“We’ve given this sort of rotation a good, long look,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the team’s 92-80 loss to Minnesota. “We may have to change it up. I’ll have to look at the film and see.” The traditional starting lineup the team has used when guys were healthy (Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Shawn Marion, Elton Brand and Brandan Wright) has averaged 12.0 minutes, shot 51.3 percent from the field while averaging 10.5 rebounds and had a combined total of 3.3 from a plus/minus perspective. The makeshift lineup the Mavericks have had to use with Marion out of the lineup (Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Jae Crowder, Elton Brand and Brandan Wright) has averaged only 7.1 minutes, shot 44.3 percent from the field while averaging 4.8 rebounds and had a combined total of -3.6 from a plus/minus perspective. A simple move might be to have someone like Dahntay Jones fill in at the small forward position until Marion can return.
After three straight losses and the shooting percentages dropping, the Mavericks do need to consider some tweaks. In regards to what can actually be done, here are some options the team can look at.
1. Move Chris Kaman to the starting lineup
Starting Kaman was part of the grand plan when the Mavericks originally signed the veteran center this summer. Injuries have derailed that plan from coming to fruition. If the Mavericks can strategically set his minutes to align with required timeouts or figure out the proper workload he can handle from the new position as a starter, that could help things as a whole. Kaman has only averaged 6.0 rebounds through his first six games of the season. That is below his career average of 8.3. He averaged 7.7 rebounds last season with the Hornets. He has admitted that he is still trying to get back into shape and that is messing with his overall ability in terms of defense and rebounding. If he can stay healthy and get back in basketball shape, moving Kaman into the starting lineup in place of Brandan Wright might be a fix.
2. Figure out a defined role for Elton Brand
Elton Brand has only averaged 6.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game to start the season. In addition, he’s shooting a modest 38.6 percent from the field. Brand only logged 17 minutes in the loss to Minnesota. When asked about if there was any concern about Brand’s start, Carlisle said, “He’s been great in terms of his approach. It’s a long season. He’ll get there.”
Brand understands that his coach is trying to figure out what will work best for the team. “Coach is trying to win ballgames,” Brand said. “Whatever he sees fit. There’s no need to communicate. I’m running sprints with the guys who played less than 20 minutes and doing everything to make sure that when my number is called, I’ll be ready.
“It’s an adjustment from the standpoint of just kind of (being used to) getting the benefit of the doubt to close a game or two. If you don’t, then all right, kind of move on when you get that chance. But like I said, I’m not trying to rock any boats. Whatever it is, I’m here to play hard and practice hard and be a good teammate.”
Though he understands the process, it is apparent that Brand isn’t pleased with his start to the season and that he’s hasn’t had a lot of time on the floor to actually get out of his rough start. To make matters questionable, Carlisle has opted for using Troy Murphy more than Elton Brand. Murphy has seen significant minutes in second half action. Murphy has averaged 19.2 minutes in his time with the Mavericks, while Brand has averaged 24.6 minutes. The workload for Murphy is probably increased due to the low numbers for Brand and the fact they need something out of the position while Dirk Nowitzki is out of the lineup.
When Dirk is back in, Murphy likely slides to the back end of the rotation. If they do decide to start Kaman, Carlisle will likely want to opt to move Brand to the bench. He mentioned during the preseason that he didn’t like how Brand and Kaman were operating together. They haven’t had much time on the floor together to start this year. To further show that, Brand has played 15 of his 172 minutes with Kaman. Murphy has played 81 of his 115 minutes with Kaman. Whether it’s starting or coming off the bench, Brand can play either big man position so the Mavericks need to figure out a defined role for Brand.
3. Work Bernard James into the mix more
James played 10 minutes, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds in the loss to Minnesota. If anything, Sarge is going to give the team energy when he’s out on the floor. He hustles for any ball that is in the air and he’ll make opponents alter their shots when they attack the glass. Per 36 minutes, James would led the team in rebounding at a clip of 12.2 rebounds. Granted, he’s not going to play 36 minutes a night, but it does show that he does have something going in that department. Looking at a total rebounding percentage, an estimate of the percentage of available rebounds a player grabbed while they were on the floor, James leads the team at 18.6.
There’s something there with the second round prospect. The game does seem to be getting easier for him as time has passed. It does seem like the rotation is starting to decrease Brandan Wright’s workload and increase James’. This isn’t a vote to move James into the starting lineup. Wright doesn’t need to be sent out to shore, but James is proving that he can hang in the rotation with the rest of the bigs. James has earned the opportunity to get more time on the court.
4. Bring back the 3GL?
To my knowledge, the game against Minnesota saw the real first look at the old three-guard lineup the Mavericks used over the past few years. Players such as Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Roddy Beaubois saw time on the floor together to help push the tempo and find a spark. The Mavericks implemented it against Minnesota with Collison, Beaubois and Mayo manning the positions. Troy Murphy and Chris Kaman joined them on the floor. It was just under two minutes of action but they were a +4 in that brief stint together.
While rolling with the 3GL isn’t something that won’t be used on a consistent basis, it’s something they should keep in their back pocket.
5. Get healthy
Dirk and Marion being back would definitely go a long way in fixing what is ailing the Mavericks right now. When healthy (and having Kaman start), you would see a lineup of Collison, Mayo, Marion, Nowitzki and Kaman. While that does leave the big men thin in the agility department, the rebounding numbers should improve and bring a more balanced attacked on offense. You could preserve Kaman’s health with options like Brand, Wright and James to play center. Marion can always slide up to the power forward position to spell Dirk. Brand, Wright and Murphy can also be the main options for backups to Dirk. Dahntay Jones is still a player that fits in the mix whether guys or healthy or not, so the team can continue to look at him as a general option, which they have been doing. Things will look a lot better from a minutes standpoint when everyone gets back.
“I’ll look at anything [in terms of the rotation] as long as there’s five guys out there bustin’ their ass,” Carlisle said at the team’s practice on Tuesday. “If they’re not, they won’t be in there.” Defense, rebounding and intensity will help go a long way in helping fix what is ailing the team, including a rotation that needs to be altered.
“I don’t think we were as good as it seemed earlier and we’re not as bad as it seems right now,” Brand said after the loss to Minnesota. The Mavericks are somewhere in the middle right now. They just have to find that right groove. “In a game like [the one against Minnesota], it feels like a zillion miles from being a good team,” Carlisle said. “We’re not as far away as it feels. We’ve just got to keep working. We’ve got to stick together. It’s as simple as that.” Stick together, with some tweaking.
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.