Shawn Marion, still one of the NBA's elite defenders


Shawn Marion is 35, but he's shown he can still be The Matrix, one of the NBA's most versatile defenders. We take a look at how Marion relies more on his fundamentals and anticipation than his declining athleticism.

It's easy to forget that Shawn Marion is one of the league's best defenders. The Dallas Mavericks allowed 106.5 points per 100 possessions last season, 19th in the league, and finished with a .500 record. Things have been shifting in Dallas, but Marion has remained a constant force on defense.

It just takes some digging to find it.

The Mavericks relied on Marion's defensive versatility to provide the type of coverage expected out of elite defensive anchors like Roy Hibbert or Dwight Howard. It was Marion rotating around the paint and cutting off dribble penetration with no defensive big man to rely on last season in Dallas. It was Marion assigned to the James Hardens and Kevin Durants of the league. He's still The Matrix, defending any position from point guard to center.

Here, he covers the top of the pick-and-roll to stop Mike Conley's dribble penetration. The Grizzleis respond by swinging the ball around to Jerryd Bayless in the corner. Marion rotates to the low post once the ball starts moving:



Now, Marion's guarding Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies swing the ball around to the opposite side, continuing to probe for a weakness:


Marion responds by rotating off Gasol and onto Zach Randolph.


The Grizzlies are left with only five seconds on the shot clock after moving the ball around the court, and pass it in to Randolph in the post. Randolph attempts to put up a shot over the outstretched arms of Marion and Elton Brand, but can't. He gathers himself, takes a second attempt and misses:




Video of the Play:

The way Marion bounced around the court, covering the pick-and-roll and both of the Grizzlies' frontcourt players in one sequence, is a quick snapshot of the many things he can do as the anchor for a defense. The fact that he's able to do this without having the length or athleticism of players often considered anchors makes it an even more impressive feat.

When he isn't busy moving around the court as the anchor for the team's defense, Marion is often covering the other team's best offensive player. The table to the side right how Marion forces his opponents into difficult shots on many different types of plays. Let's take a look at how he's so dominant on defense.

Here, Kobe Bryant backs down Marion in the post:


Kobe shakes Marion and puts up a turnaround jumper, but notice that Marion's feet are still on the ground and he's using his length to contest the shot instead of jumping into him and possibly committing a foul. Kobe misses the shot:



Video of the play:

Marion isn't just a stationary defender, though. If he's assigned to a player who moves off the ball, he'll stick with him. Here, Durant cuts baseline around a screen set by Serge Ibaka:


Marion doesn't fall behind the play, sticking to Durant. When Durant prepares to shoot, Marion is right on him and blocks the shot:



Video of the play:

LeBron James is one of the best in the NBA at driving, and finishing at the rim. Marion — the player assigned on a nightly basis to stop option 1 from scoring points — has the job of waving a red cape in front of a stampeding James. Notice how his defensive stance is open, which allows him to cover ground and shift once James drives. He's sagging just enough to contest a three-point attempt if James decides to shoot:


James begins making his move and Marion shuffles his feet in front of him. James sees that Marion has slid toward the key and shifts his movement to go around his left side:


But it doesn't matter. Marion flips his stances and opened it up again while he slides with James to the basket. James can't get to the rim and misses the layup:



Video of the play:

No discussion about Marion can go without mentioning his ability to play passing lanes and poke passes out of mid-air. He has 1,642 career steals, making him 22nd in all-time NBA steals. He's great at playing away from his man on the perimeter to provide extra defense around the paint and knowing when to recover.

Here, Marion sets up at the elbow to help Chris Kaman guard Zach Randolph. Randolph spots Tayshaun Prince at the top of the arc and reads that Marion is a good distance away from him:


But Marion knows the pass is coming, as he's baiting Randolph. He reaches out and deflects the pass, then takes the ball up court for a fast-break floater:



Video of the play:

Leaving his man alone on the perimeter is a gamble, but Marion gets away with it because he is great at reading when the pass is going and closes out on the shooter. Some players forget about their assignment and focus on playing "free safety." Marion does not.

Here, Deron Williams drives toward the paint instead of taking the screen. Marion is already at the elbow, prepared to rotate in front. Mirza Teletovic spots up at the top of the break:


It's tough to see, but Marion slides his foot into the paint, showing Williams that he's in position to wall off his drive:


This is where Marion's defensive instincts kick in. The ball hasn't left William's hands, but Marion's already rushing to Teletovic to challenge the shot from a pass that hasn't even happened yet. By the time Teletovic can gather the pass and take the shot, Marion has already recovered. He blocks the shot, then sprints up court once he sees the rebound head toward his team:



Vince Carter throws an over-the-head pass to Marion up court, and he gathers it and slams it down:



Video of the play:

Marion isn't in the spotlight like he was with the Seven Seconds or Less Suns, but he remains one of the best defensive forwards in the NBA. He isn't just a system defender playing within a defensive scheme, and his individual defense is necessary and still very solid. His great footwork and instincts have aged over the 14 seasons he has spent in the NBA, so he now uses his savvy more than his raw athleticism. But he's still The Matrix, one of the NBA's shutdown defenders.

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