<
>

Mavs' run started with DeShawn Stevenson

DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry approached coach Rick Carlisle on Nov. 7 with what might have seemed like a crazy suggestion.

They wanted DeShawn Stevenson, a dude who played a total of less than two minutes in the first five games, to move into the starting lineup.

Carlisle granted the veterans’ wish, and he’s glad that he did. A team that was 3-2 with Stevenson riding the pine has won 16 of 18 games since he became a starter.

“For them to want me in the starting lineup on a championship-caliber team is just a blessing,” Stevenson said. “What I try to do is work my butt off to not let them down.”

Stevenson has performed so well that Carlisle could have a tough decision once Roddy Beaubois finally gets healthy. Do you change a starting lineup that wins so often?

The logic of making Stevenson a starter was twofold: It helped set a tone by putting the Mavs’ best wing defender on the floor at the beginning of games, and it gave the bench some much-needed scoring punch by putting Terry back in the sixth man role.

Any offense provided by Stevenson would have been considered a bonus. All he’s done is make 53.6 percent of his 3-point attempts, which is tied for the league lead, while averaging 5.5 points in 13.6 minutes.

“I didn’t think he was going to come through like that obviously,” Nowitzki said.

It’s certainly understandable to be surprised by Stevenson’s sudden marksmanship. After all, this is a guy who shot 21.8 percent from 3-point range last season.

But a couple of things happened this offseason to help Stevenson, who was considered a throw-in with Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood in last seson's blockbuster deal with the Wizards, regain his perimeter shooting touch.

First, he took Carlisle’s advice and scrapped his funky shooting grip, going from holding the seams upright to the conventional style. That solved the problem of Stevenson’s jumpers rotating like a screwball.

Second, Stevenson dropped 13 pounds, which eliminated the pain in a back that was surgically repaired less than two years ago.

With a new grip and lighter frame, the now 232-pound Stevenson regained his confidence. And he patiently waited his turn, impressing his teammates with his work ethic while he wasn’t in the rotation, which is another reason the Mavs’ longest-tenured stars wanted him to get an opportunity.

Stevenson has been a pleasant surprise as a floor-spacing spot-up shooter, and he understands his role on offense. He rarely shoots unless wide open and is a good passer makes smart decisions with the ball.

And Stevenson has provided the toughness you might expect from a man with hundreds of tattoos. He consistently defends the opponents’ primary wing scorer for a team that allows the third-lowest field-goal percentage in the NBA (.432).

“I don’t think anybody in the city or state of Texas thought about inserting him in the starting lineup, but we know what he can bring to this team and he’s done that,” Terry said. “I don’t think he gets enough credit. He does the dirtiest work and gets the least amount of credit.”