Managing the Matrix: If the Mavs Aren't Careful, They'll Grind Shawn Marion into Uselessness

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The Mavericks currently live in the murky cloud that makes up the bulk of the Western Conference: Their credentials are decidedly less than those of the conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder, but beyond that their prospects remain a mystery. We know now that Dallas is a good team - as evidenced by the fact that they boast the NBA's fourth-best defense, if nothing else - but how good can they be?

That much will undoubtedly be determined by the Mavs' oddly inefficient offense. Dallas may have once lived and died on the strength of their pure bucket-making ability, but this season's script has been reversed without warning or precedent. We know that the Mavs are a year older and, for the most part, a year further past from their playing primes, but their substantial offensive drop-off ranges between curious and baffling. Dirk Nowitzki is back to being a dominant offensive player. The Mavs on the whole are a deep team of capable scorers. And yet they remains mired in their own self-sustaining struggle, an offensive limitation that seems to persist without regard for all of the reasons to the contrary.

With more or less the same group (and arguably less offensive firepower), last year's Mavs were able to post a top-10 offensive mark. This year's team is only now breaking into the NBA's top 20, a sadly accurate reflection of a woefully inconsistent offense. Some subtle difference in formula (J.J. Barea's dribble penetration? Tyson Chandler's vertical extension?) has left Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle with little choice but to toggle through his options; Carlisle has never been one to sit content with a set scoring distribution or lineup configurations, but this season's struggles have increased the need for experimentation.

Which brings us to a Maverick most versatile and valuable when it comes to a reimagining of Dallas' many riches: Shawn Marion. Nowitzki is the team's indisputable centerpiece, but Marion has the most potential for reach in any particular direction. He defends when Dallas needs a smothering on-ball presence. He rebounds effectively and is impossible to box out. He scores from the block and from the perimeter, seemingly fitting into whatever lineup and role Carlisle assigns him.

Yet with Marion's many responsibilities comes a certain price. As the Mavericks demand more and more of their most talented defender (which they certainly have), they can expect to get less and less out of Marion on offense - a painful cost for a team already struggling to score. Fatigue isn't some made-up construction; players get tired, especially when they're playing their fourth game in five nights and chasing around players much smaller, much quicker, and much younger.

The defensive responsibility that Marion has accepted without question takes a considerable toll, a reality that puts Carlisle in a tremendously difficult situation. One can practically trace Marion's fatigue in his offensive production over the course of the season:

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Not only are Marion's points and field goal attempts per minute tapering off as the season goes on, but his efficiency - represented in a very crude sense by point production exceeding field goal attempts on a game-by-game basis - has also plummeted.

Nowitzki is doing what he can. Jason Terry is who he is, and isn't quite prolific enough to be a day-in, day-out second scoring option. Lamar Odom has yet to escape from his spiral. Rodrigue Beaubois remains an alluring scorer but is inconsistent at best. And then there's Marion, the man who could potentially give Dallas another stable scoring option but has been ground down into a role as a defensive stopper.

The answer - or at least a possible answer - could be right in front of Carlisle. But Marion represents the one move he cannot make; Marion's defensive responsibilities are just too vital to the team's overall success, and though focusing more of his energies on the offensive end could give Dallas a substantial lift, it may come at too great a defensive cost. Marion needs rest, but he also needs to score more to maximize his utility, and yet the Mavericks need him to expound much of his energy in defensive coverage. There's virtually no happy medium, and if Carlisle isn't careful, he may overwork Marion to the point of muted effectiveness across the board.

Rob Mahoney writes about the Mavericks on his ESPN-affiliated blog The Two Man Game and about basketball for The New York Times's Off the Dribble blog. He occasionally writes about the Mavericks for Unfair Park.

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Mervis
Mervis

Ssssssssppppooooooooorrrrrrrrtttttttsssssss.

When do we get a story on the Western Division leading Stars?

Rodveal41
Rodveal41

As long as the matrix does'nt try to do too much, he's an effective scorer with his runners and inside buckets. But the dude has no business shooting jumpers.

Sazidrabbani@yahoo.com
Sazidrabbani@yahoo.com

Shawn Marion is an amazing unselfish player, does all the dirty work that no one wants,he is at the right place at the right time so nowitzki can drive in without an extra defender covering him. Dallas would not have won the championship without him shutting down kd,Kobe,lebron and others. What a vital, yet underrated player

Chip Orr
Chip Orr

Agree.  Marion absolutely shut down Carmelo the other night - it was beautiful to watch but under the radar if you weren't paying attention.  But Marion missed his 4th quarter shots and fatigue certainly played a role in that.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

Carmelo is a mess right now. You could have put Dirk on him, he can't hit anything right now. His scoring is down 8 ppg since he's come back. Stoudemire sucks right now as well. The Knicks aren't a great measuring stick at all. There's a pox upon that organization.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

When the Knicks needed to make plays, Amare couldn't handle a pass or make a shot. Carmelo's line, I'm too lazy to look it up, wasn't good. The Knicks came back with their second team in the game.IMO Baron Davis should be starting over Jeremy Lin. It won't happen though.

We've seen a lot of Amare and Carmelo since they'd played in the Western Conference for so long. Their lines are not indicative of their gameplay.

Chip Orr
Chip Orr

Agree that Carmelo is a mess right now, but disagree that Mavs could have put Dirk on him.  (1) Dirk is getting a lot of rest, playing fewer minutes than last year.  Which is a smart (albeit obvious) move by Carlisle.  Playoff seeding this year isn't as important as being fresh following a brutal shortened season.  Dirk's defense has improved over the years, but he can't cover Carmelo today.  Not his role, anyway.  Mavs need a fresh Dirk for offensive firepower late in games.  (2) Whether Melo's a mess or not, Marion's defense on him was stout.  Melo was visibly frustrated - at least some of that was Matrix in his head.  I agree with the premise of the article - Marion is a defensive stopper and he plays that role very well, but it comes at a price in terms of his offensive output.

Stoudemire did not suck against the Mavs.  He played very well.

Totally agree that there's a pox on the Knicks.  D'Antoni doesn't seem like the right coach for that line-up.  Also agree that a win against the Knicks doesn't mean much, as a measuring stick.  That loss in NY, though . . . .

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

JJ averaged about 20 minutes per game last season. Why does his impact always get somewhat overblown? Chandler's loss has affected the offense far more, but I think you can chalk up the difference just as much to the general aging of the top offense options, which apparently makes them much less likely to get in the paint and get banged around and settle for more jump shots. 

They old, basically. 

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

because Dallas loves players like Bill Bates, Rusty Greer, Eduardo Najera, and Tatu. We're talking about a franchise that retired Brad Davis' number, and when Carlisle addressed Chandler during his ring presentation, "a guy that will go down as one of the all time legendary Maverick players". What the what? He played here a year.

Mervis
Mervis

Yeah but maybe the only legitimate center ever here in Dallas.

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

Good look at Marion, Rob.  I think he's been shooting/flipping it too much..but what's the other options.  Not Lam Lam.

bradz24
bradz24

The loss of Delonte has hurt, as well.

Lakewooder
Lakewooder

I love me some Mavs, but why oh why did we let Chandler go? He was a badass with serious skills.... AND a good guy. Sufferin succotash.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

Money and years. He wanted a long-term guarantee, Cuban wanted flexibility.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

I mean come on, Tyson is no Steve Nash, but I digress. I'm still scratching my head on why they didn't keep the band together. Barrea, Chandler, Butler, how do you let 3 guys go that played so many minutes for you in a championship season(I know Caron was out the 2nd half but he carried them thru the 1st half)?Go Spurs.

Mervis
Mervis

Yeah, but you have to live in Dallas.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

I've always wondered, I mean, teams like NJ, they have a state income tax. Can't those guys make more here? Same thing with Cali, it would seem that even if they made 2 mil less, that it would balance out.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

I'm fairly confident the Mavs have never added a top 10 player through free agency. In the Cuban era they haven't had the cap space to do a straight-up signing anyway, it's always had to be some weird trade situation to acquire anyone. This summer won't be that way, though. Will they land either of them? Dunno. I'm doubtful on Howard. Williams is from here, all the buzz is he wants to play here, we're pretty sure the Mavs want him, he'd solve a lot of future problems, and they'd be able to give him a max deal, so it doesn't seem far-fetched he lands here. But you're right, I think their last team retains rights to resign for more. 

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

I care so hard for your sports feelings, Scruff. That's why I don't want you to get your hopes up on this one. When was the last time Dallas added a top 10 player to their team through free agency? And they're going to try to add two? I just don't see it happening. If the Magic don't move DH, they're going to be left empty handed. I say something goes down with the Lakers. And on the unrestricted guys, their teams can offer them more and a year longer max deals right? Where the hell is Merten?

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

But they're both unrestricted free agents this summer and the Mavs will have quite a bit of money under the soft cap. Could Howard get dealt in the next week? Maybe, but Orlando wouldn't want any of the garbage the Lakers would offer up outside of Bynum. I don't think Dwight would want to stay anywhere that could trade for him. Plus the odds of Jersey trading D-Will are nil, since they think they can keep him. Howard is a big gamble, but all the rumblings around the league are that Dallas is the front runner to get D-Will in free agency.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

That's a big risk with no guarantee either of those guys are coming here. The Lakers have more pieces they can move, but noone should ever trade with the Lakers. I'm with Rhyner on that.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

Look at my post below, Barea's impact isn't something that West/Roddy can't do now. I'm not defending the blowing up of the team, but Tyson was going to command more moolah and years than Cuban was willing to pay, and in doing so would've put them in luxury tax territory and with no free agency flexibility this summer. Cubes chose to clear the books as much as possible and make a good strong run at D-How and D-Will. It would've been great to have Tyson still here, but if (and a big if) the Mavs score one of those names, we may all forget how irritating this 2011-12 season was.  

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