The headlines provide proof of Dallas Mavericks center Samuel Dalembert's mercurial nature this season.
On January 12, Dallasnews.com asked “Has Dallas Mavericks’ Samuel Dalembert re-earned trust after sleeping in twice?” Two days later, a story on Yahoo.com about Dalembert appeared under the headline, “Samuel Dalembert has been beyond frustrating.”
Then on February 4, after Dalembert scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a win against Cleveland, everyone wondered whether Dalembert could keep it going.
Why on earth is this guy so important? Every team needs a banger down low, and that’s Dalembert.
“I have no idea,” Dalembert said after that game. “I can’t guarantee you how the offense is going to flow. Some days the ball is coming, and some days I don’t get one field goal.”
Since that Cleveland game, Dalembert has become a presence more resembling what the Mavs hoped they were getting when they signed him last offseason. He followed the Cleveland game with a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) against Memphis.
Then, it was 12 points and six rebounds against Utah. Even though the field goals didn’t come his way against Boston, he grabbed 11 rebounds. On February 11 against Charlotte, he only scored four points but grabbed six rebounds.
There is a correlation between Dalembert's minutes and Mavericks victories. Entering the All-Star Break, the Mavericks are 21-11 when Dalembert plays 20 or more minutes, leaving them 11-11 when he doesn't.
This stretch resembles the one he put together in the last half of November. Back then, Dalembert had three straight games of 10 or more rebounds and scored at least 10 points in three of the final eight games of the month, adding a physical fixture in the middle that the Mavs lacked last year.
“He’s proven he can take us to a higher level,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said last week.
And he’s proven that he can be a bit of a liability. He’s overslept twice on game days, and that’s led to suspensions — for a quarter against Denver in November and a full game against New York in January. Oversleeping seems minor, but the Mavs lost both games.
“He’s proven he can take us to a higher level,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle has said.
Plus, Dalembert came to Dallas with a roller coaster reputation. One night he would play with a fire in his belly. The next night he would play as if someone smothered the flame.
Perhaps that partially explains why, right after that great stretch in late November, Dalembert was used in a reserve role for eight of the next nine games. Not surprisingly, the Mavs went 3-5 in the eight games Dalembert didn’t start.
So why on earth is this guy so important? The Mavs have a unique mix at center with Dalembert, Brandan Wright and DeJuan Blair. But Dalembert, at 6-foot-11, is the only one of the three you could call a traditional center.
He can play with his back to the basket. He’s a physical presence under the rim. He can block shots. Athleticism is valued in the NBA, but every team needs a banger down low, and that’s Dalembert.
He says that some nights the ball doesn’t come his way on offense. But the points are actually less vital to this Mavs team than the rebounds he can bring down. When Dalembert grabs nine or more rebounds, the Mavs are 8-2.
Need more proof? Last month, against those same Cleveland Cavaliers, Dalembert sat out the second half with a minor injury. The Cavs out-rebounded Dallas 33-15 in that half. Somehow, Dallas won. Against Cleveland earlier this month, with Dalembert playing 24 minutes, the Mavs out-rebounded Cleveland 45-31. He can make that kind of difference.
Put it all together, and that’s why Carlisle talks about staying positive and encouraging with Dalembert, something he doesn’t have to do with other Mavs. The rest of the team gets it too.
“When he plays like that, we’re tougher to guard, we’re a little bit harder to play against,” guard Jose Calderon said. “He’s been great, and that’s what we need from him.”
And not just some nights. Every night.