Jason Kidd is No Longer Sucking, and That's Good News for the Mavs' Playoff Hopes
It's a common NBA refrain: Following an inactive trade deadline, a team will claim that getting a relevant player back from injury is akin to making a deadline deal. It happened with the Mavericks and Rodrigue Beaubois, and this year's spin involves the eventual integration of Delonte West.
There is truth to the notion that West is a significant factor for this year's Mavericks, just as there was truth to the idea that Beaubois could serve as a spark plug for last year's team. Injuries really can make a team appear more incomplete than they actually are, and for the last two seasons, Dallas -- a franchise equipped with that knowledge and secure in its process -- has opted to play the deadline conservatively.
The Mavs will get West back into the mix, and hopefully sooner rather than later. Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood, too, will return to the lineup soon enough. But the Mavs have apparently made another major acquisition, just in time to establish some momentum going into the postseason: a functional Jason Kidd who actually contributes to winning basketball.
Dallas' last two games have resurrected a possibility that many -- including myself -- had long since abandoned. Perhaps the key to the Mavs' playoff success this season isn't Beaubois' ascent into consistency, Marion's increased touches or even Lamar Odom's revival. Maybe it's Kidd, who has demonstrated in the last two games what a profound impact he can have as both an offensive facilitator and a help defender.
In those two contests (vs. SAS, @DEN), Kidd had 21 points, 20 assists, five three-pointers, four steals and just one turnover in 48 minutes. That's a world of productivity and efficiency that Kidd had yet to tap into this season, and a catalyst for the renaissance of the Mavs' offense. His playmaking is hardly the only factor at work; a team-wide commitment to ball movement and Dirk Nowitzki's general Dirkiness have provided the bulk of Dallas' offensive foundation. Yet the Mavs' most altruistic creator may be the element that truly returns the offense to its former glory, a troublesome task that none of Dallas' many capable offensive players had been able to accomplish thus far.
Kidd has spent his entire career as a steady hand; he was -- by far -- the best player on two Finals teams in New Jersey, and he spent a large part of his NBA run as the league's top point guard. But this season's Kidd has been quite different (even from last year's iteration), in ways both obvious and subtle. It's clear that the Mavericks can play well even without Kidd at the top of his game, but when he's providing real production to go along with his natural calming influence, he takes the Mavs to an entirely different level of competitive worth.
Every team in the Western Conference playoff picture is beatable, but depending on how the playoff picture shakes out, it could well be Kidd who positions the Mavs for success or failure.
Rob Mahoney runs The Two Man game, an ESPN-affiliated Mavericks blog, and writes about the NBA for The New York Times. He occasionally writes about basketball for Unfair Park.