At the beginning of DeJuan Blair’s sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh he had no idea who Wes Unseld was. Thankfully his coach, Jamie Dixon, took the time to explain the story of the 5-time All-Star and his similarities in being, at 6’7, an undersized athlete playing the center position.
Blair, who signed a one-year deal with the Mavericks in the off-season, will be looking to raise his game back to the level it was his first two years in the league and replicate the success Unseld had on the court 35 seasons back.
Wes Unseld played 13 seasons in the NBA. In that time, despite being 6’7, Unseld won the league’s Rookie of the Year award, a Most Valuable Player award, led the Washington Bullets to four NBA Finals appearances and winning the Championship under former Mavs Head Coach Dick Motta in 1978. He held his own against the top centers of the time which included matchups with Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Adbul-Jabbar and Dave Cowens.
His success was built around his ability to set devastating picks, work tirelessly on the boards and deliver some of the most remarkable outlet passes of anyone in the league. Those are the things that DeJuan Blair needs to do to be successful. Playing in conjunction with the newly acquired Samuel Delambert, he won’t be expected to produce Hall of Fame numbers as Unseld did, but being successful in those same areas will give Dallas exactly what the team was hoping for when they signed Blair.
Attaining that success is, indeed, possible for the fifth-year NBA veteran. While at Pittsburgh, Blair improved greatly as he went from soft, often underhanded passes to quick, crisp outlets which allowed his guards to run and set the offense. That will be important this season playing with Jose Calderon and Devin Harris who are capable of getting the ball up the floor quickly.
Last year with the San Antonio Spurs, Blair’s numbers fell to a career low as his court time decreased. However, when his per game total of 3.5 rebounds (in only 12.8 minutes per game) is averaged over 48 minutes, his rebounding total would be 13.1 per game. Coach Rick Carlisle will be the man that determines Blair’s playing time, and it’s not expected he’ll be near the 48-minute mark, but that number shows the ability is there…a la Wes Unseld.
Also, like Unseld, he’s had a history of very good games against other notable big men in the league, winning head-to-head matchups with Amare Stoudamire, Pau Gasol, Brook Lopez and former Maverick Brendan Haywood.
Blair’s shown the ability to be effective on the offensive end as well finishing in the NBA’s top ten for field goal percentage in the 2011-2012 campaign. His scoring average rose in each of his first three seasons before falling last year with his decreased minutes.
It wasn’t Wes Unseld’s scoring prowess that the Washington Bullets were looking for from their 6’7 center and it won’t be scoring numbers that will be the place DeJuan Blair makes his mark. Dallas has scoring ability in the front court with Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter and in the backcourt with Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and Devin Harris.
Instead it will be Blair’s rebounding, passing and ability to set picks that will fill a void for the Mavs. Blair isn’t Wes Unseld, but Dallas doesn’t need him to be. If he can simply fulfill the promise he showed coming out of Pittsburgh and repeat the effectiveness he had with the Spurs his first few years in the league, he’ll be exactly what the Mavericks need.