Who should coach Rick Carlisle start at center?
That was a game-to-game decision last season, when Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Wright and occasionally Bernard James took turns as the big man in the starting lineup. Carlisle would prefer a consistent starting lineup, but he’ll never settle for mediocrity for the sake of routine.
Is there a center on the roster who merits being given the starting job for good? Let’s look at the credentials of the three candidates:
Dalembert: This was Dalembert’s job to lose. And he did.
Dalembert has come off the bench in the last five games. His numbers (6.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.3 blocks) are a bit below his career norms, and the Mavs are disappointed that he hasn’t provided more of a defensive presence.
According to the NBA’s advanced statistics database, Dalembert has made minimal impact on the Mavs’ defense. Dallas has an overall defensive rating of 104.0 (points per 100 possessions). It’s 103.4 with Dalembert on the floor – and that spikes to 105.9 since Nov. 25, when he was benched for the first quarter because he missed a shootaround.
That’s no way to win back a starting job.
Blair: The Mavs are 2-3 with the vertically challenged, wide-bodied Blair in the starting lineup, and he’s had a much better impact coming off the bench.
Blair’s per-48-minute plus-minus is minus-9.7 as a starter and plus-4.3 as a reserve. He’s been much more effective as a rebounder -- which is what Blair does best -- coming off the bench, averaging more than four more rebounds per 48 minutes in a reserve role.
The Mavs’ starting center ideally can protect the rim, helping make up for the defensive flaws of Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki. Blair is a banger who plays below the rim, having blocked only seven shots all season.
However, the starting lineup with Blair has been extremely effective offensively (113.7 rating) and has done a bit better than keeping its head above water this season, outscoring opponents by seven in 93 minutes.
Wright: He could be ready to make his season debut as soon as Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks. Does it make sense to throw a potentially rusty player right into the starting lineup?
Carlisle has been hesitant to use Wright as a starter under any circumstances because of the challenges the slender 6-foot-10 high-flyer has banging with bigger bodies. Wright added about 15 pounds this offseason to prepare for the physical pounding, although he likely lost some strength while recovering from the nondisplaced fracture in his left shoulder suffered the day after the preseason opener.
It’s also nice to have Wright’s scoring punch in the second unit.
But the stats suggest Wright might be the Mavs’ best bet as a starting big man. It worked last season, when the .500 Mavs were 10-6 in games Wright started, with him averaging 10.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 23.4 minutes those nights.
The Mavs also know that Wright’s offensive game, which is predicated on playing over the rim and finishing around the basket, meshes well with Nowitzki’s. The Mavs outscored opponents by 12.8 points per 48 minutes with that pair on the floor last season and had an offensive rating of 114.1 (points per 100 possessions), the best of any Dallas duo last season.
Can the Mavs build on that success with upgrades at both guard spots? At this point, it’s probably worth finding out.