DALLAS – Good news, NBA officials: Mark Cuban has found another subject he’s deemed worthy of a crusade.
Cuban can’t believe small forward Shawn Marion, the swiss-army knife of the Dallas Mavericks’ defense, has never earned all-defense team recognition and is determined to do everything within his power to end that streak in the Matrix’s 13th NBA season.
Actually, Cuban won’t be satisfied unless Marion gets serious consideration as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
“It’s not a question if he’s first team,” Cuban said during his pregame stairmaster workout Monday evening. “The only question is, outside of the center position like a Dwight Howard, is he Defensive Player of the Year? I mean, it’s hard to overlook how Dwight Howard plays defensively, but beyond that, who’s better?
While you’re thinking of an answer, consider the impact Marion made in the Mavericks’ 96-92 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, one of the league’s most explosive teams. And Marion’s 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting were an afterthought.
The 6-foot-7 Marion guarded three different positions during the game, most notably doing a tremendous job containing All-Star point guard Chris Paul, much like Marion did against rookie sensation Ricky Rubio in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves a few nights before.
Most of Paul’s 16 points and nine assists came when he wasn’t being guarded by Marion. In the final 5:13, Marion held Paul to one bucket -- a falling-away 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining -- and one assist.
Marion also created two critical turnovers in the final two minutes as a help defender. He played the passing lanes perfectly to pick off a Blake Griffin pass and swiped the ball from Kenyon Martin as he slashed to the hoop.
Add this night to the list of phenomenal defensive performances by Marion. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched the Mavs’ magical championship run, when Marion spearheaded excellent defensive efforts against the NBA’s three most dangerous scorers: the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Miami’s LeBron James.
“I’m a competitor,” Marion said. “I’m built a different way. I have this inner dog in me that I feel like a lot of people don’t have. I’m just going to bring it like that. That’s how I come.”
It’s one thing to come like that against wing players. It’s something else to do while chasing the league’s premier pick-and-roll initiator all over the court, even with the Mavs’ bigs doing a commendable job showing on those pick-and-rolls. And Marion occasionally takes turns against high-scoring power forwards, too.
How many players can guard premier power forwards and point guards?
“Marion is the only guy who comes to mind,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who has the freedom to start the offensively efficient geezer guard combo of Jason Kidd and Vince Carter because of Marion’s defensive versatility. “This is one of the unique weapons we have on our team.”
Added Dirk Nowitzki: “He’s our best defender. We stick him on 1, 2, 3, 4. He’s been phenomenal for us every since he got here. He’s still fast on his feet, he’s long, he’s strong, he’s got great, great hands on the ball. We stick him usually on the best player and he did a phenomenal job for us again tonight.”
Back to Cuban’s question: The wings widely considered better defenders than Marion include Bryant, James, Memphis’ Tony Allen and Philadelphia’s Andre Iguodala. They got the spots on the first- and second- all-defense team last season.
Kobe has been a first-team selection nine times, including the last six seasons. LeBron has been voted a first-teamer the last few years.
“I’m just telling you what the reality is right now,” Cuban said. “There’s nobody who’s better defensively outside the center position than Shawn Marion.”
The Matrix backed up his billionaire owner’s bold talk against the Clippers.