Hidden in Plain View

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 11, 2010 under Commentary | 6 Comments to Read


The Kris Humphries-Eddie Najera swap is still pending league approval, but one of the latent benefits of trading two players for one is the open spot on the roster the Mavs now have the benefit of filling. More than likely, they’ll fill the spot with a minimum salary guy who will play very, very little, or they’ll fill it with a string of 10-day contract players before settling on someone they like. The point of all of this, remember, is to save a little bit of coin. So the Mavs will likely wait as long as possible before making any kind of monetary commitment, and then sign an efficient, low-baggage vet for as little money as possible.

I expect more. The classic move here is to find the vaunted “locker room guy”: a player-sage with experience and leadership who has mastered the art of playing without playing. He influences the mood and effort of others by having a positive impact on team chemistry, and he’s a net-gain to the franchise without playing many minutes. That’s all well and good, but I’d very much prefer the Mavs go for someone who’s younger and hungrier. They should try looking for a diamond in the rough, or at the very least a piece of quartz. You’ll find that while there aren’t many all-stars to be had on the open market in January, rotation players can be found if you look in the right places. And though right now the Mavs are likely only looking for a 15th to fill out the practice roster, provide chemistry intangibles, and to have another live body around, wouldn’t it be nice if said 15th man had rotation potential?

Luckily, I know just the place to start looking: the D-League. Consider me an advocate of the system and what it represents, and as you may remember, I’m particularly fond of Donnie Nelson’s venture into D-League ownership in Frisco. That said, while I like to escape to the D-League for some sightseeing, I decided to enlist the help of someone a bit more familiar with the landscape: Steve Weinman of the wonderful D-League Digest. Maybe at the moment, D-League ball doesn’t quite tickle your fancy. That’s cool, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. But I hope you’ll acquaint yourselves more and more with the the league and the process over the next few months, if only because I think that the new Frisco affiliate can be very fruitful if used properly. Weinman’s work at the Digest is a fine way to do that, and though the specific players, teams, and match-ups may not interest you just yet, they’ll give you a feel of what’s to come. With a firm understanding of the system and a realistic set of expectations concerning what that system can produce (specialists, hustle players, and hopefully contributing members of a rotation), the Frisco experiment should prove to be a boon for the Maverick brass.

But I digress. In the meantime, the Mavs have a spot on the bench that needs filling, and a league full of prospects they could potentially do it with.

According to Weinman, “the place to start is with Anthony Tolliver – who might well be the best all-around player in the league.” Steve honed in on Tolliver (who you may remember from short stints with the Spurs last season and the Blazers this season) following his ubiquitous brilliance in a losing effort:

I can’t find a word more descriptive of Tolliver’s performance than “everywhere.” At 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds, Tolliver is a large man, even by basketball standards. But the seven threes he took weren’t typical of the 21st century pseudo-bigs who hang around the perimeter waiting for kickouts. On several sets, he facilitated the Idaho offense from the top of the circle, displaying his deft ball-handling skills and comfortably creating his own outside shot off the dribble.  That he went just 2-for-7 from the three-point line can be forgiven because Tolliver has a fine track record as a bomber from deep: He shoots 40 percent from three for his D-League career and hit a scorching 47.8 percent of his attempts in the first week of the new campaign.

But this was no post-Detroit Rasheed Wallace-type showing either.  For as much time as Tolliver spent on the perimeter, he somehow seemed to be involved in everything that went on inside for the Stampede as well.  AT routinely established position down low, delivered several great feeds to cutters from the blocks, made a couple of post moves of his own and earned himself eight trips to the foul line.  Though he didn’t finish consistently around the bucket, he seemed to constantly materialize wherever the ball came off the rim.

It was Tolliver who sprinted to the sideline to snare long rebounds from unsuspecting Dakota guards and revive multiple Idaho possessions, and it was Tolliver who fought his way to loose balls amidst the pack inside as well. Defensively, we saw more of the same. One second, Tolliver was jumping out to double a guard on a high screen-and-roll; the next, he was waiting at the rim to provide help on penetration or swat a shot out of vicinity of the basket.

There are plenty of guys on the basketball circuit who can fill up a stat sheet, and Anthony Tolliver did his share of box score-stuffing on Wednesday night: 20 points, 17 rebounds (7 offensive), 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and 6 turnovers. But to borrow the type of term Walt Frazier enjoys using, I can remember few other occasions when a player seemed as omnipresent as AT did on Wednesday. Given that he posts a career D-League true shooting figure near 60 percent, to think that he is often most of what he was on Wednesday night plus a considerably more efficient scorer is scary.

Tolliver is, in many ways, the class of the D-League. And though he doesn’t fit the Mavs’ most obvious need (another big man, preferably one capable of filling in minutes at center) in an obvious way, he could still be a nice addition to a team like Dallas. AT is probably best served playing in the big leagues as a combo forward, and he could essentially offer an alternative to Tim Thomas. That doesn’t give any extra rest to Erick Dampier or Drew Gooden (unless it involves Dirk sliding over to the 5), but it does fill the last spot in the rotation with a capable, versatile player that’s just 24 years of age.

In Tolliver, the Mavs could get another spot-up three-point shooter, a capable defender at either forward position, and a good defensive rebounder. He’s not a perfect player, but he has clearly defined strengths that could be of value to a NBA team. I just hope that NBA team is the Mavericks.

Weinman also offered three alternatives in the way of big men:

Rod Benson (Reno): He of the Boom Tho movement recently announced a halt to his blogging in an apparent effort to curtail any possible reasons for NBA teams to shy away from him. Long arms make him a very good shot-blocker in addition to being a solid rebounder.  There are many out there who are bigger fans of his game than I am – there isn’t a particular part of his game that has really wowed me when I’ve watched him this year.  He has a decent offensive game, and he has started working on Tim Duncan’s bank shot from the wings, which is a work in progress.  He’s a legit 6-10, although a bit more bulk and further refinement of his offensive game would make him a stronger candidate.

Dwayne Jones (Austin): Gets pooh-poohed a bit because he doesn’t have much to speak of in the way of shot-creation skills and certainly won’t be initiating his own offense at the next level.  Doesn’t really seem to dominate games at the defensive end, though he can definitely hold his own in that realm.  All that said, we’re talking about a guy with legitimate NBA size (6-11, 250 pounds) who is posting 17 points per game on better than 60 percent shooting from the field thanks to the fact that he hammers the offensive boards (more than six per game) and does a ton on put-backs and tips.  He leads the league in per-game rebounding at more than 15 per game (and yes, it would be great if someone out there were tracking rebound rate in the D-League, though the Toros don’t play an especially fast pace – so I don’t think the figure is too misleading).  Given that you don’t call a guy up from the D-League to dominate the ball or be some kind of star, I think this may be the guy for the spot if the decision to push for a big man because he’ll be able to do much of what he already does at the next level – scrap around for rebounds and get a few garbage buckets while forcing opponents to put a body on him on the offensive glass. Plus, he has the size to guard opposing bigs.

Carlos Powell (Albuquerque): The lefty has been an offensive dynamo all season, averaging nearly 23 points per game, and knocking down more than 34 percent of his threes in addition to doing plenty of scoring inside.  Problem is, he’s only 6-7 and more of a 3-4 tweener at the next level. And while he is a serviceable defender, I’m not sure he does anything aside from scoring that will be particularly valuable from a big man at the next level – and you’re not bringing a guy up to give him 20-30 touches per game.  This is a guy who wowed people at the Showcase and is headed for an eventual call-up, but he probably isn’t the one for this spot.

That said, Rick Carlisle may not be solely interested in an additional big man. Rodrigue Beaubois found a bit of playing time in the Mavs’ last two games, but Carlisle doesn’t seem quite ready to trust Roddy as the team’s third point guard. Supposing he wants to keep Jason Terry in his natural 2-guard position, picking up another PG would seem to be an understandable temptation. I’m all for the “FREE RODDY” movement, but Carlisle is a guy who knows what he wants; if he’s not ready for Beaubois to initiate the offense, then get him a third PG whom he is comfortable with. Since you mentioned some interest in a point guard:

Dontell Jefferson (Utah): Nearly universally regarded as the top choice for the next call-up…until the Jazz made the surprising call to bring up Idaho’s Sundiata Gaines last week. There were apparently some concerns about Jefferson’s knees, but if he is fully healthy, he’s the first choice at the one: Jefferson is a dynamic scorer and distributor who shoots the three-pointer well (39.7 percent from the field), defends and has great size at 6-5.  Can moonlight at the two as well.

Antonio Anderson (Rio Grande Valley): My personal favorite player in the D-League.  Not a point guard by nature, but he’s done plenty of ball-handling for an RGV team that regularly runs with three guards, and chats with the front office personnel from RGV while at Showcase last week yielded that they expect him to be a second or third-string point guard who can also guard twos at the next level.  Anderson is a terrific passer with great size at the point (he’s 6-6), which allows him to see passing lanes nicely over his man much of the time. He’s also an excellent defender whose shooting from mid-range and beyond continues to improve.  Just received Performer of the Month honors in the D-League, and I’d be shocked if he didn’t get a look at the next level down the stretch.

If Nelson, Cuban, and Carlisle see a superior player in the free agent pool, then so be it. I’m all about meritocracy, and if a player is talented and fits well in the system, then by all means. But the Mavs are doing themselves a great disservice if they don’t explore all available options simply because of convention. Veterans can add a lot to a team, but the Mavs have already traded Humphries’ youth and athleticism in favor of Najera’s savvy and leadership. Shouldn’t they use the remaining roster spot to regain a bit of that youthful energy in the rotation?