It’s the first day of training camp at SMU’s Crum Basketball Center, and the second day the Dallas Mavericks have officially been back together after a summer apart, so the players and coaches linger a bit after practice, falling back into the rhythms they left a few months ago. Every shot is an excuse for a bet, and every bet is an excuse for a joke.
The players eventually meander toward the exit, one by one and then all at once, like the last few guests at a party. Dirk Nowitzki, looking reliably ridiculous in his sweat pants tucked into knee-high socks, is the first to go, as is his right. Half an hour later, the court is quiet. And then, as if he has been waiting for the all-clear signal to make his entrance, there he is: Rodrigue Beaubois, the 22-year-old future of the franchise.
A year ago, when he arrived in Dallas for his first training camp with the Mavericks, Beaubois was just a curiosity. No one could have predicted then that the season would end with fans and columnists grumbling that coach Rick Carlisle had cost the team its first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs by not playing the rookie guard enough. It all happened so fast.
Beaubois finally takes the floor. He is a bit sheepish out there on his own, an off-balance smile above shrugging shoulders, like an understudy taking the stage after rehearsal. He grabs a ball and tosses up a few shots. They almost all go in, but he’s not really trying. These are the shots dads take when they happen upon a ball in an empty gym. You know: hey, let’s see if the old man’s still got it.
Beaubois has spent the bulk of the last two months with his broken left foot in a protective walking boot, only yesterday slipping into sneakers for the first time. He’ll likely miss the rest of training camp as the foot continues to heal. The future must wait. The present is on pause. He racks the ball and heads off toward the locker room and his teammates, his shoulders still shrugging, the smile threatening to tumble over.
“We’ve got to get him healthy,” Carlisle says a few minutes later. “We have plans for him.”
It’s June 25, 2009—the night of the NBA draft—and commissioner David Stern has just announced that, with the No. 25 pick, the Oklahoma City Thunder has selected Rodrigue Beaubois from France. Everyone watching at home, of course, knows that the Dallas Mavericks are actually making this decision, thanks to a just-announced trade, and everyone has the same reaction: who?
No one has heard of him, let alone seen him play. All that exists on YouTube is a highlight reel (title: “highlights BEAUBOIS”) from his time with Cholet Basket in the French Pro A League, scored to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The five-minute video mostly consists of the 6-foot-2 point guard shooting open three-pointers. It turns out that there is a reason so little footage of Beaubois exists: he didn’t start playing organized basketball until he was 17 years old. Beaubois is about a decade behind most players in their early 20s.
The Beaubois pick is all the more worrisome because of the Mavericks’ draft history over the past decade. Their drafts have been studded with names such as Maurice Ager (drafted in the first round 2006, out of the league by 2009) and Pavel Podkolzin (taken in 2004, his NBA career amounted to six games and four points). Beaubois seems a likely candidate to be added to this list.
Carlisle actually started him early in the season, when Josh Howard was injured, but over most of Beaubois’ first year, his playing time seemed to fluctuate arbitrarily. When he did get on the court, though, Beaubois showed flashes of brilliance.
One sequence late in the season stood out. The Mavs were playing the Minnesota Timberwolves. After a Mavs turnover, Minnesota point guard Jonny Flynn gathered up the ball and sprinted away on a fast break. Flynn, known for his quickness, was already at half court when Beaubois, maybe 15 feet behind him, just a couple of steps from the free throw line, gave chase. By the time Flynn leaped toward the goal at the other end for what should have been an easy layup, Beaubois had caught him. Flynn never saw him coming. Beaubois blocked the shot from behind. It was one of the most amazing defensive plays you’ll ever see.
Then came the game. March 27, 2010. Beaubois was battling Stephen Curry, the much heralded rookie point guard for the Golden State Warriors. Beaubois made a three, then another—and another. Mavs fans started lighting up Twitter. “Roddy B drains another 3!” He ended up dropping in nine of 11 three-pointers and 15 out of 22 shots overall on his way to scoring 40 points in less than 30 minutes of playing time.
“After the third three, I felt like, seriously, I couldn’t miss,” he says, smiling. “So every time I had the ball and had a little space—I’m shooting it.”
That season Beaubois became the first rookie ever to shoot 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from behind the three-point line, and 80 percent of his free throws.
It all happened so fast.
The first player Beaubois met on the team was Shawn Marion, who is Beaubois’ senior by 10 years. Marion was one of the players Beaubois grew up watching on TV and YouTube. When he met him, it was beyond strange. Like: hey, you’re Shawn Marion. My teammate. We play basketball together. And, oh, hey, there’s Jason Kidd. It’s still odd to him, of course, but he is getting used to it, mostly because he has no choice.
A few weeks before Beaubois slipped into sneakers and tried those first tentative shots in training camp, he is sitting at a table in the galley-style kitchen in the Dallas Mavericks’ offices in the bowels of the American Airlines Center. His foot is still inside the boot. When he walks, it gives him a little bounce in his step, more of a strut than a limp.
It’s clear in just the five minutes I’ve been around him—since I was introduced to him while he was demonstrating his new autograph to the receptionist at the front desk—that Beaubois is a favorite of pretty much everyone here. The administrative staff seems to find excuses to walk this way instead of that, poke their heads around the corner, trade a word or a smile or a little joke with him. He has little brother status with all of them.
What is also clear: Beaubois is not worried about much. Not the fact that, after a rookie season that saw him average just over 12 minutes and seven points a game, he has been anointed as the Mavericks’ savior. In October, just before the start of camp, Tom Ziller of AOL’s NBA FanHouse wrote, “The Mavs’ season depends on Beaubois bursting out and coach Rick Carlisle using him properly. Beaubois is the only hope.” Around the same time, ESPN’s John Hollinger had a similar but slightly more measured take: “A more valid reason to believe Dallas can keep up its string of 50 wins is the one good, young player they have in the pipeline—Rodrigue Beaubois.” He added that any chance the Mavericks have of “winning anything important” depends on Beaubois.
He’s not worried about everything that comes with that new standing—expectations and pressure, mostly, but jealousy figures in there, too. There are only so many minutes, and he will be taking them from someone. Beaubois is not worried about the way last season ended in controversy, with the Mavericks’ first-round exit blamed, primarily, on his lack of playing time. Carlisle finally gave him an extended run in Game 6, and after Beaubois eliminated a double-digit deficit, Carlisle put him back on the bench for 10 minutes while the game, and the series, slipped away. Beaubois wanted more playing time, sure, but not for selfish reasons.
“Especially when the team is losing, for sure you really want to help the team to do everything they can to win,” Beaubois says. “You just try to stay ready and wait for them to call you.”
And that’s why everyone has him under their wing. The kid just doesn’t have much of an ego. He did not come up through the AAU ranks, the select teams, squads fueled by sneaker-company cash. He has no posse or hangers-on, no one in his ear MF’ing Carlisle. He is confident but a long way from cocky. Here’s how he describes the point when he knew he could play in the NBA:
“Like, other people push me. They say, ‘Yeah, you can. Keep going, keep going.’ And then one day I say, ‘Maybe.’ So I kept playing. The year before the draft, when I did some workouts here, I played against good players in the workouts. So I say, ‘Yeah, probably.’ Then the beginning of my season in France was terrible. So maybe I can’t. But people talked to me, pushed me, and I finished strong.” Not exactly “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”
Beaubois is also not worried about his broken foot. Some foot problems are no big deal (Michael Jordan broke his early in his career, to little effect) and others can threaten entire careers (Houston’s Yao Ming has seriously considered retirement). They’re especially troubling when the player in question relies so heavily on his speed. When he comes back, will Roddy Beaubois still be the same player who, in another game against the Minnesota Timberwolves last season, turned a simple in-bounds play in the back court into a one-man fast break, simply because he was faster than everyone else on the floor? Who knows?
No, the only thing that worries him is the way he speaks English. He calls his pronunciation “boolshit.” A year ago, though, he wouldn’t have even had the vocabulary to be self-deprecating about his attempts to master a new language. His accent is still comically broad, 100 percent the snooty French waiter of the cliche. But his demeanor is more about geography. Where he’s from—Guadeloupe—is technically part of France (an overseas region, actually, along with Martinique, French Guiana, and Réunion), but it’s also more than 4,000 miles away. It is French, but it is not France. And Beaubois is certainly not like the two Frenchmen (Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Antoine Rigaudeau) who previously spent time on the Mavericks’ roster.
It’s strange that was ever a legitimate comparison to consider, that Abdul-Wahad or Rigaudeau would be connected to Beaubois except as the answer to a trivia question. But this is where we were 12 months ago, with only YouTube to guide us. Now the consensus is that how Beaubois recovers from a broken foot and how Carlisle uses him will determine everything about the Mavericks’ 2010–11 season. Beaubois is the only Maverick now who can make fans gasp on both ends of the floor; Nowitzki is a foregone conclusion, but Beaubois is an unsolved equation. He can do things no one else on the team is capable of. This is why fans were begging Carlisle to insert Beaubois into the lineup during the San Antonio series, why every NBA writer has handcuffed the Mavs’ future to Beaubois’, why he’s being interviewed now, maybe even why he is not concerned about much.
This is the part where I am supposed to say to them, to you, to everyone: slow down. That Golden State game was just one out of 82. Those 40 points were almost twice as many as he had in any other game all season. This is only his second year in the NBA. He’s injured. The Mavericks are still Nowitzki’s team.
But why bring all that up? It doesn’t matter. Roddy Beaubois has already happened. And he’s fast.
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