Ever since the Dallas Mavericks traded Robert Traylor for Dirk Nowitzki, it’s been Mark Cuban’s job to pair Nowitzki with a talented sidekick who understood exactly what his job was. When teaming with Nowitzki, there are three things you need to be able to do; you need to be able to run the pick and roll with him, get him the ball in his sweet spots and hit wide-open shots when opposing teams double-team him. While this wasn’t the vision initially, since Nowitzki hadn’t developed, the goal always seemed to begin transitioning him to the franchise player he is now. In order for this vision to be successful, the Mavericks employed different strategies. Different caliber players have tried and had different levels of success.
There was Steve Nash, who was acquired in a draft day trade with the Phoenix Suns for underachieving power forward Pat Garrity. While Nash was used as a reserve during his first two years with the Suns, the Mavericks saw something they liked in him and completed the transaction. Nash was an excellent three-point shooter during his time with the Mavericks as he never shot below 37 percent. He and Nowitzki also flourished in the two-man game and Nash had Nowitzki’s trust when teams collapsed on him. Nash averaged no fewer than 7.3 assists per game as a member of the Mavericks. However, the Mavericks lost in the first round, second round and conference finals of the playoffs with Nash at the helm.
After Nash signed with the Suns in free agency, the Mavericks brought in former Atlanta Hawks point guard Jason Terry. He was coming off a season where he averaged 16.8 points, 5.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game and was one of the game’s ascending players. However, Terry struggled in his first year with the Mavericks as his scoring decreased to 12.4 points per game; in fact, Terry was benched after starting 55 games. Nonetheless, Terry was a key member of the Mavs going forward as he became the team’s de-facto No. 2 scoring option. After a rough first year in Mavericks blue, Terry never averaged less than 15 points per game again and was part of the team that went to two NBA Finals. Terry played a key part in the Mavericks upsetting the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.
When Terry joined the Boston Celtics as a free agent, the Mavericks brought in O.J. Mayo to be Nowitzki’s second option. However, Nowitzki missed the first 29 games of the season, so him and Mayo couldn’t develop the rapport that he had developed with the aforementioned Nash and Terry. Mayo averaged 15.3 points per game, but drew the ire of head coach Rick Carlisle for costly turnovers in the fourth quarter. Mayo also seemed to have a hard time getting the ball to Nowitzki in the fourth quarters of close games, and this certainly didn’t adhere him to Mavericks fans.
Now, to replace Mayo and try to return to the postseason, Cuban signed former Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard Monta Ellis. With 23 games to go, Monta is averaging 19 points, 5.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. He’s doing this while shooting 45 percent from the floor. Ellis has played really well in the fourth quarter of games in terms of drawing charges and coming up with big defensive stops. Ellis has also received praise from Carlisle for displaying toughness by playing through injuries. Ellis also knows who to get the ball to when the game’s on the line, as evidenced by the game-winning shot that Nowitzki hit against the New York Knicks earlier this week. Monta knew that was Dirk’s time, and he got out of the way.
More importantly, the Mavericks find themselves in the sixth seed in the Western Conference, despite their loss to the Chicago Bulls last night. During that game, Ellis finished with 20 points, five assists and four rebounds as he repeatedly slashed his way into the heart of the Bulls’ defense.
It seems like reports of the Mavericks’ demise were a bit premature. You can credit Ellis, potentially Nowitzki’s best sidekick ever, for that.