The Dallas Mavericks’ Unlikely Hero?
Over the last few seasons, Dallas Mavericks’ center Ian Mahinmi’s game has evolved by leaps and bounds — thanks largely to the tutelage of teammate Dirk Nowitzki.
After playing the understudy role behind the likes of Tim Duncan in San Antonio for the first two seasons of his career and now Nowitzki in Dallas, Mahinmi is making the most of his increased playing time early on this season.
“It’s been a long journey for me, a lot of ups and downs,” Mahinmi tells HOOPSWORLD. “Obviously I’ve been waiting for a long time to have this opportunity to be the back-up guy and have consistent minutes so I’m just enjoying the opportunity. I’ve really worked hard my whole career in the NBA, so it’s a really great feeling.”
Following Tyson Chandler’s exodus to the New York Knicks early in the free agency period before the season, minutes immediately opened up for Mahinmi – who responded with a strong showing in the abbreviated training camp to start the year. So far this season, Mahinmi and starter Brendan Haywood have virtually split time at the center position and it’s not a stretch to think Mahinmi could snatch the starting job away at some point this year.
Statically speaking, through the first eight games, Mahinmi has more than doubled his career averages in points (7.5), rebounds (4.8) and minutes played per game (just over 19 per) as he has excelled as the Mavs’ backup big man. Mahinmi has shown improvement in nearly all facets of his game: showing a propensity for stifling post defense, a sweet midrange jumper and some nifty moves in the offensive post.
Earlier this season, in a 99-86 victory over the Toronto Raptors, Mahinmi set a career-high with 19 points on a perfect 6-6 shooting. Not only did he flash some outstanding offensive potential but Mahinmi also had a game-high two blocks as he left his mark on both ends of the court with Dallas grabbing it’s first victory of the season.
“He’s given us a physical presence, he’s a combative guy, and he was really big tonight,” Mavericks’ head coach Rick Carlisle said after that contest. “It wasn’t just the points; it was defensively. He’s in the right place, he’s aggressive [and] he’s talking. He’s making great strides.”
The 25-year old from France credits his “big brother” on the team in Nowitzki for helping him to start to reach his true potential on the court.
“Dirk is a great guy because on and off the court he’s the same guy,” Mahinmi said. “You know what you’re going to get from him, since day one he’s been talking to me and we really bond… Everybody on the team calls me his little brother; we’re really close to each other.
“Getting advice on an everyday basis from a Hall-of-Famer is always a good thing.”
Nowitzki, who has grown much more acclimated to his role as leader of this Mavericks’ team over the years, has made it a point to take Mahinmi under his wing. The former MVP wasn’t shy about raving about the young man and his potential in this league going forward.
“I love Ian, he’s my boy,” Nowitzki said. “He’s another guy that loves to be in the gym and work out and lift and run. He’s just a workhorse and I think the sky’s the limit. He’s active, he’s athletic, he can make a little 15, 16-footer and he can finish in the lane and really help us defensively.
“I really like what he brings so far off the bench and if he keeps on working he’s going to be a really nice player in this league.”
After Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, I asked Nowitzki if he’d be willing to share his patented, one-legged fade away jumper with the young Mahinmi but Dirk seemed reluctant to part with his unguardable move.
“No, we don’t want our center shooting that one,” Nowitzki joked. “They’ve got to roll to the basket and make some plays there.”
Consistency is still an issue for the big man in his fourth year, and foul trouble continues to keep him from staying on the court long enough to significantly showcase his athletic ability, but Mahinmi has all the tools to wreak havoc at the center position.
Under Nowitzki’s guidance, that might just happen sooner than anticipated.
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