Surely inspired by the success their former point guard Jason Kidd has had for the New York Knicks, the Dallas Mavericks decided to sign another aging point guard. On Thursday, the team waived forward Troy Murphy to make room on the roster for Derek Fisher, who spent all summer and fall unsigned as a free agent. After head coach Rick Carlisle announced the move after Wednesday's game in Chicago, the Dallas Morning News surprised everyone by reporting on Thursday that Fisher is likely to eventually start at the point.
Point guard has certainly been an issue for the Mavericks this season. On Tuesday, Carlisle shook up the starting lineup, replacing Darren Collison with Dominique Jones. Jones responded by missing all five of his shot attempts and committing more turnovers (four) than he had assists (three). Jones was more effective individually during a blowout loss to the Bulls Wednesday, but the Dallas offense was inert without Collison, who missed the game with a sprained finger on his right hand. Rodrigue Beaubois was ineffective replacing him on the bench.
Since starting his Mavericks career in promising fashion by scoring double-figures in each of his first five games, including a pair of double-doubles, Collison has had a tough time making shots. He's shooting just 45.4 percent on two-point attempts and 31.6 percent on threes.
The hope was that Collison would thrive in an attack heavy on the pick-and-roll after spending most of his time in Indiana entering the ball to the post and spotting up. That has yet to transpire. According to mySynergySports.com, Collison is spending only slightly more time in pick-and-rolls. 29.2 percent of the plays he has used have been from the pick-and-roll, as compared to 28.1 percent last season. He's been ineffective in those opportunities, averaging a subpar 0.61 points per play.
Those figures may improve when Collison gets the dangerous Dirk Nowitzki as a pick-and-pop partner. With each passing season, however, Collison's fine rookie year in New Orleans looks increasingly out of line with the rest of his career. His college track record at UCLA suggested a top-tier backup or a fringe starter, and that's about what Collison has been the last three seasons. Heading into restricted free agency next summer, Collison's future in Dallas is murky at best.
Behind Collison, the Mavericks have a fleet of projects, all of them natural shooting guards working on running the point. Beaubois has the best pedigree of the group, but he too has struggled to build on a promising start to his NBA career. So far this season, Beaubois' issue has been less about running the offense and more about making shots. His 36.3 percent effective shooting tells the story.
As a result, Beaubois gave way to Jones, who has been remarkably prodigious as a passer in his first extended NBA action at the point. Jones has handed out 43 assists in 151 minutes; among players with at least 10 minutes, only Rajon Rondo can best his 13.0 assist rate. Jones has done it in part by dominating the basketball. He's also using 25.9 percent of the team's plays and, in a familiar story, has shot the ball poorly (38.0 percent on twos, 0-of-7 beyond the arc).
With raw rookie Jared Cunningham as the only other option, it's easy to see why Carlisle wanted outside help. The question is whether Fisher qualifies as help at this point. His extended unemployment suggests that Fisher's value within the NBA has finally caught up with his declining statistics. It's been four seasons since Fisher last rated better than replacement level, and last year he could not use the triangle offense as an excuse. No longer capable of making plays off the dribble, Fisher has become strictly a spot-up specialist, and not a particularly good one. He made just 32.1 percent of his three-pointers last season. Fisher also won't help Dallas at the defensive end, which has been the team's real weakness (25th in Defensive Rating) given his lacking footspeed.
If the Mavericks want to put the ball in O.J. Mayo's hands more frequently and use Fisher to space the floor, that might make more sense, but there are superior options in the D-League and floating around. It's also worth asking how much a slight upgrade will matter. Carlisle has done an admirable job of keeping Dallas afloat in Nowitzki's absence. Still, this team hasn't been as good as its 7-9 record would indicate. The Mavericks' schedule-adjusted point differential of -3.2 points per game puts them 22nd in the league and 12th in the Western Conference.
That figure will surely improve when Nowitzki returns. The larger looming issue is the depth of the West playoff race. At this point, nine teams in the conference rate average or better, suggesting that at worst it's going to take a .500 record to reach the playoffs. That group doesn't include the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are even with Dallas in the standings and ahead in adjusted differential despite dealing with multiple key injuries of their own. The surprising success of the Houston Rockets, who have rated above average thus far, and to a lesser extent the Golden State Warriors has muddied the playoff picture for teams like the Mavericks that entered the season competing for one of the last spots in the West.
There's a long-term component here too, as Dallas has touted Fisher's value as a leader and a mentor to their young point guards. In the former category, his experience as a champion speaks for itself. I'd consider myself a little more skeptical of how much Fisher will help the point guards in particular because they play so differently from him. Collison, for example, has probably already had more success running the pick-and-roll in the NBA than Fisher ever did. Ultimately, whether the Mavericks' point guards succeed in their development won't likely have much to do with Fisher's presence on the roster.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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