Shawn Marion living up to 'Matrix' title with unique role in Cleveland
College Contributor Network
TNT's Kenny Smith nicknamed Shawn Marion "The Matrix" after the versatile wing forced a turnover and burst down the floor for an open-court jam during a preseason game his rookie season with the Phoenix Suns. Now 15 years later, the 36-year-old Marion no longer blows by opponents with world-class athleticism. Yet he's still as versatile a weapon on the court as ever.
When the Cleveland Cavaliers visited the Boston Celtics on Nov. 14, Marion started the game in the backcourt alongside Kyrie Irving. He went on to finish the first-quarter playing center in a small-ball lineup. He then opened the second frame at power forward.
"I don't know if offensively you'd call him a starting shooting guard," Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. "Again, in my mind, definable positions are appropriate in certain cases. Probably with our team, it's a little different because we have very versatile type players and we're playing offense in a certain way that tries to take advantage of that versatility."
Marion's diverse skill set makes him an ideal running mate for LeBron James. That "position-less" offensive scheme Blatt referred to is a similar environment to Erik Spoelstra's spread offense that James thrived in with Miami.
While Cleveland's bumpy start has gone ever-scrutinized, they still rank in the top-five of the NBA in offensive efficiency. That's largely due to the creative looks James, Irving and Kevin Love get in the flow of Blatt's scheme.
Marion's ability, along with other high-energy role players like Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao, to keep opposing defenses off-balance is just as valuable, however.
"Shawn has always been an all-around the court guy, despite his height," Blatt said. "He's had several years where he shot the three-ball a great deal. I don't know if you'd ever call him a shooting guard, on the other hand can he guard twos? Yea. Can he come off of screens and curl and make a play like a two? Yes. But he's certainly capable of playing with his back to the basket and slashing to the rim, offensive rebounding from a number of spots on the floor."
Marion is playing just 23.3 minutes a night through Cleveland's first 10 games this season. That nightly playing time would be his lowest season average of his career and first time he played under 30 minutes per game since his rookie season back in 1999-2000. He's posting just 5.4 points per game, too -- Marion has never averaged less than double figures.
He's certainly not the player he was during his prime in Phoenix and his championship days in Dallas, but there's no coincidence Marion is a part of both of Cleveland's two most-efficient lineups on the season, per NBA.com.
"What we're trying to do is get Shawn to be Shawn and allow him to contribute to us in a way that he's comfortable," Blatt said.
As of now, it seems Marion is more than comfortable playing this back seat, supporting role. It just better result in a championship.
Jake Fischer is a junior at Northeastern University. He covers the NBA for SLAM Magazine and SB Nation, writes for the Boston Globe and lives and dies with the Philadelphia 76ers. Follow him on Twitter: @JakeLFischer