Dallas Mavericks Mid-Season Report; Q&A

A big misconception in professional sports is that the All-Star Break marks the midway point. Oh, what fools we are!

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game falls somewhere in the second week of July with teams taking the field for their 81st game at the beginning of the month.

The National Football League obviously runs its own pattern with the Pro Bowl preceding the Super Bowl.

The National Hockey League hits the halfway marker by mid-January and their All-Star Game comes at the end of the month, unless there’s a lockout or Winter Olympics.

Then is our beloved (oh, and relevant) National Basketball Association. Host of far and away the most popular, respectable and viewed All-Star event.

I attended the 2010 All-Star FanFest in Dallas, 2010 as well as the Celebrity Game and Rookie Challenge…it truly is all that it’s talked up to be. Except Roger Mason was a total jerk to @JakeW31 and me.You’re Roger Mason!

The NBA has itself an All-Star Weekend that begins this year on Friday, February 14th. Tonight, January 22nd, each team will be halfway through the marathon, including the Dallas Mavericks.

Co-Editor here at The Smoking Cuban Rami Michail has been kind enough to allow me to join him in a Q&A session addressing the first half of Dallas Mavericks basketball. So without further ado, here are some pressing matters atop a list of many that Rami and myself, Ace, will be asking, answering, critiquing, and for me at least, second guessing.

Who has been the most impressive player?

Rami Michail: We all know what Dirk is capable of, so that leaves the choices to either Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, or Shawn Marion in my opinion. I’m going to have to go with Monta. From his ability to get to the basket, take smarter shots, and create for his teammates, he’s done far more to exceed expectations of the general public. He just needs to somehow improve on the defensive side and eliminate some bad decisions.

Ace Feltman: I don’t have the self-discipline that Rami does because I absolutely have to pick Dirk. After the two toughest years of his career battling knee injuries and his own teammates lack of talent, the former MVP and Finals MVP has come back looking anything but 35 years of age. His years of athleticism and premiere playmaking are behind him but the fade away is back, the one-legged shot as impressive as it’s ever been, and a return to the All-Star Game after missing the game last season for the first time since 2001. Lastly, he became only the 12th player in league history to score 40 points in a game at age 35.

Least?

RM: This has to go to Sam Dalembert. Though he now seems to be turning the corner, he was brought in to do two things: rebound and defend. He hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations. With half the season to go, Dalembert has some time to improve; something the Mavs will really need.

AF: I’m trying to think of any way not to pick Samuel Dalembert. Despite some nights where he has shown to be some what of a presence in the paint, it’s way, way too few in far between. He’s been benched twice for missing practice and exhibits way too many boneheaded plays during important moments of games. Rim protection has been completely vacant from this Mavericks team, and I believe it starts with the guy who styles himself, “Sammy D.”

Who has been the biggest surprise?

RM: I was actually in the minority of people who though Monta was a great fit so that eliminates him. Honestly, I was really hopeful and had high expectations, so it’s hard for me to pick one player that “surprised” me, but if I do I’d have to go with DeJuan Blair. We knew what he was capable of from his days with the Spurs, but he’s done everything the Mavs have asked from him. If it’s starting, to being the first big off the bench, or the last big, he’s done it all.

AF: Pertaining to Monta, I agree that his success has not been any sort of revelation to me. Dejuan Blair’s hot start filling in for an injured Brandan Wright or a preoccupied Sam Dalembert has been a big surprise, especially since he was the very last addition to the Mavericks roster this off-season. However I’m going to choose “Trix,” Shawn Marion. His defense is the only set of active hands that shows up on a nightly basis and even his 3-point jump shot has made a return to an arsenal that fills the stat sheet.

Disappointment? 

RM: I already threw Dalembert under the bus, so I’m going with Wayne Ellington. I had high hopes for him as a “3-D” player for this team. He’s struggled with his shot, and just hasn’t been able to seize a role from the likes of rookies Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel.

AF: Again, I lack the self-discipline Rami possesses and I’m sorry for that.The center position is such a fragile entity for the Mavericks. They never really had one, got one, won a title and then let him slip away. Dalembert is the best thing since Tyson Chandler departed from a can-do standpoint but Sammy D just hasn’t been doing a whole lot. He’s blocking a shot a game but teams are getting to the basket with astounding ease, something expected to be improved upon by bringing in Dalembert.

What has been the team’s biggest strength?

RM: Has to be the offensive fire-power this team has. Dirk, Monta, Wright, Carter, Calderon…the list goes on and on of players who have the ability to impact the game on the offensive end. Outside of the last 3-5 minutes of games, the Mavs of the most part do a great job of getting exactly what they want on the court.

AF: Scoring the basketball. The Mavericks rank 5th in the league in offensive efficiency. I am however, concerned about the team’s output against the top of the West, particularly San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

Weakness?

RM: As great as the offense has been, the defense side has been horrid. The Mavs defense needs work, but if they can find a way to just have a somewhat “decent” defense to pair with the offense, the Mavs will be ok.

AF: Oh my g-d, it’s the defense. After some stingy defense with inferior players the past two seasons, the Mavericks are certainly an improved bunch overall and on offense. But Dirk has never played much defense and the new backcourt of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis don’t exactly prioritize it, either. The center position isn’t providing much, with Dalembert’s lack of focus and Blair’s lack of height and Wright’s allergy to rebounding. The defense doesn’t have to be great, but it needs to be much, much better if the Mavericks want to compete for a championship.

Which player do you think will make the biggest leap in the second half of the season?

RM: The starters have all played well for the most post, excluding Dalembert, so I’m gonna focus to the bench. I really think Devin Harris will have a great impact on this team and it will rub off on the rest of the second-unit. With Harris most likely handling the playmaking responsibilities, expect Vince Carter to finally show some consistency. Carter won’t be asked to carry and create for a second unit that’s only true option was a Brandan Wright layup.

AF: Well, my favorite player Devin Harris will obviously have a better go at it in the latter half of the 82 game season, seeing as he missed the first 41. Wayne Ellington can’t be afforded that luxury/excuse though. Brought in to stretch the floor off the bench and play some defense as well, Ellington has been a no-show the first half of the season, playing just 8.6 minutes a game while offensively challenged Jae Crowder instead takes his spot with the second unit. Ellington is not a game changer, but he’s DEFINITELY more capable than his production shows. Unless there is a trade made, the Mavericks would be huge beneficiaries of an improved Wayne Ellington.

Will the Dallas Mavericks be a playoff team in 2014?

RM: Barring a serious injury to Dirk or Monta, the answer is easily yes. This team has 9 new players who still are learning each other. Expect the Mavs to continue to get better. You can read more on that here. I really expect this team to hit it’s stride after the All-Star break. I really believe the Mavs can easily finish between the 5-7 seed in the West.

AF: My prediction of 4th was absolutely killed by critics (go with it) but the Mavericks are currently 24-18, good for  7th in the torturous Western Conference, but the Mavs have – especially recently – had some games they should have won with big implications in the West lineup. The Mavericks have had a very tough schedule, continue to adjust to 9 new players, have knocked out most of their back-to-backs already and that final spot that would hold a first round home court advantage is just 4 games away. So to answer the question, y-e-s  exclamation point.

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Tags: Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki Monta Ellis

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