You can’t always get what you want…
But if you try sometimes you just might find...
You get what you need.
The Dallas Mavericks met for their first official training camp practice on Tuesday and as is commonly known, there have been a few changes. With the signing of center Samuel Dalembert, the Mavs hope to regain the synergy they had with defensive stopper Tyson Chandler that helped them win a championship.
Prior to Chandler it had been two decades since the Mavericks had a force inside who was capable of not only defending and rebounding but also consistently scoring when necessary. The history was documented in detail again last year after Chandler’s painful departure and another year of mediocrity in the middle thereafter.
Chris Kaman arrived with high expectations as a versatile scorer who, by his career average, would be the highest scoring center in Mavericks’ history. In the early part of the season with Dirk out, Kaman put up solid numbers as the team’s second-leading scorer and second-most efficient shooter.
Unfortunately the Mavericks defense both inside and outside had already been decimated with the departures of Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson, Jason Kidd, Caron Butler and Delonte West and pairing Kaman with Dirk returning from injury left the Mavs way too vulnerable inside. Kaman was never paired with his old frontcourt running mate the Mavs’ best defensive post player Elton Brand as Brand was relegated to playing center instead of his natural position of power forward. In addition, in an offense without strong direction from a competent floor general, Kaman seemed to take to many jump shots and after an injury was in and out of Rick Carlisle’s doghouse for the latter part of the season.
Kaman has since departed for the Lakers while the Mavericks pondered and/or pursued Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden, all of whom went elsewhere leaving the Mavericks looking for a consolation prize. The question remained whether or not they would be able to find a true center who would be able to fill the Mavericks most pressing needs down low: rebounding and defense. A rim protector and someone to grab rebounds were most desperately needed last year and as it happens, what has worked best with Dirk in the past, including the Chandler pairing that resulted in an NBA Championship.
Clearly Dwight Howard is an elite defensive player but if he had signed, he would have come with baggage and a salary that would have limited who else the Mavs would be able to sign, as would Deron Williams. At the point José Calderón may be the best bang for the buck considering how much his game resembles elite point guards such as Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. The best available center remaining happened to be Samuel Dalembert, who hasn’t exactly enthralled Mavericks fans after a down year in Milwaukee where he played a career low in minutes as the up-and-coming Larry Sanders became one of the league’s premiere defensive forces.
One of the great things about Tyson Chandler besides his game itself is the enthusiasm he brings to the floor and locker room and that will always be hard to replace. However, when it comes to putting up numbers, Dalembert is a quality center who shouldn’t be underestimated and like many other recent Mavs pickups, Dallas may give him a chance for a fresh start.
Some might think of Dalembert as a poor man’s Chandler; however if you look at his career numbers he might be more than that. Looking at their career averages the numbers are fairly similar, with Chandler averaging around 9 ppg and 9 rpg over the course of his career and Dalembert around 8 ppg and 8 rpg. The difference is that Chandler’s numbers have been up since coming to Dallas while Dalembert’s have been down since before he left Philadelphia.
But adjusted for 36 minutes, the similarities are striking and Dalembert actually has a slight edge:
Chandler: 11.0 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg
Dalembert: 11.4 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.6 bpg
Dalembert also has been healthier over the course of his career.
Ultimately, last year reminded Dallas fans that no amount of offense can make up for a lack of rebounding and defense. Even after Chandler left, Dallas still had a couple of solid big bodies up front. Brendan Haywood, while not terribly mobile, is a solid presence in the lane and Ian Mahinmi played aggressive defense albeit while racking up personal fouls. The backcourt was also still patrolled by Jason Kidd and Delonte West.
Last year much of the blame fell on Kaman, who has never been known as a great defender but in fairness, he’s never been considered a bad one either. The pairing with Dirk was especially bad as neither is particularly swift afoot and in addition, there was no competent defense guarding the perimeter. Bernard James, Brandan Wright and Elton Brand all had strengths and weaknesses to contend with.
While Shawn Marion remains perhaps the most underrated defensive player in the league and Vince Carter has played perhaps the best defense of his career since arriving in Dallas, the two of them can’t guard the entire court and as much upside as new arrivals Calderón and Monta Ellis have on the offensive end, neither of them are known for their defense as well. The Mavericks know their mission must be to play solid defense despite flaws in the lineup. This makes Dalembert’s signing all that much more important.
If Dalembert is consistent with his career numbers the Mavs will be that much better off for having him on both ends of the floor. His defense fills an obvious void and in addition, the support on the offensive glass will be very important. The Mavs have plenty of offensive firepower but there were far too many trips down the floor last year when they came up empty. With help from Dalembert and DeJuan Blair, that stands to improve significantly.
Dalembert and many observers believe he can indeed be the second coming of Chandler on the court. Also like Chandler, Dalembert had a down year the season before joining the Mavericks. His minutes were limited due to the emergence of Larry Sanders but his per 36 numbers were in line with career averages and in fact, a bit better: 14.7 ppg, 13.0 ppg, 2.5 bpg.
His frontcourt running mates appreciate what he brings to the table. Via Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star Telegram:
Small forward Shawn Marion welcomes a player such as Dalembert, who can protect the rim.
‘I like somebody that’s aggressive around the paint and that’s going to attack every time somebody comes in there,’ Marion said. ‘It’s not going to be an open lane to the basket. When somebody is able to protect the paint it makes it a lot easier for us, and it makes us want to defend even more.’
Power forward Dirk Nowitzki also sees value in the Mavericks signing Dalembert.
‘I think Sammy should bring some of the stuff that really meshes well with my game, and that’s rebounding and protecting the paint,’ Nowitzki said. ‘He’s always been one of the best rebounding-per-minute guys, and his length should really help us around the basket.’
Dalembert has committed to playing hard. Commenting after his first official practice he said “That’s one thing I can promise. I can control that.”
Perhaps that will help inspire those fans for whom the reaction to Dalembert, as well as Ellis and Calderón has been an unfortunate “meh” or focusing on their deficiencies. In Dalembert’s case, the prevailing feeling seems to be that he is no more than perfunctory. That may be the case but all of the new additions seem to appreciate coming to a team with other quality players, quality coaching and a system that makes sense to them and they believe they can fit into.
An as Dalembert also said “I’ve got a new opportunity here, and I’m not going to let that slide down.”