Failure to Assist

Posted by Shay Christian Vance on February 1, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment


Derek Fisher. Mike James. Mavs fans would rejoice if the ghost of Sir Alec Guinness would wave a hand in front of Rick Carlisle and Jedi mind trick him into realizing these are not the point guards he’s looking for. Pure speculation: Mark Cuban’s furor over Jason Kidd exiting stage left may have been a direct result of Cuban’s knowledge of how Kidd brought peace to Rick Carlisle’s soul. Carlisle’s lack of faith in the point guards on the Dallas roster has left him grasping at straws.

It’s understandable that Carlisle would want a veteran presence to handle the ball. Shot selection is a fickle thing; sometimes players miss the attempts that were good choices or make the ones that were bad choices. The prevalence of quality attempts typically waxes and wanes, but losing the ball to a turnover pre-shot or having a point guard who can’t distribute the ball effectively and enable the other players in scoring is disheartening to a coach. Likewise, having a player that’s not fulfilling his defensive assignments can counteract what they’re bringing to the table offensively. Time and time again, Darren Collison winds up on the bench, and the apparent justifications are in his defensive shortcomings and irritating propensity for turnovers.

Rumor has it that the Mavs may have been a momentary player in the Memphis-Toronto trade that ended up involving Detroit as the third team instead. It would be nice to think that they were trying to make a play for up and coming PF Ed Davis, but one would suspect that a major reason to be involved at all is to bring a more conventional point guard like Jose Calderon into the fold. While Calderon’s style of offensive play is a more conservative as compared to Collison’s high risk-high reward basket attack, Calderon shouldn’t be expected to remind anyone of elder statesman Jason Kidd’s last run with the Mavericks. Calderon wouldn’t have brought Kidd’s innate knack for rebounding or the ability to guard a Kobe Bryant or a Kevin Durant in a clutch switch in the last minutes of a close game. The Spaniard would have brought a surer hand to many a possession, and though lacking an NBA playoff resume, Calderon has a history of playing clutch minutes in international play. Calderon may not be the answer, but with the ‘Bank of Cuban’ open, there are still many options available this season and into the offseason for the Mavericks to make a play on. The Mavericks point guard conundrum is both a short term and long term problem and the fast approaching trade deadline and recent events make a quick review of some possible options appropriate.

Trading for Brandon Jennings

It’s possible that Rick Carlisle is not a huge fan of swag. Chances are high that no one even taught him how to Dougie, when it was all the rage. While perhaps not stylistically in line with Rick Carlisle’s hopes for the position, Brandon Jennings embodies a confidence that Darren Collison simply lacks. The Bucks have to make a decision about their future and make it soon. After acquiring Monta Ellis for the frequently-injured Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee is looking at balancing two high scoring guards in the same backcourt — a precarious mix that could make Jennings attainable. While known generally as a scorer, Jennings spent most of his early career under defensive minded coach Scott Skiles. He lacks Collison’s top speed, but Jennings brings the same style of athletic-scorer PG play, but in a bigger body and with the ability to simply take over the game when he gets hot. Jennings has never played alongside an offensive weapon like Nowitzki, and one suspects that they could be quite formidable as a tandem. But ultimately, Jennings’ availability via trade this season (or in the off-season, when he will be a restricted free agent) rests in the hands of the Bucks front office. They haven’t been knocking down Jennings door to get him to re-sign, which may be a clue that they’ve determined that Jennings isn’t the future of the franchise.

The Los Angeles Clippers

The purple and gold hasn’t treated point guards in Los Angeles very well, with Steve Blake missing nearly all of the season and Steve Nash only having recently returned from a broken leg. However, their arena-mate rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, have a pair of point guards that the Mavericks should be very interested in: Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe.

Trading or waiting for Eric Bledsoe

For those not yet in the know, soon enough Eric Bledsoe will be running a team somewhere. According to Bledsoe via TrueHoop’s Justin Verrier, the league’s reigning MVP and Finals MVP dubbed Bledsoe “Baby LeBron.” His teammate Chris Paul speaks highly of him, calling him “unguardable,” praising his effort at both ends of the floor. Yet the 6’1’’ Bledsoe shares the same position as their best player, and it would hardly be surprising should the Clippers move Bledsoe in an effort to put themselves over the top in the West. With Chris Paul telling Bledsoe that he could run his own team, surely Bledsoe is going to take his word for it. Bledsoe doesn’t have the shot or game management skills of the player he backs-up quite yet, but he has been training under the league’s best. He has shown signs that the day is not far off when his amazing athleticism and relentless defense are matched by more pure point guard skills. While he won’t be throwing lobs to Dirk Nowitzki, he’s had plenty of practice feeding a power forward as the focus of the offense while Paul has been out with injury. It’s significant when a team is able to sit Chris Paul and not be overwhelmed by the shift in point guard play, and it’s in that stopgap success that teams like the Mavs might be able to find an added confidence in Bledsoe’s prospects. Though he may lack the experience that Carlisle is seeking, Bledsoe’s tutelage under Paul combined with his youth and athletic talents should make him a major target should the option arise for Dallas.

Waiting for Chris Paul

As good as he’s been, Eric Bledsoe wouldn’t be the Clippers first choice at point guard. The Los Angeles Clippers would not wait for the ink on a re-signed deal to dry before faxing it into the league if the NBA’s best all-around point guard would merely sign it. Paul brings brilliance to both ends of the court, currently ranking second in assists per game and first in steals per game. With his team holding on to the third seed in the West, it’s unlikely that Chris Paul will be demanding a trade, and still unlikely that he would pass up an opportunity to re-up with Blake Griffin and the young, Tyson Chandler-esque Deandre Jordan. Yet there remains the slimmest of possibilities that Paul is at least considering changing locales, and he would be a god-send to Carlisle or any other coach in the league.

The return of the West willie

The Mavericks pulled Mike James out of the D-League to play point guard for them and they could very well do it again. While Allen Iverson declined to join the Texas Legends on his way back into the NBA, a former Maverick who has played many a minute at the point guard spot did join Donnie Nelson’s squad. Just after Christmas, with the PG situation in flux as it had been all season, Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas picked Carlisle’s brain on the subject. Carlisle supposedly longed for Derek Fisher. MacMahon continues,

“Pressed on the issue, Carlisle sarcastically asked for my opinion Wednesday. The suggestion of Delonte West didn’t seem to go over too well.

“That’s not on the table,” Carlisle said.

That wasn’t even a month ago, but the Mavericks season is now in a different place. A month ago, the Mavericks were in really bad shape. Since then, they’ve passed the Lakers, watched L.A. pass them back, slipped past the injury-riddled Timberwolves, and have a better record in the last 10 games than Portland or Houston, who are essentially tied for the 8th seed. Carlisle knows what he can expect from West. If he ultimately isn’t satisfied with the defensive effort he’s getting from Collison in the closing minutes of the game, Carlisle knows the effort West would offer in that same spot. It looks like the rift between Delonte and the front office may be impossible to bridge, but as a player he should be able to bring to the table whatever Mike James supposedly provides the squad and then some. If the chase for the 13th consecutive playoff appearance is actually in full swing, West’s familiarity with the team and its plays could be a significant factor. On a per-minute basis, West’s numbers for last year’s team are easily comparable with Collison’s from this season.

Russell Westbrook (and no, not at all like he’ll ever be a Dallas Maverick)

There is always the option to love the one you’re with. Darren Collison hasn’t been ‘stealing’ shots from Dirk Nowitzki and causing an uproar amongst NBA fans. He hasn’t been pegged as the ball-hog problem on a young, up and coming team about which casual fans are excited, so he hasn’t had to deal with the scorn that Russell Westbrook has endured for the last few years. After clearly being the second best player on his team all season long, Westbrook got to hear one of the all-time great point guards comment on his game. Quoting Brett Ledbetter on

Magic Johnson said this on National TV about Westbrook, “He is the worst point guard in (NBA) Finals history.” Think about that, that’s brutal. How did Russell respond? Two games later he had 43 points and Magic apologized.

So, as all of this outside criticism surrounded Russell Westbrook, his coach, Scott Brooks said this to him, “Don’t worry about what they say, you are my point guard, not theirs.”

Maybe he’s not on the verge of making anyone apologize, but Collison got the majority of the endgame minutes at point guard in close contests against Portland and Golden State. It’s hard to know if that’s indicative of real faith or merely a reluctant settling on Carlisle’s part. There will be lots of options as the prospect of the enhanced luxury tax looms over this trade season and the offseason to come. Let’s hope for the Mavericks sake that Rick Carlisle finds his point guard soon, be it in the form of an evolved Collison, some aforementioned possibility, or an alternative that has yet to be fully considered.