DALLAS — For each of the past seven NBA seasons, the Dallas Mavericks didn’t have to worry about who would assume the role of sixth man.
After starting for most of his first three seasons in Dallas, former Maverick Jason Terry slid to the bench during the 2007-08 schedule. The following season Terry won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, averaging 19.6 points per game and supplying the Mavs with instant offense off the bench during the ’08-09 campaign.
When Terry migrated to Boston in free agency during the summer of 2012, eight-time All-Star Vince Carter quickly assumed the sixth-man responsibilities after previously accepting a bench role the season prior. Now, with Carter also departing Dallas in free agency during the summer to join the Southwest Division rival Memphis Grizzlies, the Mavs will again look for someone to step up in the second unit this upcoming season.
But who is ready for the bulk of that responsibility?
The Mavs’ reserves finished amongst the league leaders a season ago, posting the sixth-most points by a bench at 35.7 a game to help Dallas’ offense rank eighth with a scoring output of 104.8 points a contest. Carter supplied most of that secondary scoring, leading the reserves by averaging 11.9 points per game during the regular season while appearing in 81 outings.
Still, while not putting all of the burden on one player’s shoulders to fill the void left by Carter’s departure, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle will make it a shared responsibility to supply scoring and production off the bench.
“We’ve got to be a strength-in-numbers outfit here,” Carlisle explained during last season. “We need our bench to give us intensity, persistence and scoring. But it’s not all about those guys putting points on the board. You know, they’ve got to play hard and at full capacity within our defensive system and rebound. … We need contributions from everybody, and (last season) we got a depth of contribution from everybody.”
An odds-on favorite to assume the sixth-man title for the Mavs during the ’14-15 campaign is combo guard Devin Harris, who shook off an offseason toe surgery last year to provide the team with plenty of production off the bench.
Harris missed the first 41 games last season but battled back to average 7.9 points and 4.5 assists in his 40 outings. The cat-quick guard also provided the Mavs with a huge lift off the bench during their first-round playoff series, averaging 11.4 points and 3.9 assists as the Dallas team pushed the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games.
And after re-signing with the team this summer, Harris knows he could be asked to step into Carter’s shoes while also supplying depth to a point guard-heavy backcourt rotation that features veterans Jameer Nelson and Raymond Felton.
“They haven’t really defined it as who’s going to start,” Harris explained in an interview recently with SiriusXM NBA Radio. “I know [Carlisle] wants to use a three-guard rotation to play a little (more) uptempo than we did last year. I think he likes me coming off the bench, which I’m fine with, and maybe closing out some games. But I think he’s going to use all three of us in different types of roles.”
But the Mavs may also look in a multitude of other directions to supply scoring from the reserves.
Signing 34-year-old small forward Richard Jefferson this summer, the Mavs will have a proven veteran to turn to off the bench that has averaged 14.5 points per game in his 13-year career. Jefferson started 78 of his 82 appearances for the Utah Jazz last season, averaging 10.1 points and 2.7 rebounds. He also provides perimeter shooting, connecting on 45.0 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from behind the three-point arc during the ’13-14 season.
Jefferson is now expected to back up fellow new addition Chandler Parsons at the three spot, boosting a position that lost four-time All-Star Shawn Marion and Carter’s leadership during free agency.
In the interior, 26-year-old big man Brandan Wright is expected to pick up where he left off at after averaging 9.1 points and shooting 67.7 percent from the field last season in 58 appearances off the Dallas bench. But the Mavericks may ask for other younger contributors to step up this season as well to assume the sixth-man duties, inking 23-year-old Al-Farouq Aminu this summer and looking for forward Jae Crowder, 24, to mature in his third season.
Last season, Aminu started 65 of his 80 appearances for the New Orleans Pelicans and averaged 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. For his young career, he’s averaged 6.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 303 total games. Meanwhile, Crowder played in 78 outings for the second straight season, looking for a bigger role this year after averaging just 4.6 points and 2.5 rebounds a season ago.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that Carlisle will once again turn to his bench for depth and scoring support this season. And with the subtraction of Carter, someone will need to step up for the Mavs in the second unit.
“I view it really the same as all the guys, even the younger guys,” Carlisle explained. “I mean, if you played them for 10 or 11 minutes in a row, it’s going to be hard for them to go full board the way they can if they go seven or eight minutes in a row. Ideally, we want a deep team. We want guys in the game playing at full capacity and till exhaustion. And then, when they get tired, we’ve got other guys going in.”