Roger Mason: The Replacement
By the time Roger Mason was finally convinced to leave his hometown Wizards and sign a two year deal worth roughly $7.5 million with the Spurs, no one knew he would be asked to replace Manu Ginobili in San Antonio.
Players in this league are asked to fill in for injured All-Stars all the time. That they can actually step up, not just step in, is what's uncommon.
Certainly not by choice, Tim Duncan has started his campaign for league MVP early this year. Luckily, he's had Micheal Finley and Roger Mason there to help him carry San Antonio's heavy, injury-burdened load. Their efforts finally find the Spurs playing .500 level basketball.
Mason's performances, including the game winning shot against the Clippers in Los Angeles, have given Gregg Popovich hope that his team will be anything but .500 very soon.
"I think we're going to be a very deep basketball team once we get everybody back and healthy," says Popovich.
He's been telling everyone since before the season started that Roger Mason was special. Finally, the league is starting to see what Popovich and the rest of the Spurs have been seeing during practice for weeks.
Since preseason camp, Mason has been "unstoppable" during team scrimmages. He learned the Spurs' offensive and defensive schemes at record pace and perhaps most importantly, he seems to have won over the confidence of his coach—something first year players in San Antonio rarely ever do.
"It's definitely a blessing," says Mason. "I thank God for the opportunity to be here and to be a leader on a team like this. He's blessing me and giving me an opportunity to show my talent."
That Manu Ginobili's injury can be looked at as blessing in disguise is to be short-sighted. One has to look back much further than that.
When Corey Maggette left the Spurs standing empty-handed at the free agent altar this past summer, no one could have imagined that the team's fortunes would turn out better than anyone thought because it left an open door for Mason to join the Spurs, instead.
While Maggette has finally bounced back from his own hamstring injury at Golden State, Roger Mason has been sinking defenders and big shots, including that game winner against the Clippers, for the Spurs.
"Throughout my career, I've taken big shots and I've made made them," said Mason after the game. "Haven't really had that chance in the league, but I got it tonight and I made the most of it and it went in."
The Spurs are counting on Mason for over 14 points a game while running him hard for 35 minutes a night on average.
He's shooting three-pointers with 47% accuracy and even helping with rebounding duty, averaging 4.3 boards a game. Not bad for a shooting guard.
While a head to head comparison to Maggette may look just about even on paper, his defense, his faith in himself and his optimism have won over the team and its most vocal fans. The same might not be said about Maggette. Not 10 games into this young season, perhaps not ever.
It's that same confidence in his shot that made Popovich (the same coach who wanted Mason in a Spurs uniform long before last season) draw up the winning play for him the other night.
"I think it's my first game winner. I've hit some late shots, but as far as game winners, this is my first one," explains Mason. "It's great, you know, just to have a team depend on you. We've got two all-stars out, obviously, and I don't think there's one guy whose gonna make up for a Manu Ginobili or one guy whose gonna make up for Tony Parker, but we've got great coaching, great characters in the locker room and guys that are stepping up."
Roger that, Mr. Mason. Roger that.
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