During the 2013 NBA offseason, the Dallas Mavericks signed center Samuel Dalembert to a two-year deal worth roughly $7.5 million. At the time, the popular theory was that the Mavericks were attempting to find a replacement for departed center Tyson Chandler—a move more than two years in the making.
The question is: why can't the Mavericks rely on Dalembert in 2013-14?
Dalembert is a 12-year veteran who has spent time with the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings. In that time, he's developed a reputation as one of the more reliable big men in the NBA, albeit without the flash of a star.
Thus far during his tenure in Dallas, he hasn't been reliable. Instead, Dalembert has failed to live up to the standards set for him.
Dalembert is averaging 21.1 minutes per contest. Through two full months of basketball, he's seen his playing time progressively decrease.
It's become clear that the Mavericks and head coach Rick Carlisle are having a difficult time trusting the veteran big man. What's gone wrong thus far?
Defining Necessary Role
When the Mavericks won the 2011 NBA championship, the key to their success was a mixture of three-point shooting and interior defensive prowess. Since losing Tyson Chandler via free agency, however, Dallas has struggled to protect the rim.
Chandler was a defensive anchor for Dallas in 2010-11, but Dallas has spent the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons with the New York Knicks. In that time, Dallas has been unable to replace Chandler with an adequate starting 5.
This past summer, the Mavericks attempted to find Chandler lite in Dalembert.
Chris Kaman had the ability to be that player, but injuries plagued that experiment in 2012-13.
Dalembert has made a career out of crashing the boards, protecting the rim and serving as a reliable source of offense. He was never a star offensive player, but he has a career average of 7.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 52.1 percent shooting from the field and 70.6 percent from the charity stripe.
His numbers have been relatively strong in 2013-14, but he hasn't been the player that Dallas needs him to be.
The Mavericks need Dalembert to be a shot-blocker who protects the rim with proficiency, provides quality complementary offense and crashes the boards on both ends. He's long been able to do just that, but the value just hasn't been on display against Dallas.
It all starts with his inability to protect the rim.
Failing to Protect the Rim
As previously alluded to, Dalembert's purpose in Dallas is to be a rim-protecting big man. Thus far, he's failed to live up to the hype, despite receiving a number of different opportunities to prove his worth.
Just check the numbers.
According to NBA.com, Dalembert is allowing opponents to shoot 52.8 percent when he meets them at the rim. That's especially concerning considering Dalembert faces 6.9 of such attempts per game.
Until he improves, the Mavericks will continue to be exploited defensively.
Brandan Wright is a very strong player, but the Mavericks are relatively thin when it comes to interior defense. DeJuan Blair is a 6'7" power forward who spends time at center, Dirk Nowitzki has never been known for his defense and Bernard James receives limited playing time.
For that reason, Dallas needs to be able to trust Dalembert with roughly 25 minutes per contest. As a team in the postseason hunt, that need greatly improves.
It all starts with the 32-year-old developing more consistency in protecting the rim. A shot-blocker is a valuable thing to have, but Dalembert must improve to the point of allowing opponents to shoot 45.0 percent or worse at the rim.
Until then, the Mavericks are in a dangerous position.
Patience is Key
Before fans label Dalembert as a player who can't help this team win games, it's important to display patience. Wright may overtake him as the full-time starter, but Dalembert still deserves significant playing time for Dallas as the season progresses.
If for no other reason, the Mavericks lack an adequate replacement.
Who should be Dallas' starting center?
As previously alluded to, every other big man on the roster has their own faults defensively. Wright has proved capable of posting highly-efficient minutes, but when it comes to providing size and defensive prowess down low, Dalembert has the strongest track record.
Dalembert is currently averaging 6.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 21.1 minutes. He's shooting 56.5 percent from the floor and 78.2 percent from the free-throw line, helping to create a positive Player Efficiency Rating of 15.93.
Due to his quality work statistically, it's hard to do anything but infer that he has the ability to turn things around. If that doesn't prove to be the case, the Mavericks can explore a trade to find a replacement. Until an upgrade presents itself, however, Dallas must display patience.
Dalembert was signed for a reason, and in time, he'll provide a final answer to one critical question: Can Dallas trust him to be their defensive anchor? Thus far, the answer is no.