Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 1/11/12
The news had barely been a few hours old about the pending end of the 2011 NBA lockout before fans of the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks wondered if owner Mark Cuban and the rest of the powers that be would bring back the likes of JJ Barea, Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson for a shot at a repeat. Well, all three integral members of last season's championship-winning club are now playing elsewhere in the Association. And while there was some bellyaching and backlash directed Cuban's way, especially for not re-signing Chandler, who is now in New York, the additions of both Vince Carter and Lamar Odom, the reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year, helped soften the blow a bit. But through the first 10 games, a funny thing has happened at the center position for Rick Carlisle's club. That's because one Ian Mahinmi has been pretty big through the first batch of games, averaging 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds while coming off the bench. To date, the 6-foot-11 Frenchman has been averaging just over 20 minutes a night while coming off the bench to spell starting center Brendan Haywood in the middle for the Mavs. Mahinmi's top performance on the young season came in Saturday's win over New Orleans, when he chipped in 13 points and seven rebounds, a game where he went 5-of-6 from the field. In fact, for the season, he is shooting 70.5 percent from the field (31-of-44). Sure, his field goal percentage should be pretty high considering he's an inside player and most of his shots should be of the higher percentage variety, but seeing him convert at a rate of better than 70 percent is a good sign even this early in the year. The big guy has been a solid contributor off the pine so far this season and some have even astutely observed that Mahinmi's biggest value might come in the positive impact he could have on Haywood. And it is interesting to note that he has actually been logging a bit more minutes on average than the ex-North Carolina big man, but it's a difference in minutes that is negligible at best. For the record, Haywood is averaging six rebounds and 5.3 points per game while averaging 19:46 of action per game. Considering that the rap on the ex-Tar Heel has always been his work ethic or lack thereof for much of his NBA career, having someone like Mahinmi coming off the bench and doing great things should hopefully be enough to motivate Haywood to step his game up and maybe even start delivering on an immense potential that many have seen since he came to the NBA in 2001 with the Wizards. Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle continues to show a great deal of faith in Mahinmi and if the French big man continues performing at a similar level, then it's reasonable to assume that Carlisle will continue using him as part of his center rotation off the bench. But to say he should be starting over Haywood might be a bit of a reach. On one hand, yes, on many nights Mahinimi does play better than Haywood but there are several factors in play here that likely keep the big Frenchman in a bench role. The Mavs invested a good deal of change in Haywood not all that long ago and don't have a ton of financial resources tied up in Mahinmi. So from a mere economic standpoint, keeping Haywood in the starting five looks like a no brainer and there is also the issue of how taking the UNC product out of the first five might affect him from a mental standpoint. Such things shouldn't factor into the decision of an NBA head coach when it comes to how he metes out playing time, but both things definitely come into play for Carlisle and especially when it comes to how he divvies things up at the center position. But for a guy the Mavs basically took a flyer on after he spent several seasons with the Spurs, an organization with one of the better eyes for talent in the NBA, Mahinmi has worked out pretty well thus far. Maybe his numbers dip a bit as the truncated 66-game regular season wears on and maybe they don't. Still, Mavs fans and the organization have to be more than a little encouraged about how well Mahinmi has played through the first 10 games of what could be a very interesting year of Mavericks basketball.
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