Mark Aguirre's clutch play, all-around skill sometimes overlooked

Until this year, the National Basketball Association career Mark Aguirre has never run smoothly. Of course a 24.8-point career scoring average confers automatic star status and guarantees a big contract. But ever since the former DePaul All-American came into the league as the top draft choice of the Dallas Mavericks, he's had more than the usual quota of knocks and labels.

Eyebrows were raised that he made the All-Star team only twice in six years. He had a coach (Dick Motta) who always seemed to want more. At 6 ft. 6 in. he is relatively small for a forward, raising the question of how effective he can be as a rebounder. Then there are those who say he has an ego that must be fed constantly, and is a one-dimensional player.

``Some guys never get the credit they deserve, and Mark is one of them,'' explained Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, who owns an apartment house with Aguirre. ``But except for Larry Bird, there isn't another player in this league who can consistently post-up inside and score against your best defenders, or simply lay back and beat you from outside.

``You can often tell how good a player is by the way his team focuses in on him in the clutch, and Aguirre gets that kind of treatment from his teammates,'' Magic added. ``They know they can't win without him. They know that when there are only a few seconds showing on the game clock, and they are trailing by a point, that they had better get the ball to him.

``Mark won't look away like some shooters in a situation like that simply because it's a tough shot or they can't stand the pressure. He's always willing to put his reputation on the line, and most of the time he'll make that pressure shot. He's also a good passer and rebounder, although nobody ever mentions it.''

Johnson, in fact, well remembers one night five years ago when Mark demonstrated his clutch ability by sinking two three-point baskets in the final 17 seconds to beat the Lakers.

``We played him tight, and he still made those shots,'' Magic said. ``He had to be looking for the ball in a situation like that, and his teammates had to think he could do it, probably because he'd done things like that so many times before.''

A year ago, while the Mavericks were posting a best-ever 55-27 record, Mark scored 30 or more points 24 times. He also maintained an 80-game average of 25.7.

Still, when Motta left at the end of last season and was replaced by John MacLeod, there was a feeling that Aguirre would be more comfortable under the latter's less structured offense. Mark, however, wouldn't open up on this topic.

Asked about his personal scoring philosophy, though, Aguirre replied: ``I try to go inside a lot with the ball because that's the strongest part of my game. The fact that I'm often working against taller players doesn't bother me because there are so many ways to get a shot off. You get within three feet of the basket, even with people hanging on your back, and you still ought to be able to score.

``But sometimes when things get jammed up inside, you have to adjust and take what the defense gives you,'' Mark continued. ``Outside you need more of a feel for the ball, and that takes constant practice. It's not something you can ignore for a while and call up when you need it and make it work. It's to basketball, I guess, what putting is to golf.''

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