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A New Sheriff in Big D
March 03, 2008
In hot pursuit of an NBA title, the Mavericks dealt for a new leader in Jason Kidd. But is he too old to tame the wild West?
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March 03, 2008

A New Sheriff In Big D

In hot pursuit of an NBA title, the Mavericks dealt for a new leader in Jason Kidd. But is he too old to tame the wild West?

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But it's not the spectacular passes that define Kidd. Swingman Jerry Stackhouse, in particular, should benefit from quick post-ups in the transition offense. Run up the wing, establish position and Kidd will float the ball toward you at precisely the right time. "We just haven't had anybody who sees as much as he sees," says Stackhouse. "You might think, Aw, I'm not getting that pass. Well, now you are getting that pass. And you've got to be aware of it."

Baron Davis of the Golden State Warriors once said that his entire approach to the position changed after watching Kidd. "Jason always has his eyes up," said Davis. "A lot of point guards, myself included, start dribbling and look up later. Jason looks first and gets it upcourt with a pass."

Kidd's ability to get teammates an open look on the secondary break is nonpareil. He'll come steaming down the middle, conclude that a fast-break basket is not possible, veer off to one side to lull the defense to sleep and suddenly snap a pass to a weakside trailer. Nowitzki isn't a runner, but he's bound to collect such baskets in bunches the rest of this season, as he did twice on Friday night. With 3:26 remaining in the third quarter, Kidd had collected as many assists (12) as any Mav had in an entire game this season.

"Jason is even better than I expected," says Nowitzki. "A lot of players on this team pass the ball when you're open, but with Jason the ball's already on the way by the time you're open. He reads plays like nobody else."

Still, Kidd knows he has some work to do before he's fully up to speed. During timeouts he and assistant coach Joe Prunty often conference, with Kidd retracing the X's and O's of a second or third option he's still unfamiliar with. Even on the court Kidd defers when the situation demands it. Last Friday he signaled forward Josh Howard to utilize a back pick he set, but Howard, aware that the action was taking place on the weak side where Nowitzki was isolated, waved him off. "We're playing catch-up here," Kidd says, "and there's not much time. I'm asking questions constantly, trying to get in all the guys' heads, listening to all the coaches, trying to learn on the fly."

Hey, it's one big happy family. It usually is during the honeymoon period after a trade. (Szczerbiak would probably detail LeBron James's Hummer if asked, though one day soon Wally World will wake up and realize that he's not getting any of the big shots.) But a crucial aspect of the deal is how much autonomy coach Avery Johnson will give to Kidd. There is little doubt that the Little General—himself a former point guard, who won a championship with the Spurs in 1999—was, to put it mildly, in Harris's ear. "Avery might've been good for Devin in the beginning," says an opposing coach who asked for anonymity, "but the kid had to get away from Dallas to really grow."

Johnson promises some accommodation for Kidd, who is, after all, already in the pantheon of NBA quarterbacks. "I'm going to help him get through this [early] period," says Johnson, "but I don't think I'll be screaming at him every play. The reason we got Jason is because he knows what to do."

But this is a headstrong point guard playing for a headstrong coach. "There are times," says Johnson, "I'm going to need him to manage this particular team different than what he did in New Jersey.

"We think Jason can actually get better," Johnson adds. "More than anything, he can be a little more selfish on the offensive end, find his spots on the floor to score, post up now and then. And we're going to help him get to that point."

At this stage in his career Kidd is probably thinking, I'm pretty happy with the way I play, thank you very much. Scoring has always been third, fourth or fifth on his to-do list, and that was the case through his first three games as a Maverick when he took only 19 shots. Kidd's reluctance to shoot coupled with an uncertain perimeter touch (his 36.6% accuracy from the field might partly explain his reluctance to hoist) have resulted in some peculiar stat lines over the years. His triple double totals are often all right around 10. And on a team with scorers such as Nowitzki, Howard, Terry and Stackhouse, but without the willing rebounding of Diop, Kidd could have a lot of four-point, 11-rebound, 17-assist evenings. (He averaged 7.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 12.3 assists in his first week with Dallas.)

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