The makeshift Dallas backcourt suffered yet another shakeup last weekend following the release of little-used point guard Dominique Jones. The news, like Jones’ time in Dallas, was an afterthought to most fans. Aside from bearing witness to the Mavericks’ 2011 championship run, Jones was more well known for the playful nickname he despised owning — “DoJo” — than he was for his on-court production.
Jones’ exit should trouble Dallas fans, though not because his absence will result in any immediate threat to the team’s production. Jones was a ghost in Dallas before his abrupt departure, and his exit represents another example of Dallas’ inability to groom a once-promising young athlete into a steady rotation player.
There were some hopeful signs emerging for Jones earlier this season. He started three games and showed rare glimpses of the skills that made him a first-round draft selection, including intensity, defensive awareness and an ability to push the pace and get to the rim in transition. His stock was rising along with his playing time, a career-high season average of 11.7 minutes per game.
Despite his progress, Jones’ opportunities this season came few and far between and soon almost vanished entirely. He became glued to the bench as the calendar flipped to 2013, sitting out 25 of the team’s 29 games this year due to coach’s decision. Dirk Nowitzki summed it up best, in comments to Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
“He never really got a real shot at it,”’ Nowitzki said. “I like his athleticism, I like what he brought, it just wasn’t a good situation to be in.
“I obviously wish him luck for the future. I was always cool with D-Jones and I wish him luck.”
For all the success the Mavericks have enjoyed during the Nowitzki Era, their Achilles Heel has clearly been an inability to develop young talent. The issue is particularly apparent this year at point guard; with Jason Kidd departing for New York in the offseason, the year looked to provide an opportunity to develop and grow for young starter Darren Collison and backups Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois. The stability at that position was expected to decline, but there was also opportunity for each young player to reach new heights if they were given more chances to prove their worth.
Instead, the point guard position has been a revolving door, with the 37-year-old Mike James and 38-year-old Derek Fisher starting more contests than either Beaubois or Jones and denying precious developmental opportunities to Collison. After endless consistent experimentation and an inactive trade deadline, the Mavs are no closer to finding a stop-gap or an effective long-term solution at point guard than they were when the season began.
This would be bearable if it were an isolated problem, but the team’s inability to nurture young talent is reflected across the board. The Dallas roster contains a number of aging veterans and expiring contracts who may not return, making the mission of developing prospects all the more important.While young Mavs like Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright have shown flashes of brilliance, they haven’t been granted enough time on the floor to establish consistent roles and production. Neither player is developing at the pace they could.
To Rick Carlisle’s credit, he was dealt an incredibly difficult hand and in some regards he has played that bad hand as well as anyone could. A team full of new members, struggling without its superstar, entered the season in desperate need of veteran leadership and stability. It made perfect sense earlier in the season for Carlisle to prioritize proven veterans over young players still struggling to find their place, particularly when Dallas still harbored reasonable hopes of making the playoffs.
While the Mavericks chances’ of making the postseason have changed dramatically in recent months, the distribution of playing time in favor of veterans who are unlikely to return hasn’t. A team that Hollinger’s Playoff odds give a 9% chance of making the playoff cut has chosen to mortgage the future to start and rely on Mike James, a decision which makes little sense no matter how much Collison struggles.
This season’s strategy of assembling a team of newly-acquired veteran talent on short-term deals was an interesting experiment, but one that has failed to achieve the desired results. The only hope of ensuring that Dallas’ long-shot playoff chase is an isolated occurrence rather than a recurring trend is to put more emphasis on player development. Perhaps prospects like Jones, Beaubois, Crowder and Wright will eventually disappoint when given more opportunities, but Nowitzki hit the nail on the head: the young guns all deserve the chance to fail, and the Mavs are in no position to deny them.