With the moves the Mavericks made in their starting lineup in preparation for their game against the Washington Wizards, there were going to be alterations to their supporting cast. In a surprise move, Brandan Wright didn’t log a single minute of action. According to Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News, Wright found the situation “weird.” With the weird situation, Bernard “Sarge” James was called into duty and he responded positively. The possibility of using James more within the rotation was an idea that was worth looking in to.
The story of James’ life leading up to coming to the NBA has been well documented, so we’ll mainly just cover what we have seen on the floor. James stepped into the backup center role and scored four points and pulled down three rebounds in 15 minutes in the victory over the Wizards. So, what led to the change with bringing James into the new position? “He earned it from his play in the previous game,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. “We will see – it is game to game. I would love to have a set rotation but with a couple of exceptions, there’s going to be unpredictability to it.” James collected six points and four rebounds in 10 minutes off the bench vs. Minnesota on 11/12. In comparison, Wright played only nine minutes against Minnesota, and he failed to get a rebound. Before the performance against the Wizards, James managed at least six points in all three of the games in which he had logged 10-plus minutes in this season. James has shot a perfect 8-for-8 from the line this year.
When I asked Carlisle after the game about what he’s specifically seen out of James, he explained, “He’s not a real physical looking guy, but he’ll bang and he’ll go after the ball. He won’t get punked under the basket. Those are important things.” In a situation where the Mavericks need defense, rebounding and energy, James is providing what the team needs. While he didn’t rebound like he had in previous games, James did a solid job of keeping balls active off a missed shot and he gave instant energy to the team when he came off the bench.
After playing seven games, James is second on the team in terms of Total Rebound Percentage (TRB%). The TRB% is an estimate of the percentage of available rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor. James’ TRB% is 17.2. Shawn Marion currently leads the team with a TRB% of 18.6. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Marion is once again one of the team’s best rebounders. Last season, Marion led Dallas in rebounding in 2011-12 with 7.4 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-7 Marion was the only player in the NBA 6-foot-7 or shorter to lead his team on the glass in 2011-12. The last Maverick player 6-foot-7 or shorter to lead Dallas in rebounding was 6- foot-7 Jay Vincent in 1984-85 (8.9 rebounds/game). Marion grabbed a team-high 465 boards in 2011-12. What is a surprise is that James is doing so well early in his NBA career.
James currently leads the team in terms of Offensive Rebound Percentage (ORB%). That is an estimate of the percentage of available offensive rebounds a player has grabbed while on the floor. His ORB% is 15.4. If James played more minutes in this point of the season, he would qualify to be amongst the league leaders in both of those percentage categories. Extrapolating his stats to a per 36 minutes standard, James would averaged 12.2 points, 11.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. Clearly, James won’t play 36 minutes, but it does show that something is working there with the rookie.
While speaking exclusively to The Two Man Game, James explained Carlisle’s comment about what it meant by not getting punked under the basket. “It doesn’t really matter who it is, I’m going to give 100 percent effort every night,” James said to the Two Man Game. “I’m not the biggest, strongest or fastest guy but I feel like I have good fundamentals on defense.”
It’s apparent that the other second round draft pick, alongside Jae Crowder, has made a strong impression on his teammates. For starters, Bernard is no longer his first name. “We just call him Sarge,” Mavericks center Chris Kaman said after the Wizards game. “I don’t know about who Bernard is. Sarge just gives us a boost. He comes in with that energy. He’s always on that offensive glass. He’s a solid defender and he knows his positioning.
“He’s a very intellectual guy. He’s very smart and understands the game. He’s 27 years old and been through the ropes a little bit longer than most as far as life. He’s young in the basketball sense. He does a good for us. I like his energy off the bench.”
While Kaman can provide scoring like he did against the Wizards, a player like James provides a nice change of pace at the position. He’s still growing and maturing as an offensive player, but he has the sound fundamentals that were instilled during his time at Florida State University. During his time in college, Florida State wasn’t exactly a run and gun offense as they focused more on the defensive end of the floor. That was a huge reason that the Mavericks wanted to take a chance on him during this past draft.
At 6-10, 240 pounds, James does have something he’s trying to work on as his overall comfort level is getting in a nice place. “I’m feeling more and more comfortable every day. I’m in the process of putting on weight. I think I’ve got about 15-20 pounds to gain. Once I put that on, it’ll be no sweat out there,” James said to the Two Man Game. It would seem that trying to bulk up in season is quite the challenge, but James was confident he could make some progress in that department. “It’s tough to gain weight during the season,” James continued. “Luckily I’m not really playing big minutes like that so it’ll be easier to put on that weight. By the end of the season I’ll be able to have that on.”
Whether it is bringing energy, crashing the boards or playing defense, James isn’t going to be intimated by NBA competition. “No matter who it is, I don’t care what the name is on the jersey, they’re going to have to take it,” James said. “I’m not going go to give anything.” While Elton Brand and Brandan Wright are still viable and more seasoned options at the backup center position, Sarge is showing that he’s ready to answer the call whenever his number is called.
Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He is a contributing writer for Mavs.com. Bryan also attended Ball So Hard University. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.