Because of an injury over the summer, Dallas Mavericks point guard Shane Larkin has been playing catchup this entire season.
However, the rookie from Miami has finally caught up to the point where he’s been receiving significant playing time.
For Larkin, it all began during the Mavs’ 112-97 blowout loss in Sacramento on Dec. 9. In that game, Larkin played only 11 minutes but produced 10 points, three steals and two assists while catching the eye of coach Rick Carlisle.
In the previous three games entering Wednesday’s contest against Memphis, Larkin manufactured 17 points, nine assists and four steals in 47 minutes while converting 7 of 16 shots.
“He got in the second half of the Sacramento game and got up defensively — in the game we were getting beat bad — and he made two or three steals and he made things happen,” Carlisle said. “And he brought his speed, quickness and some tenacity to the game and that’s gotten him back out there on the floor the last couple of games.”
It’s been a long, painful road back for Larkin, who fractured his right ankle in July and subsequently missed the entire summer league, training camp, preseason and first 10 games of the regular season before playing Nov. 18 against Philadelphia.
“He’s behind the curve because he had such a late start with everything,” Carlisle said. “He’s cramming for an exam.”
While “cramming for an exam,” Larkin has been tested while dueling with fellow rookie Gal Mekel for playing time behind starting point guard Jose Calderon. And it’s not etched in stone which rookie has enough passing grades to receive the upper hand.
“It’s just got to depend on how things go on in practices, matchups, a gut feel,” Carlisle said. “From that position we need a little of everything.
“We need speed and quickness, which is Shane’s forte. We need lane penetration and playmaking, which is Gal’s forte.”
What the Mavs need most from Larkin and Mekel is better protection of the ball and the savvy play that Calderon brings to the court.
“Gal is one of our better on-the-ball perimeter guys in terms of just keeping people in front and using his strength, and Shane’s got more of a quickness side to his game,” Carlisle said. “He and Gal are two little different kind of guys.”
While he was home sick Saturday and watching his team defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 106-93, Carlisle was looking for some subtle things the Mavs were doing.
“I’m watching the energy of the bench during the game,” Carlisle said. “That’s one of the key things I’m looking at to see if guys are into it.
“When we won the game in Portland, it was one of our better nights of the year when guys were really into the game — New Orleans as well. It speaks to the involvement of everyone in everything that’s going on.”