At Backup Center, Time For "The Dawn of Ian'

What some thought they once knew about the Mavs' center position: Haywood was the answer. Chandler was a BUST Chip. Ajinca was 'some guy.' Mahinmi was 'some other guy.' But now, halfway through the season? We crunch some numbers and talk to Mahinmi himself in a DB.com exclusive Video Visit to conclude that in some ways, it's time for the 'The Dawn of Ian':

Think back. The center position for the Mavs this year has been one of the biggest storylines for the club. … but it's a storyline in flux. The Dallas Mavericks initially thought Brendan Haywood was the sure and known commodity that would fill the starting lineup and try to be "the best center the Mavs have ever had." Tyson Chandler was a disappointing "settle" for most people for the use of the highly -touted DUST Chip. Alexis Ajinca was a little-known, little –cared-about Chandler-from-Charlotte trade throw-in, French friend of Roddy B … recently ‘Lex showed enough promise to receive a couple of starts.

And then there was another Frenchman, 24-year-old Ian Mahinmi, a 6-11, 235-pound unheralded free agent signed off the roster of a Spurs team that didn't much want him anymore.

"That was my team and we were always against the Mavericks and thought they were bad guys,'' says Mahinmi. "But this is my team now. And they are all great guys.''

Indeed, where we all find ourselves today is far different from last summer – or heck, even last week. Chandler has been the anchor to the Mavs newfound and successful defense ("newfound'' and "successful'' at least before Dirk went down over 10 games ago). Haywood has been stuck in what seems to fans like eternal "pouty" mode. And the French centers? Ajinca's time with the Mavs has now come to an end, but he gave energy and shows promise (albeit now as a Raptor).

Long-term, the Mavs still believe they will need Haywood, though he has fallen hard to the backup-center role … hard and long, considering the sky-high summer expectations that accompanied a new five-year guaranteed contract assuring him of $8.3 mil a year.

Coach Rick Carlisle promises that Big Wood is still "engaged.''

"We've got a real good 1-2-3 punch with our center position and I've got to keep all three guys engaged and ready," said Carlisle. "I've got no complaints about anything having to do with (Haywood's) effort or anything like that. ... (Haywood) is as hard a worker as I've ever had at center. He's here at 8 in the morning doing cardio. He works diligently on his game. ... I want to develop Ian as well as take advantage of what Brendan can give us."

But – and this us talking, but it's also Carlisle's rotation talking -- it is time to re-examine which guy is Punch 2 and which guy is Punch 3.

It is time for "The Dawn of Ian."

Let's get Ian's own views on his participation as the Mavs' backup center as he go 1-o-1 with him in a DB.com Video Visit:

"I don't really know if I'm going to be the backup,'' he tells DB.com in the Video Visit you'll see below. "But that's OK. Me and Brendan, we both stay ready and when Coach Carlisle calls our name, we're ready to go.''

He's saying all the right things there … But when we compare his performance to Big Wood, it's clear Ian is doing a lot of the right things, too.

Let's take a look at Mahinmi and Haywood in comparison and see why in our estimation it is time for Mahinmi to assume the backup center role on this team.

Mahinmi

Haywood

Plus/Minus

-3.99

-11.88

Off P/M

+3.57

-9.60

Def P/M

-7.56

-2.28

Adj P/M

N/A

+0.12

Mins/Gm

6.4

18.0

PER

23.1

10.5

Pts/36

18.1

8.0

Rbds/36

10.0

9.8

Asts/36

0.7

0.4

Stls/36

0.5

0.3

Blks/36

1.1

1.9

TO/36

1.4

1.4

Fouls/36

6.3

4.3

FG%

0.622

0.568

FT%

0.872

0.333

FTA/36

8.8

4.2

Mahinmi obviously has played very seldom this year but in those spot minutes he has outperformed Haywood in every category with the exception of blocks per 36 minutes and fouls per 36 minutes. Mahinmi is clearly the better offensive player, having a far better PER, shooting better, scoring better, and getting to the free-throw line at double the rate.

Haywood's plus/minus numbers are absolutely atrocious. By the numbers, he literally hurts this team by simply being on the court, especially on the offensive end but even on the defensive end, which one would think his strong suit would be.

Mahinmi also has poor plus/minus numbers but because his minutes are so few (and many have often been in junk time) this can be pretty deceiving. The only lineup that Mahinmi has played a significant amount of minutes with is Barea-Terry-Marion-Dirk. With this group he has played 40.17 minutes (whereas the next closest comes in at 10 minutes) and that group has performed very well, outscoring their opponents by +17.19 points per 100 possessions (outscoring the opponents 96 to 82). This lineup is also the fourth best Mavs lineup this year (of 30+ minutes of playing time) in regard to adjusted plus/minus (+15.53), being outperformed by only three lineups with Tyson Chandler as the center of choice. But because this is still such a small sample (not even a full 48 minutes) this is at best only a snap-shot into what might be possible in more extended minutes for Mahinmi and with other lineup combinations.

And then there is the pure-energy issue. The want-to. We joked the other day that Ian's muscular and aggressive moves to the rim are rather reminiscent of former Mav finisher Brandon "The Animal'' Bass … causing us to suggest that we nickname this kid, "The Ianimal.''

Yes? No? Hey, it beats what Mahinmi says his teammates call him ("Ian-nee'' or "Ian-noo''), right?

At the end of the Mavericks day – and in the early-going of the next Mavs game -- it could be argued that the backup-center situation has morphed and is now as much about Haywood losing his backup job as it is about Mahinmi earning it by his stellar play in very limited minutes.

We're not rooting against Big Wood and not interested in him becoming a Dampierish or Bradleyesque whipping post. Nor are we prepared to announce Ian as a playoff-ready answer. But we've all assembled enough evidence now to opine that the attitude and energy difference – as well as the numbers -- should be enough for Carlisle to start giving a good chunk of the backup-center minutes to Mahinmi.

There is still room, and need, for all three centers. But in our estimation, in an increasing number of regular-season situations from here on out, when it comes to the No. 2 center job, is time for "The Dawn of Ian."

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