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All eyes on Shawn Marion

With Dirk Nowitzki out for the time being, Dallas will need their new elder statesman to take on a bigger role on offense. Is he up to it?

Brandon Wade

Shawn Marion's problem, to the extent that the Mavericks' Swiss Army Knife has a problem, is that his decline as an offensive player is going to be sudden, swift, and final. In many ways, it's already happened.Though Shawn is still capable of averaging double digits, and though he even goes for 20 in the occasional game, I don't think there's an important cog in anyone's offense who makes his living off as many bad shots as Shawn Marion does.

Not, when you've practiced them as often as Shawn has, that that standing floater or post-floater is a bad shot, but it's not a good shot, it's not a layup. And that three isn't getting any better, even if it isn't getting any worse.

That's a problem. People talk about it like it's not a problem, because of the huge, huge role Marion plays in the Dallas Mavericks' defense, and we'll get to that, obviously. But it is.

Shawn is the only all-around player the Mavericks have. Sadly enough, he and his 7.4 boards per game last year led the Mavericks by more than half a rebound (Dirk was second at 6.8, Haywood at 6). Since the whole team is new guys or Roddy Beaubois, he's one of two players who understands the Mavericks' offense and defense, especially defense, inside and out. The other, of course, is Dirk, who's out for an unknown amount of time.

For the next month or two, until Dirk gets back, he has a clear role, Marion has to be the Mavericks' rock and elder statesman. He's good at that. He fills up the box score in more ways than anyone on the team. To be clear, Shawn is great. He deserved mention in the DPOY of the year voting for no better reason than that the Mavericks defense was decent last year, and there was no reason it should have been. And actually, I don't think anyone in the league does a better job guarding the game's best scorers. I bet Kevin Durant would agree.

However. The Mavericks need him, and are counting on him, to score some points, especially while Dirk is out, and in general-and he's not going to. I love the guy. He hasn't asked to be put in this situation. But if Shawn could still score, what made him score 10 points a game last year when the Mavericks offense was so moribund they regularly struggled to keep up with teams like the Cavs and Hornets? Was he deferring too much to Lamar Odom?

10 points on 10 shots last year, by the way. He got to the line less than 2 times a game. Shawn Marion is no longer a scorer, and will be less so each year. That is fine, there is no sense in which Shawn could be doing more than he's doing, he wears himself out chasing the best scorers every night. But sometimes, something isn't enough just because it isn't enough.

The Mavericks do have an easy schedule, for the most part. They do have some talent, although that talent so far has been throwing the ball into the stands like it's a free giveaway day. But Mavericks fans need to be prepared for how bad this offense is likely to look without Dirk. It's most gifted offensive player will be OJ Mayo, and its second might be Chris Kaman or Elton Brand (both of whom averaged more points than Darren Collison or Marion last year). That's what we're looking at.

You're going to read a lot of stuff in the next week or two, you're going to see a lot of stuff about how Shawn Marion is going to get to do a lot more in the uptempo offense they'll be running without Dirk. It'll be more like Phoenix for him. And it will. But that was four long years ago.

Shawn Marion, for all he gives the Mavericks, needs and deserves a team that is capable of taking what offense he can give them, or more often not give them, and let him do all the other things he does so well. Until Dirk gets back, this won't be that team.

If, after Dirk gets back, it is-if the other guys have meshed and started throwing their passes to each other, for example, and everybody understands their role pretty well-the Mavericks are certainly talented enough to make some noise this season. And Shawn Marion will be a big part of that.

Shawn Marion's role is, in other words, what it has been for years. It is to do as much of everything as he can. He did it on defense without Tyson Chandler last year, even though it wasn't enough, and he'll do it this year even if, without Dirk, it's very unlikely to be enough. Still, if you're not appreciating what the Matrix does, day-in, day-out, you, my friend are not appreciating basketball.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.