Taking a step away from the perpetual articles on the NBA Finals, I?d like to spread some love on one of the most hated Mavericks, Erick Dampier.
After averaging a surprising 12/12/2 season in 2004 with the Warriors, Dampier was a hot commodity in the free agent market ? teams such as the Knicks and Grizzlies were fighting over him. Ultimately, Dallas organized a sign and trade for a 7 year / $64 million dollar contract and many fans thought Cuban had done it again, tried to mess with the chemistry and just overpaid a lackluster player. Not only that, but Dampier?s signing meant the end of the Steve Nash/Big 3 era in Dallas ? a team that consistently averaged more than 50 wins a season but consistently were exposed for what they were in the playoffs.
Dampier was hailed as the first great center for Dallas since the James Donaldson era. The front office had hopes he?d replace the woeful memories of Shawn Bradley and Raef LaFrentz with new defensive memories of monster blocks and ferocious dunks not seen since Finley?s prime. But alas, as Nash went on to win MVP and the Suns eliminated Dallas, Nowitzki was calling out Dampier ? who averaged 7/7 ? for his nonchalant effort and continued lack of enthusiasm.
The Mavericks then signed supposed-project DeSagana Diop in the hopes he could turn into a serviceable backup. Midway through the season, Diop replaced Dampier in the lineup (and Dallas subsequently went on a 14-0 streak) ? since then, neither have looked back. Damp has come off the bench with an abundance of success, he?s fought the opposing bench players with new-found determination that was definitely missing last season. The benching acted as a catalyst to revive his motivation. You can see it in his eyes, his gestures, his yelling, his expressions clarify that this is the Damp that was playing for a big contract.
Looking at his stats, he seems worthless. Why pay a big guy $8 million a year to play 23 minutes and score a measly 5 points and grab 8 rebounds? Luckily, there?s more to basketball than statistics. Dampier boxes outs, and rebounding has been one of Dallas? most successful categories (they were out rebounded for the first time in the playoffs against Miami). He manages his turnovers when holding the ball, he sets strong picks and he is the banger inside the blue paint in the American Airlines Center. His rebounds per 48 minutes are two and a half higher than last year, rivaling 2004 for his best numbers ever.
Everyone who?s watched a single Mavericks game this year knows the most relayed stat in the NBA, the Mavericks are 25-0 when Josh Howard scores over 20 points. Well here?s an interested stat, Dallas is 32-6 when Dampier grabs 9 or more rebounds.
Since Erick Dampier arrived here, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks are having two of the best seasons in franchise history. Nowitzki has established him as one of the best in the league partly due to the ability of Dampier. Damp allows Dirk to roam the perimeter which helps the defensive matchups. He keeps defenses honest and forces opponents to guard the Diggler with a power forward since he is capable of scoring. He creates space on offense for teammates who drive, something the Mavericks have relied upon since Johnson became coach. Another great thing about Dampiers game is his improved offensive rebounding, he consistently allows Dallas to have the opportunity for second chance points.
His defense is relatively astounding as he can mark the premier centers in the league (to a certain extent). But most importantly, he can play Shaquille O?Neal as good as any other big man in the league. His fast paced footwork and huge frame provide the basics for stopping one of the most dominant players ever, who hates to admit it, but knows Damp can do a good a job as anyone against him. Since Dampier?s arrival in Dallas, they have gone 5-0 against Shaq and his Miami Heat (I added this now, because it will be dispelled soon). His one play against Tim Duncan won us that series, and if Dallas wins the title ? is his contract worth it?
There?s a reason though he was relegated to the bench and there?s a reason he?s one of the most hated players in Dallas ? he can?t hit his freethrows (on the bright-side, at least he did not go 1-9), his offensive repertoire is redundant (at least he has one, Diop) and he picks up ticky-tack fouls which generally set the Mavericks off for a sub-par game. He only played in 2 games in the Phoenix series, but even with these shortcomings, Erick and DeSagana form one of the best center pairs in the league.