They missed out on Dwight Howard, but the Dallas Mavericks believe they picked up a couple of big hits when they landed centers Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair last summer.
Granted, Dalembert and Blair don’t have Howard’s pizzazz and headline cachet. But the duo have combined to give the Mavs a fresh and effective look inside the paint.
“Dalembert has given us a very solid rim presence and he’s rebounded well,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Blair has given us a physical presence and he’s rebounded well.
“They both do it a little differently, which makes them a good complement to one another.”
Through free agency, Dalembert and Blair essentially replaced Chris Kaman and Elton Brand.
Kaman averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds last season, and Brand averaged 7.8 and 6.0. So far this season, Dalembert is averaging 8.1 points and 6.6 rebounds, while Blair averages 8.8 and 7.9.
Dirk Nowitzki believes Dalembert has been a major factor in the middle for the Mavs.
“I like playing with him, he’s a good defender, he’s long,” Nowitzki said. “We ask him to do a lot obviously.
“Defensively, his help, he blocks shots, rebounds, he always guards the best offensive player on the block. Offensively, he keeps some balls alive, tips them out, gets some offensive rebounds, and finishes in the paint.”
After a subpar season with the Milwaukee Bucks, Dalembert welcomed the challenge of fitting in with a new team.
“I’ve been really focusing on getting the ball and getting rebounds,” he said. “As long as one of us get it as a team, that’s all that counts.”
While Dalembert has adjusted well in his role, Nowitzki said: “The same with Blair, who has been giving us some huge minutes off the bench with his activity, his rolls to the basket, his finishes. He’s using his body well in there, even though he’s undersized.”
After being chained to the San Antonio Spurs’ bench last season, Blair’s fire has been fueled just by the simple fact that he’s able to receive some meaningful minutes again.
“I’m just going out there and handling what I do,” Blair said. “I’m so excited to play, I’m having fun again.
“It’s so exciting to be out there and playing for the team and the fans and everybody recognizing what I do.”
While his points and rebounds have been efficient, Dalembert wants everybody to recognize that he is an effective shot-blocker. For now, though, the numbers don’t reflect it; he’s averaging just one block per game.
“My timing has been off a little off,” Dalembert said. “But it’s going to be a block party pretty soon.”
Nowitzki noted that the impending return of Brandan Wright (shoulder) will strengthen the center position even more.
“I think [Dalembert and Blair] have been playing really well at the [center position] and it’s only going to get better if B-Wright comes back,” Nowitzki said. “His athleticism and his finishes around the rim are definitely going to take us to another level.”
Rookie point guard Shane Larkin has started going through all of the Mavs’ practices and expects to be able to play in a game soon.
“My timetable and their timetable are different,” Larkin said after Wednesday’s practice. “I would like for it to be sooner, but they are more cautious with it, so we’ll just see.”
Larkin fractured his right ankle in practice on July 5, underwent surgery on July 16 and has not experienced any setbacks.
“It’s going well,” Larkin said. “I’m out there practicing now full-bore 5-on-5, full contact, every drill, running, everything.
“It’s a little sore after the workouts, but during the workouts I feel good. It’s just a matter of time before I’m out there.”