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Can Mavs still upgrade at center?

7/16/2013

The Mavericks hoped to sign Dwight Howard this summer but will gladly settle for Samuel Dalembert at this point.

Dalembert, who is primed to join his fifth team in five seasons, is a far cry from a perennial All-Star in his prime. However, a strong case can be made that Dalembert would be an upgrade as a stopgap big man in Dallas.

That bar admittedly isn’t much higher than Chris Kaman’s vertical leap. For the Mavs to upgrade at center, assuming the essentially-done deal with Brandan Wright doesn’t fall through, they simply must find a starter who is a better fit than Kaman.

For now, the focus is on recruiting Dalembert to split time with Wright and former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden as a low-risk reclamation project. The Mavs believe Dalembert will give them a big man whose game meshes better with Dirk Nowitzki’s than Kaman's did last season.

Kaman and Nowitzki are good pals dating back to their time together on the German national team that made the Olympics, but they simply weren’t a compatible pair in the NBA. The Mavs were outscored by an average of 5.8 points per 48 minutes with Kaman and Nowitzki on the court together, compared to a per-48 plus-0.7 for Elton Brand/Nowitzki and plus-12.7 for Wright/Nowitzki.

Much was made about the Dirk/Kaman duo’s defensive deficiencies, which Nowitzki himself acknowledged that issue by mentioning that, “Both of us can’t guard nobody.” Dalembert might have a reputation for possessing an inconsistent motor, but he’s a better shot-blocker, rim-protector and rebounder than Kaman.

The painful truth about the Kaman-Nowitzki pairing is that it didn’t work offensively. The proof is in the numbers: The Mavs averaged a miserable 91.7 points per 48 minutes with those two on the court.

That might be surprising considering that Kaman was billed as Dallas’ best offensive big man during the Dirk era, but the spacing simply didn’t work with Dirk joined by a jumper-happy center. Wright barely shoots the ball outside of the restricted area, but the Mavs lit it up when he was paired with Nowitzki (108.8 points per 48 minutes).

Dalembert’s offensive arsenal will never be confused with Hakeem Olajuwon’s, but he at least seems to understand his limitations. According to hoopdata.com, more than half of Dalembert’s shot attempts came at the rim last season, when he shot 54.2 percent from the floor. He’s also a good offensive rebounder (grabbing 14.2 percent of offensive rebound opportunities last season, which would have ranked third in the league if he had played enough games).

The best offensive big man in Mavs history was an $8 million bust in Dallas. The Mavs struck out on their swing at a superstar, but they can still upgrade at center at a much cheaper salary.