You can look at what the Mavs have to do if team X, Y and Z have a certain record over their last remaining games. You can do that, but all that really matter is what the Mavs do on their own over the last 20 games of the season. Win as many games as you can and the rest will sort itself out. Dirk Nowitzki is firmly back and showing signs he can be the old Dirk that everyone remembers. O.J. Mayo has shown that he actually can be a creator and facilitator, despite what his coach said just over a week ago. Shawn Marion is still known as the defensive stopper for the team. Elton Brand is going to do his part to be the defensive anchor and a presence off the bench. Despite the team’s record, Vince Carter is going to continue to be a massive bargain for the Mavs by showing he’s one the league’s best reserves off the bench.
Dallas has an elite coach, veteran leadership and pride that they will rely heavily on as they make their final push for a playoff spot. There is one player though that could really put them over the top and really put their push into overdrive.
The biggest issue for the Mavs this year has been the play they’ve gotten from the point guard position. While Mayo has shown he’s a player that could be considered a piece to build off of for the future, Darren Collison has remained an enigma. He’s shown flashes of greatness only to back that up with incredible inconsistencies. He’s seen two guys come off the street, Derek Fisher and Mike James, move in and take his spot. Along with Mayo, Collison has drawn the wrath of his coach via film sessions for poor decisions. To his credit, Collison has kept his head up and continued to bring a positive attitude and continues to be a team player. In a year where he’s out to prove he can be a starting point guard and parlay that into a nice new contract, Collison continues to stay the course with the Mavs, even if he might not get the big payday.
After the team extended their win streak to three games with a victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle gave a very honest assessment of Collison. “I think he’s a great off-the-bench guy in this league,” Carlisle told reporters. “He’s capable of starting, but off the bench I think he’s a special player.”
Collison doesn’t probably want to hear that but coming off the bench actually is the best spot for him. Collison has only shown flashes of his potential as a starting point guard, but the pros seem to outweigh the cons to his game when he is a reserve. Though it’s only three games, all wins, his numbers have shown that he actually fits in his current role.
Here are Collison’s numbers as a starter this season (47 games)
Now here are his numbers as a bench player earlier in the season (11 games)
Those numbers show Collison floating in and out of the starting lineup, seeing the team play with players that aren’t even on the roster anymore.
Now, compare those numbers to the stretch here where he has backed up Mike James (3 games)
He’s fitting in more and more as a facilitator coming off the bench.
So what does his coach see in him as an off-the-bench guy? “He brings instant speed and energy. He’s got a great feel for it,” Carlisle told reporters. “He’s done extremely well for us in that role. I still view him as a starter even though he’s coming off the bench.” Sure, he wants to be a starter and Mike James clearly isn’t the most ideal option as the starting point guard of the team, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that a reserve role is more ideal for Collison. That last line Carlisle mentioned is the thing to remember. Over the last several years, Dallas has found a way to manipulate its rotation to where some of their better players come off the bench. We’ve seen it with guys like Jason Terry, JJ Barea or even this year with Elton Brand and Vince Carter.
Brand and Carter are two unique cases. Those are guys who have been in the trenches for a long time. You could make a case for Brand being one of the better two-way threats over the last decade as a big man. People will continue to suggest that Carter is further cementing himself as a Hall-of-Famer. The point is they’re both well-established players who have bought in to Carlisle’s “be ready” philosophy and have bought in to new roles as complimentary players.
Another trip to the bench for Collison could manifest itself into an uncomfortable situation. “There’s no such thing as comfortable this year,” Carlisle continued. “I’m pretty certain of that. We’ve got to keep an edge as we keep going on this trip.” One thing that does favor guys like Collison, Carter and Brand is that they’re going up against opposing second unit players. Most teams don’t have the luxury that the Mavs do and they have to roll out end of the roster type of players for their second unit. By going up against inferior players, those bench players for the Mavs usually find multiple opportunities to feast and create solid opportunities for themselves. Collison has the opportunity to do that now. While guys are in a groove, Collison will have numerous guys to facilitate to and easier lanes to the basket.
There is a new contract that is on the line for Collison and he wants to be a starting player. The current situation he is in probably doesn’t jive with what he wants to do, but it ultimately might be the best thing for him. If he can continue to play at a level that’s similar to the one he’s been at the last three games, he could bring some major stability to a position in dire need of it and be the big spark the Mavs need as the finish out the season. “Each game is too meaningful,” Carlisle said. “With everything we’ve been through, everything else, we owe it to ourselves and everybody that follows us. We’ve got to stay right in this and focus.” The biggest weakness for the Mavs is clearly their point guard position. Collison has a great chance to fix that situation. He just might have to wait a few extra minutes before he can actually make an impact on the game.
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.