Who is Theo Pinson? Mavericks’ lead irritant, culture-setter continues to make impact from bench during NBA Playoffs

You may not know who Theo Pinson is. But every player, coach and referee has heard him on the bench. He’s leading cheers, calling out coverages and distracting the opposition.

Pinson gained infamy during the Mavericks’ Game 2 loss against the Warriors on Friday after wearing a white shirt that matched the Warriors’ uniforms, standing up and raising his hand. That led Stephen Curry to throw an errant pass in his direction for a turnover.

That type of play isn’t unusual for those who have watched the Mavs this season. They’ve been fined multiple times for their rowdy bench’s effect on games.

Pinson is the leader of that group. He didn’t play much during the regular season, and he didn’t even make the Mavericks’ postseason roster. But he’s a big part of the team because of the energy he brings.

He’s been a beloved teammate at all three of his NBA stops, and he might be the best culture-changer in the league.

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Theo Pinson’s NBA journey

In Pinson’s first year in the league, the Nets went from a 28-win bottom-dweller in the Eastern Conference to one of the feel-good stories in the league with 42 wins. Their culture dramatically improved, and Pinson was part of a close-knit bench known for dancing during big plays.

Pinson was waived once the Nets reshaped the team around Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Their cross-city rivals, the Knicks, picked him up off waivers and signed him to a two-way contract. Pinson was part of another resurgence there, as the Knicks improved from 21-45 in 2019-20 to 41-31 in 2020-21.

After finishing out his contract with the Knicks, Pinson was without a job for most of the 2021-22 season. Midway through December, he latched onto the Mavericks. They were 14-15 before signing Pinson. They went 38-15 with Pinson, and they have been the surprise of the NBA Playoffs.

‘You will never find another teammate like him’

These sudden turnarounds could be a coincidence. Surely, it might be considered a stretch to attribute so much success to a player who has only gotten 758 minutes of floor time in his four years in the league. But his teammates and coaches rave about him.

“Theo has been our MVP since he joined the team,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said earlier this season. “His spirit, what he’s done. He doesn’t play a lot, but he’s into the game, and we didn’t have that. That’s been a big part of our success internally. We needed someone to talk, and he’s been doing it for 60 minutes.

“He’s talking in the locker room, before the game and he’s talking after. He’s our MVP. We understand Luka [Doncic] on the court is our MVP, but our spirit and our soul with Theo has been off the charts, and we’re lucky to have him.”

Kidd is far from the only person to echo those types of sentiments about Pinson.

“Theo is the funniest guy on the team. You will never find another teammate like him. He’s just all-in for the team,” Mitchell Robinson noted on his TikTok account.
“I’ve been in the NBA eight years. I’ve been on, what, five teams or something like that — Theo is the best [teammate],” Spencer Dinwiddie told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.
“He’s always in the huddle pointing out small details that can make or break a game,” Nerlens Noel told Ian Begley on “The Putback” podcast. “To have at least that one guy on the bench that is a player as well that can talk to you and translate it in different ways that coaches might not be able to, it’s definitely key. I think Theo has done that in a major way. … Theo will be a coach some time in the near future. He just knows the game, and he’s an intelligent individual. And he’s a comedian.”

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The Rudy Gobert incident

Pinson has utilized that incredible sense of humor during plenty of games. His trash-talking has had a visible effect on some players, including Rudy Gobert, who complained about Pinson’s behavior after a loss to the Mavs.

“I think the officials need to check on both sides and make sure no lines are being crossed, whether verbally or with actions,” Gobert said. “When you have guys on the bench who don’t play that just keep talking and saying things and the officials hear but don’t do anything, as a man, you ask, ‘Is it worth being suspended?’ You shouldn’t have to ask yourself that question.”

Pinson later shared what he told Gobert during an appearance on the “Locked On Mavs” podcast.

“He did a hook shot, and it hit Jerry West on the backboard, and we was like, ‘Rudy, what was that?’ I promise you — we didn’t say anything crazy to that man. Nothing,” Pinson said. “I think it got in his head that we were like, ‘What was that?’ I think we had him for the rest of the game. He was done. It was over then.

“We was like, ‘Bro, you hit Jerry West. What’d he do to you?’ And Jerry West is at the corner of the backboard, bottom corner.”

You won’t see Pinson on the floor during these NBA Playoffs. But you may see him running laps around the arena after a made shot, swimming freestyle on the sideline, staring down what he calls “2K players” who are standing still in the corner or making teammates cackle during postgame interviews.

He’s a constant ball of positive energy. He’s become one of the most impactful end-of-rotation players in the league by serving as a constant reminder that basketball is supposed to be fun.

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