Ball Don't Lie - NBA

It's unfortunate that the possible season-ending injury to Caron Butler(notes) forces us to bring up the annual re-establishing of the fact that Caron Butler (sorry) isn't as great as most people peg him to be.

He's pretty good, no doubt, as a scoring threat for the 25-8 Mavs. Butler's 15 points in 30 minutes a game is nothing to sneeze at, especially as he shot a respectable 45 percent from the floor and a fantastic 43 percent (a career-high) from long-range. He wasn't doing anything else for the Mavs, but that was perfectly passable. The team wasn't asking him to do anything else beyond defending and being that other guy offensively.

And this bleeds into an area that I think the advanced stats crowd often forgets about. Sure, Butler was downright average, even as he helped the Mavs this year. He worked a 14.9 PER -- the very definition of average -- while defending well. Scored pretty efficiently, and little else. But he also brought that work consistently. Sure, it was mainly on midrange jumpers, but he kept nailing those midrange jumpers. Along with that hot 3-point stroke -- even if, as I'm sure the stat-breathing brethren will assume, the other shoe was about to drop on that improved percentage.

But he was there every night, pulling this stuff off. Stats like these are usually produced by wing guys who are all over the place with their contributions, but Butler failed to hit double-digit points just three times this season (averaging 7.3 points in those three turns). As a rule, he was in the corner, hitting jump shots, scoring from long range, providing that steady option after all the passes didn't produce.

He was a minutes-sopper, if only for 30 a night. And on a team hurting for depth, that's important. Sure, he was an average player this season (Mavs fans -- "average" doesn't mean "bad," it just means a guy who puts together 15-point games), but the Mavericks needed that stability. And they will have an uneasy time replacing it.

This is where the trade rumors pop up, and this is where people will get it all wrong. Andre Iguodala(notes) won't help here. He's a fine player with many talents and a huge improvement on Butler as an asset. But he needs the ball. And on a team with Jason Kidd(notes) and Jason Terry(notes) running things, with Dirk Nowitzki(notes) needing his space, Andre Iguodala isn't exactly going to fit in on the baseline, pulling up for that twice-a-quarter baseline jumper.

Carmelo Anthony(notes) can pull up for quite a lot, but because the Denver Nuggets are asking to be turned into the 1992-1998 Dallas Cowboys, don't expect the Mavs to pull a deal for the disgruntled Nuggets forward. And though an injury exception could help, if Butler indeed does miss the rest of the season, there isn't much to trade for even at $5.3 million.

So the Mavs will have to look internally. And despite this team's lack of depth, this isn't a bad thing.

Because they'll have to keep riding DeShawn Stevenson's(notes) career year. For whatever reason, the Mavericks wing is shooting better than Butler both from the field and from behind the arc. He can't create his shot as well as Butler, but that might change soon with more minutes and responsibility. There's no telling if this will keep up, but players usually don't see their field goal percentages go down ... just 'cause. Don't listen to them when they try to offer some vague idea that has Stevenson going south just because he's going to get more minutes.

And don't listen to Marc Stein when he says this:

But first Dallas A) eagerly awaits Dirk Nowitzki's expected return from a sprained knee this week to get the offense closer to normal looking and B) hopes Shawn Marion(notes) can keep stepping in for Butler like he did Sunday night in Cleveland when the former All-Star led the Mavs with 22 points.

The problem there, though, is that asking Marion to play small forward cuts into his minutes at power forward, which has proven to be his more productive position.

OK, listen to the part about Dirk.

But Marion?

I know it sounds right that Marion (working in his 30s now) would play better at the power forward slot, but Stein (a great reporter, but not much of an analyst) has often been wrong about what "sounds right" analytically since he left his Mavericks beat gig years ago. A few games spent watching the Mavs or a 30-second trip to will tell you that Dallas has performed much better with Marion at small forward, and, individually, the veteran has performed much better defensively as a small forward this year. Better offensively, as well.

This is the team that has been without Rodrigue Beaubois(notes) all year, while still racking up a 25-8 record.  It's been without Nowitzki for the last week, while still performing admirably. This team's depth doesn't appear all that great on paper, at least to start the year, but Rick Carlisle has done a brilliant job putting it all together. This is a team that can survive.

Losing Caron hurts, no doubt, but his contributions are quite replaceable. We respect what he's brought to the table, but we're not going to be part of that too-easy chorus that points to his absence any time the Mavericks lose to a better team this season.

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