Sunday, November 22, 2009
Mavericks nurturing rookie's potential
By Tim MacMahon
DALLAS -- Hop aboard the Rodrigue Beaubois bandwagon for what ought to be a thrilling ride.
The featured attractions: a 40-plus-inch vertical leap, 6-foot-10 wing span, shooting range that extends well beyond the 3-point line and quickness that the Dallas Mavericks measured during pre-draft workouts as better than Devin Harris'.
Oh, and the skinny 21-year-old rookie guard from the French island of Guadeloupe has the quiet confidence necessary to step into the starting lineup and contribute to a team that's battling for the Western Conference lead.
Just understand that this ride might include a stop or two in Albuquerque. The Mavs' decision-makers understand why fans are so excited by what they've seen from their French phenom, but they view Beaubois as a kid whose basketball development has just begun.
"We have to temper that enthusiasm," president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. "He is green. He's wet behind the ears. He's a rookie. In the right way and in the right situations, we want to continue to have him develop with NBA court time versus developmental [league] court time, but not at the expense of wins and losses."
The 6-2, 182-pound Beaubois, whom the Mavs were ecstatic to get after trading down for the 25th overall pick, certainly hasn't done anything to merit a demotion.
He's started every game during the Mavs' current five-game winning streak, averaging 9.4 points on 60.6 percent shooting in 17.8 minutes per game during that span.
He's had some flashes of defensive brilliance, helping harass Detroit Pistons star Ben Gordon into a horrendous shooting night and holding Rookie of the Year front-runner Brandon Jennings without a field goal in overtime of the Mavs' win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Right now, the Mavs must rely on Beaubois. He's replaced Josh Howard as the starting shooting guard and offensive spark at the beginning of games.
"Every day, I'm learning something new," said Beaubois, whose English has improved significantly since he was drafted in April. "I think I can bring more things to this team. It's coming. I keep pushing."
However, the Mavs have been careful not to ask too much too soon of Beaubois, who is learning a new language and culture while making a tremendous leap in competition after playing in a French league not even considered elite by European standards.
Beaubois has been put in a position to succeed. The kid who doesn't yet have a driver's license gets to ride shotgun with future Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd on the floor. That minimizes the pressure on Beaubois in terms of decision making.
"Step one is getting him acclimated to the game, and being in there with Jason has been perfect with him," assistant coach Monte Mathis said. "Now it's getting him to the point where he can be in there without Jason and run the team. That's the next step in his development."
Added head coach Rick Carlisle: "As he gets more experience and continues to do good things, it's going to facilitate more opportunities for him to be out there. He's different than the rest of the guys we have. He's just a different kind of athlete, different kind of skill set. We need him."
The Mavs need Beaubois now. But what about when Howard returns from rehabilitating his surgically repaired ankle?
Keep the big pictures in mind. From a team perspective, that means scrapping for every win with the hopes of earning home-court advantage for as long as possible in the playoffs. From an individual perspective, that means preparing Beaubois to be Kidd's eventual successor at point guard.
If those two goals conflict, Beaubois could spend time running the point for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, the Mavs' D-League affiliate this season, where he'd get the opportunity to play point guard and have the ball in his hands during crunch time.
But Beaubois also benefits tremendously from being around Kidd, who has embraced his role as mentor for the rookie. Kidd is constantly dispensing advice to Beaubois during practices, film sessions and games. He's trying to teach Beaubois how and when to use his best attribute: that ridiculous quickness.
"He listens and he applies it," Kidd said. "When I tell him to go, he goes. The big thing is for him to understand when to go, when to change gears. That's just going to come with time, with trial and error, getting minutes under his belt."
Beaubois has been willing to listen since he arrived in Dallas. His learning has accelerated significantly since he got over his shyness and started asking questions.
That took a little while. Mathis, Dallas' summer league coach and head of the player development program, has spent countless hours working one-on-one with Beaubois on the floor and in the film room. He had a breakthrough with Beaubois this summer when the rookie finally informed Mathis he didn't understand something.
"I kept talking to him about momentum in his shot carrying forward instead of backward," Mathis said. "Finally, after about three weeks of working with him and saying the word momentum about 500 times, he said, 'I don't understand momentum. What do you mean?' ... Now, instead of it taking three weeks to ask the question, he'll ask right away."
Beaubois has impressed coaches and teammates by picking up the team's defensive concepts pretty well in the early stages of his rookie year. That's been a primary focus of his sessions with Mathis. They've also worked on such things as staying under control after penetrating in what equates to the first semester of what's known around the American Airlines Center as "Mavs University."
Beaubois' grade so far?
"I would give him a B-plus," Mathis said. "There's always room for improvement."
There's a ton of room for improvement with Beaubois. That's the most exciting thing about the rookie.
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.