HOUSTON - He knows people mean well. He knows what the numbers say. But each time someone congratulates Shawn Marion on the “career season” he’s compiling in 2005-06, the frown comes out and his head starts to shake.
“Man, I’m not doing anything I haven’t been doing for seven years around here,” Marion said, adding a laugh to the end of the statement. “Go back and look. The numbers might be a little different right now, but this is what I do.”
And what Marion does, no one else in basketball does quite the same way. The raw statistics — the 21.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, .510 shooting percentage and 1.94 blocks — say a lot on their own but don’t scratch the surface of the man with the most accurate nickname in sports.
He’s “The Matrix,” where you must suspend what you know to be true, and try to believe what you see:
• Believe that he’s both the shortest player fighting for the rebounding title (at 6-foot-7, he currently ranks fourth) yet is the tallest player among the league leaders in steals (he’s fourth also at 2.0 per game).
• Believe he’s one of just three players in the league to average 20 points and 10 rebounds, yet does it without being the focal point of his team’s offense. He leads the league in dunks and points in the paint but is shooting to knock down 100 3-pointers for the third time in the past four years.
• Believe his league-leading 40 double-doubles — he now has 263 in his career and 93 in his last 140 games — are more noteworthy when they don’t happen. His 5,000-plus rebounds are second in franchise history.
Throw in that he plays 41 minutes and is asked to defend the opposition’s best guard/forward/ center each night, and there is no doubt he belongs at the Toyota Center today, taking part in his third All-Star game in the past four years.
But how high up the ladder of greatness has Marion’s tremendous vertical leap taken him? Is he now what fantasy basketball owners have seen him as for years — a player mentioned in the first breath of NBA stars? Should the word “athletic” be replaced with the word “great” next to his name?
“He’s been in and around that level for a long time,” said San Antonio center Tim Duncan, who has been trading the double-double lead with Marion all season. “He’s had great numbers, but the best compliment I’ll give him is he can do anything you need.
“This year Amaré (Stoudemire) is out, so he has to do more. He covers up weaknesses because he takes it upon himself to address them. That kind of player is indispensable.”
In all three of his All-Star appearances, Marion has finished far back in the fan balloting (this year he received fewer votes than Stoudemire, who’s been out since September) but was a shoo-in in the minds of coaches who come up empty trying to stop him.
“I vote for him every year,” said Sacramento coach Rick Adelman, who coached Marion in his first All-Star game in 2003. “I know he plays with the MVP and Steve Nash makes them go, but if Nash is 1A, then Marion is 1B. He gives Phoenix a dimension that other teams just don’t have. He plays minute after minute and without him, the Suns aren’t the same team.
“Is he top 10? I guess that depends who’s in charge of the list. He’s right there for me.”
Minnesota coach Dwane Casey agreed. “His speed and athleticism is just off the charts, and that gas tank is never going to run down. Yes, he’s perfect for Phoenix’s system, but he’s a basketball player, a guy who would be good anywhere.”
That sounds like a full day for anyone. But from Marion’s point of view, the Suns are under-utilizing him. He’d like to handle the ball more. He’d like to show off his passing ability. He feels, like teammate Boris Diaw, he could be a triple threat — and he’d be recognized as a more than an amazing athlete.
“I think I’m one of the rarest players in the league, defense and offense,” he said. “I know I’m doing a lot, but I can do more. I have abilities that we don’t use, But as long as we’re winning and things are rolling, I’m OK doing it this way.”
But the Suns have Nash and Diaw to distribute. They have Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa, James Jones and Eddie House to shoot the 3-ball. With seven players averaging in double figures, and Stoudemire waiting in the wings, they don’t need one guy to get 30 points every night.
What they don’t have is anyone else to do what Marion does best, especially with Stoudemire missing. And while John Stockton and Karl Malone had the pick-and-roll, the Suns’ signature play has Marion above the rim, throwing down an alley-oop pass from Nash — and more often these days, Diaw — to either take the steam out of an opponent or add an exclamation point to a win.
“He creates more than people give him credit for,” said Chicago coach Scott Skiles, who coached Marion in Phoenix. “He’s not the kind of guy who will dribble it 20 times and go one-on-one, but he gets to the offensive glass and he’s the quickest second jumper in the league. No one tips in their own shot more than he does.
“Guys who can score without dribbling the ball, they’re creative, it’s just being creative in the air.”
Denver coach George Karl coached Marion in the 2002 world championships and feels his play and his commitment to his country — he’s already been named to Jerry Colangelo’s 2006 world championship and 2008 Olympic team — may put him in Hall of Fame consideration down the road.
“What you love about Shawn Marion is he isn’t a high-maintenance player. He just plays,” Karl said. “And at the end of the night, he has 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) and some nights he has 30 and 15, and at the end of the game he’s guarding the most important player on the court. He never gets hurt (he’s missed two games in the past five years) and plays 40 minutes a night.
“I’ll take one of those.”
He does it all
Shawn Marion leads the league in double-doubles, points in the paint and dunks and is ranked among the top 20 players in more than 20 other statistical categories, including points, rebounds, field-goal percentage, minutes played, steals and blocks. Below shows Marion’s rankings in some notable categories:
1. Shawn Marion, Phoenix 40
2. Dwight Howard, Orlando 39 3. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota 38 3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio 38 5. Steve Nash, Phoenix 30
1. Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 43.3
2. LeBron James, Cleveland 42.2
3. Gilbert Arenas, Washington 42.0
4. Shawn Marion, Phoenix 41.3
5. Ricky Davis, Bos./Minn. 41.1
1. Dwight Howard, Orlando 12.6
2. Ben Wallace, Detroit 12.2
3. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota 12.0
4. Shawn Marion, Phoenix 11.9
5. Tim Duncan, San Antonio 11.5
1. Brevin Knight, Charlotte 2.42
2. Chris Paul, New Orleans 2.17
3. Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 2.00
4. Shawn Marion, Phoenix 1.96
5. Jason Kidd, New Jersey 1.92
Players averaging 20
points and 10 rebounds
1. Elton Brand, L.A. Clippers 25.4 points, 10.3 rebounds
2. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota 21.7 points, 12.0 rebounds
3. Shawn Marion, Phoenix 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds