Are the Dallas Mavericks True Contenders?
By Jay Knodell
Through their first nine games the Dallas Mavericks have been an offensive juggernaut. They are first in points per game, first in offensive rating, second in field goal percentage, and third in assists. And they’re doing all of this while committing the second fewest turnovers per game.
The formula has been pretty simple. They’re riding their hall of fame power forward, Dirk Nowitzki, who is averaging over 20 points per game and has shown no signs of slowing down even at 36 years old. The seven-foot German is shooting an absurd 49% from downtown and 55% overall while leading the Mavs to a 6-3 record.
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Monta Ellis has continued his metamorphosis in Dallas, too. In Golden State and Milwaukee Ellis developed a reputation as a chucker and a selfish player. Whether that reputation was rightfully earned or not, he has been great for the Mavs. He’s shooting 49% from the field and is in line to post the highest player efficiency rating of his career.
The scary thing for opposing western conference teams is that Chandler Parsons hasn’t even gotten going yet. Brought in to reprise his role of third fiddle, the former Houston Rocket hasn’t yet lived up to the big contract he received this summer. He’s shooting an abysmal 40% from the field doesn’t look comfortable yet in his new surroundings. Parsons is only connecting on 31% of his catch-and-shoot opportunities, a full 10% lower than last year. But that should change. As he adjusts to his new teammates the game will come easier to him, and Rick Carlisle will put him in good positions to succeed. Once he emerges from his shooting slump, and he will, the offense will be even more dangerous.
In addition to one of the more potent offensive big-threes in the league, Dallas has had some strong contributions from Devin Harris and Brandan Wright off the bench. Harris is shooting a career-high 37% from deep, and Wright is making the most of his 5.2 shot attempts per game, hitting 75% of them and averaging a career-high 9.3 points.
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But even with such a robust offense, can Dallas truly contend? Their three best players have never been known for their defensive prowess, and even with Tyson Chandler back in town rebounding isn’t a strong suit for the Mavs. As it stands now they are dead last in defensive rebound percentage. The Mavs are below the league average in opponent points per game and rank first in opponent turnover percentage, but Thursday’s blow out against Philadelphia skews those numbers and they’ve given up 100 or more points in six of their nine games.
In addition to their suspect defense there are other factors working against the Mavericks in their quest for contender status. They play in the toughest division in the league and the supremely talented western conference. The team with home court advantage won all but one series in the western conference playoffs last year, and finishing with a top-four seed will be difficult to do for Dallas. Division foes Houston and Memphis have looked great, and San Antonio has finished with the league’s best record in two of the last three seasons. And the Clippers and Warriors haven’t even been mentioned yet.
But despite all that, Dallas will in fact be in the mix for the western conference crown come playoff time for several reasons. First, they have a top-15 player in Dirk Nowitzki who raises his game in the postseason. Second, head coach Rick Carlisle is among the best in the business at game planning and making adjustments. Dallas played San Antonio tougher than anyone else in last year’s playoffs and Carlisle’s coaching was a big reason why. Lastly, championship experience is extremely valuable in postseason play and other than San Antonio the Mavericks have more than anyone else in the conference. Nowitzki, Chandler, Carlisle and Jose Barea were part of the championship winning team in 2011, and Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris have experience in the finals, too.
Dallas has their fair share of concerning traits to be sure, but who doesn’t? Oklahoma City and Golden State have been injury prone, Portland is inexperienced, the Clippers have underperformed in the playoffs, Memphis can’t score, Houston doesn’t have much depth, and San Antonio has had a grueling run the last few years. So while the Mavs haven’t been great defensively, expect their ability to score to have them in the thick of things down the road.
**Unless stated otherwise, all statistics obtained from www.basketball-reference.com