There was a time when Shawn Marion was one of the most devastatingly versatile players in the league—a two-way monster as valuable to your fantasy basketball team as he was to the incendiary Phoenix Suns.
The problem is that time was almost 10 years ago.
That this was the move that somehow pushed the Cavs over the top as unquestioned title favorites, however, might be taking it a hitched jumper too far.
Begin with the obvious: At 36 years old and with over 40,000 minutes on his NBA odometer, Marion isn’t exactly a spring chicken.
He’s coming off a season in which he logged career lows in player efficiency rating (13.7), points per 36 minutes (11.8) and defensive rating (108), and he is nowhere near the defensive force of years past.
In terms of Cleveland’s rotational situation, it’s hard to see where, exactly, Marion fits. The team already has LeBron James, after all, and with the addition of Kevin Love now imminent, both of the team’s starting forward spots are all but spoken for.
Then again, not knowing where Marion fits in your rotational scheme isn’t exactly a bad problem to have if you’re head coach David Blatt.
Indeed, absent the soon-to-be-departed Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, Cleveland’s frontcourt depth isn’t exactly a strong point beyond Mike Miller, Tristan Thompson and Brendan Haywood—the latter two are paint-bound bullies with little in the way of range.
What Marion provides, then, is a unique brand of forward variability.
He may not be the stat-stuffing beast of a decade ago, but Marion’s defense and burgeoning three-point shot—his 36 percent clip a year ago was the second-best mark of his career—remain rotation-ready.
But while Marion may have remained a key piece of a surprisingly strong Dallas Mavericks team a season ago, the Cavs’ high-octane frontcourt stands to render “The Matrix” more of a spot and locker room luxury than a strategic necessity.
“Marion can be a glue guy for Cleveland, making the hustle plays that can change the outcome of a game or sparing James from the physical thrashings handed out on the low post,” Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley recently wrote. “Frankly, Marion needs to play that role because his days as a top-shelf contributor are well behind him.”
In fact, as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out, there’s a chance the Cavs could find themselves needing Marion less than they think:
And here’s a note that’s a little alarming: The Mavericks were better both offensively and defensively with Marion off the floor each of the last four seasons (2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14). When it came to on- vs. off-court numbers, Marion was in a tough spot as Dirk Nowitzki‘s backup. But the lack of impact on defensive numbers, in particular, should provide caution for anyone expecting him to be the stopper that he was earlier in his career.
Schuhmann aptly draws the comparison between Marion and Shane Battier, whose three-and-D pedigree proved a useful ancillary weapon in James and the Heat’s back-to-back title runs. While Marion isn’t quite Battier’s equal from distance, his ability to guard up to three different positions makes him a slightly more reliable defensive option.
If all this sounds like hardwood handwringing, rest assured that Cleveland’s new coach is much more enthused about his team’s latest move, per Eurobasket's David Pick:
If you’re a coach on the cusp of your first ever NBA assignment, you’ll take all the proven products. Blatt—a Euroleague veteran renowned for his expansive basketball acumen—isn’t about to second-guess getting a cog of Marion’s caliber.
Even at his age, Marion remains a threat in transition, which is something Blatt will no doubt be looking to encourage on a team with a pair of top-flight flyers in James and Kyrie Irving as well as arguably the game’s best outlet passer in Love at his disposal.
But for Marion to truly prove himself a free-agent bargain, three-point shooting—something that’s been a strength of the savvy veteran only intermittently—must become a primary focus.
Luckily for the Cavs, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle was getting that ball rolling as early last year, as he told the Dallas Morning News’ Brad Townsend:
I just believe in him. I believe he can do it. I see the stretches in his career where he’s shot it well. I understand that a coach’s belief in a player goes a long way toward the player believing in himself. ...
He was never told not to take it. But I put an emphasis on encouraging it this year. And I believe it’s the right thing to do.
The three now is such an important part of the dynamics of the game, the spacing of it. If you can’t make it, they don’t guard you.
With so many playmakers around him, it stands to reason Marion will be given open looks aplenty next season. As such, converting them at a reasonable rate—something resembling the 36 percent clip Marion registered a season ago—could prove paramount to Cleveland’s playoff prospects.
At the very least, Marion’s defensive versatility will be a boon to a Cavs team on which James and Anderson Varejao remain the only consistently reliable quantities in that department.
And in an Eastern Conference landscape poised to see the return of Derrick Rose, those are no small potatoes.
That the Cavs authored an unforgettable summer of superstar signings and hope sprung anew goes without saying. The pitfalls lie in propping Marion's signing up as some kind of cure-all coup, as if his recent regression didn’t actually happen.
Does Marion's arrival move Cleveland’s needle? Probably.
But when the offseason’s already seen you go from zero to 100 in one signing flat, every notch after is bound to make you wonder whether you're actually going faster.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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