Josh Howard made his triumphant return to the Mavericks against the Phoenix Suns, showing the Mavericks what they were missing without him, and reviving a team that was reeling from a two-game losing streak in which they looked increasingly stale on offense.
But Josh Howard didn't start the game, where last season he was the NBA's second-leading scorer in the first quarter. Instead JJ Barea provided that spark, and Josh came off the bench to provide the points.
And this leads us to an interesting question: What is Josh Howard's role?
It's a question that I was asking myself as soon as the Mavs acquired Shawn Marion, another small forward. When it became clear that Howard wasn't going to be ready to start at the shooting guard on opening night, we wondered what exactly his role would be.
He seemed to answer that when he made his first return, but it lasted all of two-and-a-half games, and a funny thing happened to the Mavericks: They kept winning.
It's clear the Mavs can win without Josh; the wins might be ugly and harder to come by, but they can win without him.
In his absence Jason Terry, JJ Barea, Rodrigue Beaubois, and Quinton Ross all started at the two, with varying degrees of success.
Coach Rick Carlisle has made it clear that Howard will continue to come off the bench for the time being, and I think it's a great idea.
Now, Howard seems to think it will be temporary while his ankle gets back into game shape, but I'm wondering why that is?
Why can't the Mavericks bring Josh Howard off the bench?
The Mavs are deep enough to play around with a few different lineups, and I think Rodrigue Beaubois could be their starting SG right now (and NOT J.J. Barea, but I'll get into that in a later article).
After all Beaubois has shown that he can provide the scoring early in the game that Josh Howard was so reliant on, and Beaubois has the explosiveness on the fast break and to the lane that we haven't seen from Josh since his All-Star season.
One of the biggest criticisms of Howard was his tendency to fall in love with his jump shot, even though he has the ability to drive and is quite effective in doing so. Often times his feverish infatuation with the jumper would spread to the rest of the team.
Someone like Beaubois starting could give the Mavericks some attitude at the beginning of games, and Beaubois' athleticism can take the other players out of rhythm to start, and he can also make the other teams pay on the offensive end.
Since the first six minutes of an NBA game are often the longest stretches without TV timeouts, Carlisle has said he doesn't want to put that sort of strain on Howard just yet.
Sounds good to me, and if Howard's performance against Phoenix (20 points on 6-13 and 6-6 from the line, six rebounds in 20 minutes) is any indication, then this should serve the Mavs well.
Of course, Josh Howard wasn't on court in crunch time for the Mavericks; he was replaced by JJ Barea with about a minute left. This was also when the Suns began to eat into a seven-point lead, but again, I'll leave that for another time.
Now, as far as Josh coming off the bench effecting someone like Jason Terry, I'm not too worried about it. Terry will get his minutes, he'll just be the seventh man.
As the season winds on and Josh's ankle gets healthier, will Josh be able to move into the starting role? Sure, and like I said before, I think he'll do fine at the shooting guard. He's got the length to defend at that position (which can't be said for anyone else the Mavs have trotted out there in recent years), and I think he'll fit in better offensively as a primary shooter.
So for now, Josh Howard needs to be used as the sixth man. He can come off the bench to give the Mavs a more versatile threat than Jason Terry (rebounding, better defense), and Terry can assume the role of spot up shooter, especially from deep (where Howard has no business).
It's a lineup that a lot of teams in the league would kill to have, and the Mavs are blessed to be able to toss out so many different looks, both offensive and defensive.
And as long as everyone can keep producing at a high level, the Mavs are going to be as formidable as anyone come playoff time.
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