The Inside Skinny: The backup plan

Going into this season, one of Dallas' perceived strengths was its depth. The natural assumption is that it means a nice punch off the bench. And certainly players like Jason Terry, Brendan Haywood and Shawn Marion provide the Mavericks with plenty of talented vets who can fill up the box when coming off the pine.

But where a team’s depth is really put to the test is when players who aren’t called upon for regular action are forced into meaningful minutes. In the early going of the 2010-11 campaign, injuries to Roddy Beaubois and Caron Butler have forced DeShawn Stevenson and last-minute camp invitee Brain Cardinal into important roles. And as the old cliché goes – these guys are pros.

Stevenson has started the last four games, all Maverick wins, and had a noticeable impact on the team’s defensive intensity on the perimeter. He’s given the Mavs timely 3-point shooting, especially from the corners, knocking down 8-of-17 from long range on the season.

But the number that impresses me the most is that he has zero turnovers in his 65 minutes. He’s not called upon to be a playmaker, but he’s smart and decisive with the ball and has yet to force up a bad shot. It sounds like a minor thing, but it’s so important for a role player, especially one who may or may not see consistent action, to play within the structure of what the team is doing offensively and not go all John Rambo in this piece. I’m always game to see Stevenson get regular burn, but it’s great to know that even when he’s put on ice, he’ll still be ready to go when his number is called.

Seems like Cardinal is going to fit that same bill. He’s been called upon to play bursts at the 3 and 4 spots, and his willingness to muck it up or deliver the hard foul is a useful trait. He’s also a benefit in spreading the floor, not only as a shooter, but in moving the ball when the defense is scrambling to recover after overloading the strong side of the floor – also known as “wherever Dirk is.” He knows the right play to make, and so far he’s made it.

Stevenson and Cardinal aren’t the Mavs you think of when analyzing why the team has started 7-2. But when your tenth- and eleventh-best players are giving you meaningful contributions, well I’d say that’s the very definition of depth.