- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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DALLAS -- The numbers say Elton Brand should be the Mavericks’ starting center.
Coach Rick Carlisle says he’s seriously considering it.
But Brand says he’s cool coming off the bench behind Chris Kaman, as long as he continues to get opportunities to be part of the Mavs’ closing five.
“Nah, I’m not worried about starting,” Brand said Thursday. “I like to finish. I’ve started some games and didn’t sniff the court in the fourth quarter. I’d rather just keep the minutes how they are. We’re winning and I’m fine with that.”
Brand did start 13 games earlier in the season. His splits coming off the bench are actually much better than when he starts, but that’s irrelevant to this discussion.
This decision is all about maximizing the Mavs’ efficiency with Dirk Nowitzki on the floor. Nowitzki was a spectator for every one of Brand’s starts. It’s painfully obvious that the face of the Mavs’ franchise fits better next to Brand than Kaman, Nowitzki’s German national teammate.
As Nowitzki has noted, the problem with pairing him with fellow 7-footer Kaman is that they both struggle defensively. Brand, on the other hand, is an excellent team defender who is capable of guarding the opponent’s best post player.
When Brand joins Nowitzki on the floor, foes average 93.6 points per 48 minutes. That stat soars to 105.7 points per 48 minutes for the Kaman/Nowitzki combo.
You can’t make a case for Kaman playing next to Nowitzki based on offensive numbers, either. The Mavs have averaged 97.8 points per 48 minutes with Brand/Nowitzki and 93.3 with Kaman/Nowitzki.
That’s a net rating of plus-4.2 with Brand next to Nowitzki and minus-12.4 when Kaman joins the Mavs’ superstar.
In fairness to Kaman, he has been much more effective with Dirk in January, posting a net rating of minus-2.3. Then again, the Brand/Nowitzki pairing has also been much better this month (plus-9.1).
Carlisle acknowledged weeks ago that starting the two 7-footers together might not work due to their defensive deficiencies. Is it time to make Brand the Mavs’ starting big man?
“That’s one of the things we’ll continue to look at,” Carlisle said. “It’s a good question. It’s a valid question. I don’t know if we’re at a point yet where it’s time to change, but we’ll see. I’m for giving everything a legitimate chance and then making the decision to stay with it or to change course.”
Kaman has continued to start, but Brand got the majority of the minutes in the Mavs’ last two games. Brand, who endured a shooting slump early in the season but has been extremely efficient recently, played 30 minutes in Monday’s win over the Timberwolves and 27 minutes in Wednesday’s win over the Clippers.
Brand has shot 59.1 percent from the floor while averaging 9.7 points and 6.2 rebounds in 22.4 minutes per game in January. Kaman’s numbers this month (9.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 46.5 field goal percentage in 22.6 minutes per game) are pretty similar.
However, Brand is a significantly better defender, a point highlighted by his game-changing block of James Harden’s driving layup attempt with the score tied and a little more than a minute remaining Wednesday night.
“He’s an important part of the soul of our team, really,” Carlisle said. “The play last night where he was able to summon up the will and the energy and the bounce to block that shot by Harden really epitomizes how he’s been there for us all year long, even when he wasn’t shooting it great at the beginning of the year.
“He’s the one guy we have that gives us a bruising, physical presence, and of course everybody is aware that he’s shooting the ball better.”
Brand’s performance ought to have convinced the coaching staff to make him a starter. Even though Brand might need to be convinced that it’d be in his best interests.