DALLAS – Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd did the unthinkable, at least for him, and it worked.
In the Dallas Mavericks’ 111-110 win over the Toronto Raptors Friday night at American Airlines Center, Kidd elected to start backup center Dwight Powell over the struggling JaVale McGee to inspire better play from his team in the first quarter. This latest lineup decision came after Kidd doubled down on McGee being the starter earlier in the week.
Nonetheless, it was an effective move, with the Mavericks winning the first frame of action 31-29. It marked the first time Dallas (5-3) won the first quarter since playing Brooklyn eight days, and four games, ago.
“You look through the season, there are different matchups you can look at,” Kidd said before the game. “DP is playing extremely well. He’s well deserved for minutes.”
Powell played in 26 minutes of game action and shot 3-for-6 from the field, scoring nine points while also grabbing two rebounds.
The box score won’t leap off the page, but there was an urgency in Dallas’ play in the first quarter that the team lacked with McGee.
Maybe it had something to do with the opponent. Or maybe Powell’s energy he brings inspires others. Either way, Dallas looked different because Kidd decided to – at least for one game – ditch his commitment to McGee as the long-term solution to Dallas’ rim-protecting woes.
But following Wednesday’s game against Utah, Kidd didn’t have much of a choice when it came to bringing McGee off the bench. Powell’s impactful play against the Jazz garnered high praise from all of his teammates, most notably Spencer Dinwiddie, who went on one of his trademark monologues regarding the play and energy of Powell as Dallas’ glue guy.
“Having been a guy, speaking about myself right now, that’s played every role from 15th man up to the second guy, right around All-Star level, and everything in-between: Dwight being a guy who started on a Western Conference finals team, lost his job,” Dinwiddie said on Wednesday. “He’s the first, probably, the first, second, or third man in the gym every single day. That he lifts after every game, eats right, takes care of his body, doesn’t drink, and does all the things you should do as an ultimate pro. (That) he cheers the hardest for the guy who plays over him. JaVale gets a dunk, and he’s one of the first people off the bench.
“Powell is the ultimate pro. I have the utmost respect for him. And I hope every single Mavs fan listens to this monologue and has a different respect level for (Powell), because not everyone is going to get to shoot 20 times or score 30 points or do all the flashy stuff, dunks, and stuff. You need guys who do things like that and are ready every single time, every single day. He’s probably in there lifting right now, to be honest. I’m going home, he’s lifting. That’s him.”
For the season, heading into Friday, McGee was a minus-24 on the season in 10 minutes per game. And his counting stats weren’t much better: 4.9 points per game, 3.0 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks.
Meanwhile, Powell, coming into Friday, was a plus-58 in 16 minutes per game while averaging 7.4 points and 2.6 rebounds.
So, it makes sense that by Friday, Kidd couldn’t go with McGee as the starter. It wouldn’t have made sense. And as an off-the-bench player, McGee helped his case in what has been a disappointing start to the season. He totaled four minutes and scored five points. He was also a plus-six in box score plus-minus.
What remains shocking is Kidd not even looking at Christian Wood for a starting opportunity. Again, in a 20-minute role off the bench, Wood shot 5-for-8 and scored 13 points. Whatever it may be that is holding him back from playing more minutes remains a mystery. Kidd is unwilling to reveal it.
But what is evident is that Kidd is finally willing to experiment with the starting five. And frankly, it probably shouldn’t have taken this — eight games — long.
The saying goes, better late than never.
Related Dallas Mavericks reading
Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports