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Back in 2006, the Phoenix Suns were the funnest team in the entire league to watch, especially in the post-season. Even though Amare Stoudemire had to sit things out due to a knee injury that forced him to miss all but three games of the regular season as well, the Suns had an incredibly fun quality to them. Their team chemistry was admirable and Steve Nash’s pursuit of a championship with his new team was fun to follow. With Stoudemire down, one of Phoenix’s most important players was Shawn Marion, who slid into the power forward role with Amare out of the line-up.
Marion was one of the league’s most versatile athletes at the time. While Amare was regarded as an athletic freak, Marion’s athletic abilities were just as terrifying and magnificent. Marion had the ability to throw down power dunks just like Amare and he harnessed his athletic skills on the defensive end a lot better than Stoudemire, making him one of the most versatile defenders in the league as well as one of its best rebounders. Marion was truly unappreciated when he played for the Suns. Back then Marion could even make three-point shots with that quirky form.
That post-season without Amare was probably Marion’s finest run as an NBA player. He averaged 20 and 12 in 20 playoff games but the Suns weren’t good enough to take down the Dallas Mavericks.
Fast forward five years. Marion spent a couple more seasons in Phoenix, then moved onto Miami in the trade that brought Shaquille O’Neal to the dessert. Marion never played a full season in South Beach as he was traded in the middle of 2008-2009 to the Toronto Raptors. Marion was never able to re-gain his playing form after he left the Suns. His numbers never resembled the ones he put up in Phoenix and he never seemed to settle into a role with any of those teams.
But two off-seasons ago, the Dallas Mavericks made a sign-and-trade with the Toronto to acquire Marion from the Raptors. Dallas was the first contending team that Marion had played for since he left the Suns and Dallas’ framework allowed him to find a consistent role for the first time since he left the desert. Marion was able to slide into a versatile forward role as a defender and rebounder that expanded into a starting spot when Caron Butler went down early in the season.
Marion’s work as a garbage player that does the little things hasn’t changed since his days in Phoenix but his offensive game has been switched up a bit. Marion used to be around three or four three-point attempts a game when he was with the Suns and he was actually knocked them down at a decent rate. Now, what happened to Marion’s once reliable shot is one of the biggest mysteries the league has seen over the past few years – he still uses that same quirky delivery that he did in Phoenix, but now it just doesn’t go in for whatever reason – but he has recognized the fact that he’s no longer a good shooter and changed his game. Marion is now much more of a post scorer on offense and though he is not relied upon to score big numbers, he is expected to deliver around 15 points a night and we have seen the Mavs feature him on the block in key situations during the post-season.
The 2011 playoffs provided Marion with a stage to become relevant as an important role player once again. A combination of Butler’s injury and a hot shooting Dallas team has brought the Mavs to the Finals and Marion’s role with the team has been vital to their success. Defensively, Marion has been extremely important to what the Mavs have done. Not only has Marion been an asset when the Mavs play their vaunted zone, he’s also been their best individual defender by far in the post-season. LeBron James has been given a lot of credit for his defensive versatility in the playoffs and rightfully so, but Marion has guarded an even larger range of players during the post-season. Marion spent time checking LaMarcus Aldridge, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron himself during the playoffs and he did an incredible job in each of those match-ups.
In addition to playing some fantastic defense on LeBron James, Marion also had one of his biggest scoring series of the post-season in the Finals. Marion is one of the best off-ball cutters in the league and the Mavericks did a good job finding him on the move, allowing him to use his uncanny shot and accurate floater to score quickly when he receives the pass. Marion may have lost his outside shot but he still contributes offensively by getting looks near the hoop by moving off-the-ball and posting up.
When Shawn Marion left the Suns, he struggled to find a situation that fit him. But when the Mavericks acquired him in 2009, Marion was finally coupled with a contending team and he’s done a great job adapting his game to make himself as productive as possible in Dallas. Marion may not be the same player that he was back in 2006 – his three-point shot is gone and his electrifying dunks are less frequent – but he’s still a solid offensive player and an incredibly versatile defender that has helped the Mavs transform themselves into one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Its taken Marion a long while to finally find his place on the best team in the league but the Mavericks have proven to be a fantastic home for the Matrix and now he can finally say this: Shawn Marion is an NBA Champion.