- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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It was the undeniable highlight of the Mavericks' preseason: Rodrigue Beaubois' moving into the starting lineup for the third quarter at Washington and promptly uncorking 11 memorable points.
The highlight within the highlight: Beaubois stripped the ball clean from Wizards ace Gilbert Arenas and zoomed away for an uncontested dunk.
Yet it remains to be seen how long it takes Beaubois to earn regular playing time in the regular season. He never got off the bench during the Mavericks' season-opening home loss to Arenas and the Wiz on Tuesday night.
"The hope," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said, "is that Roddy can crack the rotation at some point."
The flashes of supreme athleticism, by all accounts, have been even more frequent on the practice floor from the No. 25 overall pick than they were during exhibition play. But Beaubois has joined a team that has won 50 games for nine successive seasons. Significant minutes for a rookie, on a team with the Mavs' aspirations, would have to be classified as unlikely. Especially at the start.
The Mavs quietly believe Beaubois would have been a Rookie of the Year contender -- in a race that might prove more open than anticipated in the wake of the fractured kneecap suffered by prohibitive favorite Blake Griffin -- had he been drafted by a lottery team. His gifts are obvious: Beaubois has "Tony Parker-like speed and can change games with it," in the words of one veteran scout; he also has a 6-foot-10 wingspan and a build reminiscent of Boston's Rajon Rondo.
But Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson thinks it's wise to temper expectations, thrilled as everyone in the organization is to have landed such a gem in the lower reaches of the first round. Although it's true that containing speedy point guards is a Mavs weakness -- which theoretically creates a need for Beaubois to play -- getting the 21-year-old on the floor likely requires him to wrest minutes away from Jason Kidd, Jason Terry or J.J. Barea.
"We are in the business of winning games," Nelson cautions. "And playing rookies big minutes is not always conducive to winning games."
That's why you shouldn't be surprised if Beaubois -- for all the expectations he has already generated -- spends some time this season with the Mavs' D-League affiliate in Albuquerque, N.M. Valuable as it is for Beaubois to spend as much time as he can sponging off a mentor as accomplished as Kidd, there would be unquestioned value in letting Beaubois run a team for an entire game (or games).
"With any young player, you've got the instructional component and you've got the practical component," Nelson said. "You've got to be able to use what you've learned in the heat of the battle.
"Roddy has gotten off to a real good start, but you never want to close the door on any playing opportunity. We feel real good about the development he's getting and being with Jason every day, but you never know. There might come a time or a stretch of games where it makes sense to give him a chance to have the ball in his hands with five seconds to go in the game."
Sending youngsters to the D-League will be a more inviting prospect for Dallas next season when the forthcoming Frisco franchise Nelson co-owns will serve as the Mavs' up-the-road affiliate. Nelson, though, insists that the club is sufficiently comfortable with the idea of dispatching Beaubois to the Albuquerque Thunderbirds if need be, with Mavs alumnus Darvin Ham working on the Albuquerque coaching staff.
Beaubois has wowed numerous league observers already with what Nelson describes as "freakish athleticism" coupled with a 3-point shooting range that neither Parker nor Devin Harris possesses. But Beaubois is still just learning how to read defenses -- especially in pick-and-rolls -- and at times emits a too-cool-for-school vibe that the Mavs want him to drop. Carlisle has made occasional mention of the fact that Beaubois does not yet play with the consistent sense of urgency required of point guards at this level.
The latter is another reason why a D-League visit or two could make some sense. As Nelson notes, Beaubois would get quite a push with the Thunderbirds because "it's the second most athletic league in the world."
Marc Stein covers the NBA for ESPN.com and contributes to ESPNDallas.com.
Fans shouldn't be surprised if Mavs rookie Beaubois spends time in the D-League.