This season has been hard, and it has a chance to become unbearably so, if they finally get the kind of player they’ve needed for the last two years, but only for a few months to close out the season before he hauls his ass off somewhere else. I have to admit I have been pretty up and down regarding Shawn Marion throughout his career. He’s always been fun to watch. But how much of that was him and how much the rest of the Suns? And why did he seem to come up with so many reasons to leave what looked like a great situation for him? Was he more trouble than all the good stuff he brought to the table was worth? I couldn’t really answer any questions about him. But now, with only a brief glimpse with this Raptor team, I feel like I have a bit more of an understanding of the guy.
First of all, the guy has never really been able to do everything he can do on the court, outside of the pre-Nash years that he likes to refer to a bit too often. In this brief glimpse so far, we’ve seen a guy that can do more than rebound and run. He shows a natural ability to facilitate for other guys, in much the same way he has an uncanny, instinctive nose for rebounds and loose balls. In Phoenix he was confined to the corners in the half-court, and was able to come in and follow up on the missed shots of other players more than creating those shots to start with. Nash was the one afforded all the space and opportunities to facilitate. He was a huge part of the running game, yes, but he could have brought more to that team than he was allowed to. Sacrifice is a big part of winning, but there really wasn’t much sacrificed by anyone else, so I could see where he might want to explore other avenues.
Miami was simply not a good avenue for him to explore. There he was confined again, this time entirely in the half-court sets, and with all the space on the floor afforded to Mr. Wade. His Yin from the Suns never met up with the Yang on the Heat. It’s like they were both torn from the circle they were meant to share, and ended up as two separate teardrops. Make that beads of sweat, and not just because of the references to the sun and the heat - the guy has always given a lot of energy. And maybe more than anything else, that energy has been too much to really prove the perfect fit on any team thus far.
So now he can cool off up north, and bring every last ounce of that energy. The mantra repeated about the Raptors for so long now has been that they lack toughness, grit, determination, effort and hustle. I honestly think that all that stuff is at least in part due to the lack of an energy guy. Look at the difference in this team when Joey has got his motor going and keeps it going. Look at the difference when Jose picks up the pace and keeps things going, rather than pausing as he takes possession of the ball, and pulling back on break opportunities. This team just fails to dictate any part of too many games, and then caves in too quickly when it becomes all to apparent that they are being dictated to and not the other way around. Energy is what can change that equation immediately.
Marion’s energy can carry this team a little when it’s just not there with other guys. I loved watching him from way up in my cheap seats. I could see how he uses the whole court and is always a step ahead of so many other guys, both mentally and physically. He knew just when to leak out. He knew just how to lay out Kevin Ollie on a sly pick as he was pressuring Jose on the way up the court. He knew where the ball should be, and was able to get it there, most of the time, if the ball was in his hands. The game looked very simple when he was out there, and it was that way in both running situations and half-court situations.
Remember all of JO’s talk about not worrying about any numbers? About how he was going to bring a certain amount of leadership to this team without needing to make it his team? About doing what is necessary for the team to win? Well so far Marion’s play rings much more true to those sorts of sentiments. And it all centers around using all the energy he has, and confining none of it.
So the fit looks golden early on. And maybe that carries on to the end of the season to the extent that the failed JO experiment can be put out of our minds. Can the fit be made into a lock from there? I hope so. I can handle him being a little more than just a bargain. He deserves to be paid fairly. And at the same time, the market for players might force him and his agent to not think as big as they might have before. And maybe he does actually realize that his Yin and Yang can be one functional whole right here for a long time, and that he can complete a team as well as himself. OK - I won’t count on that last bit, but the little kid in me will look for that somewhere in his tigger shot and light feet on defensive covers. I think it’s entirely possible that the guy is about playing basketball, and bringing everything to the game that he can, as much as about recognition and money. But then again I think it’s entirely possible that he’s just here for a stopover for whatever reason. But to see something work so well, only to see it not last, would be the biggest heartbreak of a year full of them.