Kris Humphries enters the Mavericks' preseason finale Friday night against Houston averaging 14.5 points and 7.7 rebounds in a few ticks under 21 minutes per game.
"The surprise of our camp," Mavs president of basketball Donnie Nelson says. "Hands down."
The real test, though, starts Tuesday against Washington on opening night, for Humphries as much as any Mav. Entering his sixth season, Humphries is on his third team and still looking for an NBA foothold after missing much of last season with a broken leg.
The 6-foot-9 forward's ability to make outside shots and score consistently in the exhibition season -- with an undeniably physical presence on the boards -- has given Dallas hope that it might have scored an unexpected replacement for Brandon Bass when Humphries landed with the Mavs in July as part of the four-team deal that netted Shawn Marion.
Yet there is also undeniable skepticism about Humphries' ability to come anywhere close to that sort of production when the games start counting, given that his career averages are a modest 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game. As one veteran scout said recently after watching Humphries beat up on second-unit (and sometimes third-unit) opposition: "He's always been good for shock and awe in short stretches, but when he is depended on to produce he has always left teams wanting."
The Mavs remain hopeful anyway. Their frontcourt rotation is crowded, but they certainly wouldn't turn away a backup power forward who can spell Dirk Nowitzki for short stretches -- and score -- in the wake of Bass' departure. And they're encouraged because Humphries has been a standout on the practice floor as well when he's going against the Mavs' big-name regulars.
According to NBA front-office sources, Humphries was originally on the list of players Dallas was prepared to move out this summer in response to the long-term salary commitments owner Mark Cuban took on by re-signing Jason Kidd to a three-year, $25 million deal and awarding a five-year, $40 million contract to Marion as part of the sign-and-trade. The Mavs weren't even sure what they had yet with Humphries, but anyone on the end of the bench with a non-expiring contract was made available, putting Humphries (due to earn $3.2 million in 2010-11) in a similar position to exiled swingman Shawne Williams, shooting guard Matt Carroll and center Nathan Jawai, who was traded to Minnesota earlier this week.
But Humphries' status began to change after Mavs coach Rick Carlisle saw him in August at Denver Nuggets assistant coach Tim Grgurich's annual camp for big men in Las Vegas. The way Humphries played there raised the possibility that the Mavs might have a nugget for a bench that was woefully thin for long stretches last season, aside from eventual NBA Sixth Man Award winner Jason Terry.
Nowitzki, Kidd, Marion, Terry and Josh Howard are the Mavs' consensus five best players. But it would create a welcome playing-time crunch for Carlisle if Humphries finally delivers some regular-season dependability to join a frontcourt supporting cast that already features Erick Dampier, Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas, assuming Thomas recovers smoothly from knee surgery. They all do different things, but none of them is more Bass-like -- in theory -- than Humphries.
Marc Stein covers the NBA for ESPN.com.