Enemy: Dallas Mavericks
3SOB Forecast*: 37-45
What’s the story in Dallas?
It’s hard to recall at times, but the Dallas Mavericks won the championship just two short years ago. After years of being so close, it took a team of Jason Kidd, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Tyson Chandler, Brian Cardinal — yes, Brian Cardinal, Jason Terry, Brendan Haywood, Peja Stojakovic, Shawn Marion, and Dirk Nowitzki to get them over the hump.
Then the lockout ensued, starry-eyed free agency dreams engulfed the rationale, and the one and only Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo came and went. Fast forward to the now, just a smidge over two years removed from that fateful title run, only two players remain from the champion roster: Dirk and Marion — both on the final year of their respective contracts.
Another off-season in the books and another strikeout swinging for the Mavericks. Last year it was prize free agent Deron Williams that they wooed to no avail. After Deron decided to lock it up and help to build the new age in Brooklyn, Mark Cuban and his braintrust opted to stock up on one-year deals and gear up for round two. This time around, the “Dwightmare” Howard served as the source of rejection, in a race in which they always seemed a distant third.
With a bare roster and a ton of cap space to play with, the Mavs decided it was time to invest in an NBA roster again, and this time do so with more than just one-year rentals. The pill is easier to swallow with Dirk’s $22 million coming off the books a the basketball year’s end, but while scoring machine Monta Ellis’s three-year deal is totally within reason, four years for 31-year-old Jose Calderon reads a little steep. To further the absorption of the newer contracts, however, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter combine for another $12 million of spending money coming Dallas’s way next summer, and Dirk has already made it clear that he will be willing to accept a significant hit to the wallet for the betterment of the team’s ability to land him a successor/sidekick or two.
While the direction of the franchise with its newly constructed roster seems in jeopardy, the Mavericks have managed to compile a fair amount of talent through the free agency vehicle. Spearheaded by the returning Carter, the bench is stuffed with legit NBA-level contributors including the newly re-acquired Devin Harris, Brandan “PER Hero” Wright, Israeli guard Gal Mekel, who’s summer performance we can all thank for Dallas gift wrapping Nick Calathes to our Grizzlies, glass monster Dejuan Blair, stalwart journeyman Samuel Dalembert, and our old friend Wayne Ellington, who can all fill up the box score in their own respective realms, as well as point guard Shane Larkin out of Miami, who the Mavs traded down from their first lottery pick since they took Etan Thomas at 12th in 2000 to acquire.
All told, you could be in far worse preseason position going into the season than of the Mavericks, but that may be the worst part of all. They’re finding it difficult to escape the fabled purgatory that is “the middle” — a precarious position indeed for a franchise clinging to the twilight years of a generational icon power forward.
Who are they cooking with?
The Mavericks measured in the bottom half of the league last season when it came to defensive efficiency, surrendering 104.0 points per 100 possessions, and with the exception of the addition of Dalembert, did little to amend these woes.
The assumption would be that the hope in Dallas is for Dalembert to emerge in the Tyson Chandler mold, to elevate the team defensively with his presence alone. The numbers last season, however, do not seem to support the faith in his ability to do so. Last season, Dalembert’s effectiveness on the end defensive result was a negative for the Bucks, as the team surrendered 5.3 more points per 100 possessions when he was on the court — a regard in which he has generally pushed the needle in the other direction for the majority of his career. How much his slide was due in part to the fact that when he came into the game the Bucks were removing the intimidating Larry Sanders from the court is something that Dallas will have to find out.
If Dalembert is no longer the defensive presence that he once was, the Mavs are going to have some serious trouble containing opposing guardplay. With the diminutive duo of Calderon and Ellis holding down the backcourt, the defensive strategy figures to have a lot to do with Ellis gambling for steals and the two funneling their matchups into their big friends in the paint. If those big friends fail to answer the bell, the defensive prospects are just about atrocious. Masterful as he is, Marion can only guard one guy at a time.
Offense is another story, though. With a plethora of problems surrounding the guard positions last season, it was clear from the early going that playmaking ability would be a major focus this summer.
Looking at his major body of work, Ellis has routinely been able to get his shot off over or through anybody, anywhere. His luster has faded a bit in Milwaukee, but he’s still only 27 years old and should fit much better next to Calderon than he did next to Brandon Jennings. Speaking of Calderon, there may not be a more underrated point guard in the league on the offensive end of the floor. Posting an 18.8 PER in 2012-13, he is everything you want in a floor general. He protects the ball as well as anybody in the league, illustrated by a 4.11 assist-to-turnover ratio that was second to only Chris Paul, and ranked first among starting point guards in assist ratio, logging 39.4 per 100 possessions. It would not be surprising to see a throwback to the Steve Nash/Dirk chemistry when Calderon and Nowitzki hit the floor together.
Lastly, drawn out by the myriad of signings listed above, the bench is stuffed with NBA-level contributors including Vince Carter, Devin Harris, Brandan “PER Hero” Wright, Bernard James, Dejuan Blair, Mekel, and our old friend Wayne Ellington can all fill up the box score in their own respective realms. Even if Larkin is ready to contribute on this level, the seasoned group above him will probably force him to see more time in the D-League than he does in the at the big show this year.
How do the good guys stack up?
Kirk Henderson (of Two Man Game):
The 2013-2014 Grizzlies-Mavericks match ups should provide fans with wildly entertaining basketball, mainly due to the stark contrast of basketball styles. In all honesty, the only way the Mavericks beat the Grit n Grind Grizzlies is to force the pace. With a host of new players, we in Dallas don’t have a great grasp of the starting line ups and expect Rick Carlisle to do a lot of tinkering with the players at his disposal.
Expected back court starters Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis have interesting offensive games but neither can guard a stationary object. Calderon’s an adept game manager and excellent shooter but won’t be able to keep up with Mike Conley. The Monta-Tony Allen match up should be fascinating because it all depends on if Monta is willing to sacrifice his own numbers for the sake of the team. Let’s just say I don’t see that happening.
The front court match ups are a bit more predictable. Shawn Marion’s still holding down the starting small forward spot in Dallas, despite his declining athleticism. He moves well off ball and defends hard, usually seeing time defensively against positions 1 through 4 though out a game. At the center spot Samuel Dalembert is a clear improvement over Chris Kaman defensively, but since he’ll probably be cross matched against Zach Randolph all he can really do is hope for an off night. Recently resigned F/C Brandan Wright isn’t much use against a team with two or more post bangers as he’s just too skinny. Finally, the Dirk Nowitzki-Marc Gasol match up should be fantastic. At this age, lengthy defenders are the only one’s capable of bothering Dirk and Gasol fits that bill perfectly. However, Dirk can’t keep up defensively with Gasol, who is, in my opinion, the most well rounded big man in the NBA.
The bench battle reflects each team’s strengths. Dallas has better guard options, with Vince Carter, Shane Larkin, and former Maverick Devin Harris. Memphis has a deeper bench for big men, with Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, and Jon Leuer.
Over all, Memphis is the better team, because the main way Dallas can win depends entirely on hot shooting. Any game which becomes a slugfest highly favors the Grizzlies over the Mavericks, because almost all of the Dallas offense relies on mid range shots.
The Mavericks made some moves to improve both their short-term and long-term outlooks this summer. With health and a sprinkling of luck they should be in the hunt for one of the last handful of playoff spots in the Western Conference. But despite these marginal improvements, the Mavs are still going to struggle with refined, coherent and consistent defenses as well as rugged, powerful, interior-focused offenses. Sound like anyone you know?
Last season they lost three of four to Memphis and managed just 97.3 points per 100 possessions. Jose Calderon, Gal Mekel, Monta Ellis and a healthy Dirk Nowitzki provide additional offensive firepower, but the Mavs will still be faced with running their offensive strengths into the teeth of the Grizzlies’ defense. The size and mobility of the Grizzlies front court stymies penetration and makes things extremely difficult for Dirk, working from the elbows in. The end result last year was a lot of mid-range jumpers by the Mavs and Ellis should be more than happy to oblige in this year’s matchups. At the other end of the floor the Mavericks feature a surprisingly thin front court rotation with an overwhelming dearth of defensive acumen. They had a hard time keeping opponents away from the rim last season. The perimeter defense has probably gotten worse and swapping Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair in for Chris Kaman and Elton Brand isn’t going to do much to change their interior fortunes. We haven’t even talked about rebounding yet, but that’s another area where the Mavericks project to struggle this year.
The Mavs should be better overall this season, but the Grizzlies are one of these teams against whom they will likely flounder. The strengths and weaknesses line up decidedly in Memphis’ favor and Dallas will really need to execute at an incredibly high level to keep these games competitive.
Bobby Karalla (of Hickory-High):
With all the roster shuffling the Mavs’ front office has done during the past few offseasons, you’re never sure how the team will look on the court. It’s a safe bet Dallas will be more competitive in the West this season, as Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon will bring improved perimeter offense to a team that desperately needed it last season. Who could forget Memphis’ incredible comeback vs. Dallas in February, when the Grizz erased a 25-point deficit in what seemed like five seconds? (I still haven’t moved on from that night.) Dallas turned it over 21 times that night and shot just 25% from 3. Turnovers plagued the Mavericks last season, and Memphis of course took advantage of it. But with Calderon, lord of efficiency and an excellent three-point shooter, at the helm, and Ellis replacing Darren Collison and OJ Mayo, Mike Conley and Tony Allen should have their hands full on the defensive end.
Remember, though: Dallas has almost an entirely new team. It’s difficult even to forecast how Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will match up with Dirk Nowitzki and the other Mavericks bigs, as Dirk wasn’t completely healthy last season until after the All-Star break. In the games he has played, though, Nowitzki hasn’t averaged more than 17.7 points per game against Memphis during the course of one season since 2009-10. Randolph and Gasol have performed excellent defensively against the German the last few years, but considering the new toys Mavs coach Rick Carlisle will have to play with, expect some adjustments in the way the offense flows. A healthy, rejuvenated Dirk still is not enough to overwhelm the Grizzlies, though. Memphis has given Dallas headaches since before the Mavs’ title run. The matchups have consistently worked in Memphis’ favor. Who can be sure the trend will reverse this year?
When and Where do they square off?
November 2nd: 7:30PM at the American Airlines Center
December 18th: 7:30PM at the American Airlines Center
February 5th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
April 16th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
For more Mavericks content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at The Two Man Game.
*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.