Beaubois, right before the playoffs, sprained his left foot. Like Jones, he also won his championship while watching from the bench. They saw the victory but could never lay claim to the bragging rights.

For both these players, the omen of a “make or break season” has been relentlessly applied, as if fans are demanding that Beaubois and Jones become retroactively worthy of their rings or be forever abandoned to the wild fate of a trade deadline. Jones is in his third season, and the Mavs decided not to exercise their team option. Beaubois is in his fourth year of his contract (his injuries almost make it seem like his second year). Both will be free agents at the end of this season, free to roam and find their fortune wherever it might be.

Make or break. Dominique Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois have to prove their worth this season. Both were the 25th pick in their respective draft classes. Both have dealt with injuries early in their NBA careers. And both appear out of place in their natural position, and are fighting for the same roster spot as the backup point guard to Darren Collison. Their fates are intertwined – the All-American over-tattooed Jones and the forever-smirking Frenchman Beaubois. For one to live, must one perish?

Dominique Jones is one of those confusing players who will absolutely dominate the tiny fish in the D-League and the Summer League. However, once you throw him in the deep end of NBA, he can’t produce even modest numbers. For example, in Las Vegas this summer, he had a brilliant 32-point outing. However, in his best game as a Maverick, he mustered just six points and six assists in 16 minutes (plus 3 turnovers) against the Bobcats. He’s a shooting guard with a lackluster .358 field goal percentage and no three-point range. Force him to play the point and he has some moments. He handles the ball well. He can drive, and he can pass.

Coincidentally, Rodrigue Beaubois is a point guard who looks more comfortable as a shooting guard. If we were to compare the two, Beaubois gets considerably more minutes and his stats are higher across the board. And there was that one magical game – the one where he scored 40 points against Golden States, 9 of 11 from the three-point line. (It’s unfair to do that to fans and then never quite replicate those results.) Not surprisingly, Beaubois is better known among fans, and his potential is more fervently debated. Buy a Beaubois jersey, and you are announcing to the world your optimism in a better future. Buy a Jones jersey, and… actually, I don’t think they exist.

So, odd as it may sound, Jones might have a longer basketball career. Jones has a better body for the NBA. Yes, Beaubois has an impressive vertical, but I don’t worry about Jones getting injured underneath. Plus, Jones is a better man-to-man defender than Beaubois. Jones is a better creator and playmaker. While Beaubois will have those flashes that tease at a potential All-Star, Jones has the makings of a role player if he can get past these “make or break” jitters.

Dominique Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois are playing for their survival this season. Much like going through a bad relationship, the “make of break” season has three common pitfalls.

1. “I can change.”

The player earnestly believes that this season will be different. The shots will fall. The rebounds will bounce in his favor. The lanes will be open. However, his routine stays the same, and the results do not change. Habits are hard to break. The coach demands “Show me something new! Add something to your arsenal!” As if it were so easy, the player laments. Denials leads to depression and then to acceptance, “I am a collection of stats, and they fail to impress.”

2. “I feel like I’m always auditioning for you.”

The player feels the glare of a different kind of spotlight. It’s not the expectations of fans, but the judgment of a tryout, a never-ending performance review. It’s a curse of sorts, because in attempting to “show them your best,” the player makes odd decisions that aren’t always appropriate for the situation. As a result, the player only condemns himself. I see this pitfall more with Jones than Beaubois. Every time Jones gets the ball, I get nervous watching him. I’m nervous for him. Then there’s a forced shot or a turnover, I see his head drop in disappointment. It’s subtle, but there. He has so few minutes available to prove himself, and each of those instances is one more opportunity gone. Meanwhile, Jae Crowder, the “good rookie,” appears unflappable, while the coach heaps more praise on him.

3. “I’m still the man you loved.”

The player believes his greatness is right around the corner, if only he could play his game. I never quite understood that cliché: “I just have to play my game.” No, you have to play basketball. That’s Dr. James Naismith’s game.

But the point is implied, I suppose; the player has to play in a way that accentuates his talents. Yet the play-my-game phrasing also carries unspoken implications: “I haven’t had an opportunity to do it,” or “the coach isn’t using me the way I should be used.” To me, it sounds like a defensive mechanism for fragile egos.

However, in the case of Jones and Beaubois, they may have a legitimate gripe. Carlisle is a great coach, possibly the best the Mavs have ever had. However, if we were to rate him solely on his ability to develop rookie talent, we haven’t seen much. Carlisle looks more comfortable working with veterans, and he doesn’t freely hand out meaningful minutes to the rookies, especially during the playoffs. It’s possible Jones and Beaubois would’ve had a better start in the NBA if they had played for a worse team. Instead, they’ve stood behind a well-stocked backcourt, waiting patiently to play their game. If this season is “make or break,” it’s due in part to the untimely exodus of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Delonte West.

When these two players are given the minutes and can make it through a season without significant injury or a spot with the Texas Legends, make no mistake: They are auditioning for their future and for their legacy as Mavs during the 2010-2011 season. They are allies but they cannot co-exist. I don’t envy them one bit.

David Hopkins is a freelance writer — a regular contributor to D Magazine and Smart Pop Books. He listened to last night’s game on the radio, just like his dad used to. Follow David on Twitter at @davidhopkins.