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The 2013-2014 Dallas Mavericks Season Preview

October 31, 2013

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With the NBA season ready to begin for Dallas tonight I wanted to take a look at the season ahead for the hometown Mavericks. The media has the Mavs pegged as a “middle class” team in the West that will be battling for the 7th or 8th playoff spots with a number of other teams like the Lakers, Trailblazers, Jazz, and Timberwolves. I disagree with this opinion as I actually am very intrigued by the talent assembled on the fly this past offseason and think this team is night and day better both mentally and talent wise than last year’s squad. Of course I have noticed that when it comes to the Mavericks I’m an eternal optimist but when it comes to the Cowboys I’m an eternal pessimist so maybe this season preview should be taken with a grain of salt. Below I’ll break down why I think the Mavs won’t just make the playoffs but will be in contention for a playoff seeding as high as #4. Last year the Mavs were 41-41 as the #10 team in the West while the Clippers were 56-26 as the #4 seed. I honestly think a 15 game improvement is possible with this squad and below I’ll give the 5 reasons why.

Efficient scorers: When looking at the compilation of this roster the first thing one notices is that this will clearly be an offensive team. There are a few defensive gems on this roster like Marion, Dalembert, Crowder, and Ellington but overall this is a team that will win by outscoring its opponent. I don’t think you can win a championship with that formula but you can definitely win enough games to be a playoff team and it was proven last year when poor defensive teams like the Lakers, Clippers, Nets, and Rockets all made the playoffs. Dallas will only need to be an average defensive team to be successful because they have a plethora of scorers on their roster and they all are efficient. Last year the Mavericks had the #2 (Jose Calderon), #31 (Shawn Marion), #32 (Vince Carter), and #45 (Dirk Nowitzki) most efficient scorers in the NBA. That is 4 of the 45 most efficient scorers in the league which is only superior to one team: The Miami Heat, who have 5 of the top 49 most efficient scorers. The average NBA fan focuses far too much on cumulative stats and not enough on efficiency stats as that is where wins and losses come from. The Mavs understand this and have built their roster around efficient scorers who they think mesh well together. The one exception to this case is Monta Ellis who has been one of the least efficient players in the NBA the past few seasons. His last season in Milwaukee where he shot 41.6% from the field and an atrocious 28.7% from three was the low point of his career. Yet he played on a bad team that force fed him the ball and gave him no direction. In 2007-2008 with plenty of talent around him and a talented coach (Don Nelson) giving him pointers he had his best season with 53% FG. Clearly Dallas thinks that if Monta can be put around efficient scorers he will adapt to their style of basketball and change his mindset. That is the expectation as if Monta can reduce his scoring (career 19.4 ppg) and increase his assists (career 4.7 apg) the Mavericks could become an offensive juggernaut.

Low turnover ball handlers: While most focus on FG% and true shooting % when discussing efficiency in the game of basketball the turnover rates of your star players is a stat I like to focus on. Anyone who watched the Mavs last season saw that ballhandling was a problem for them as they had no one who could consistently run their offense and get players the ball in their preferred spots. It showed in the assist to turnover ratio as the Mavs had no one in the Top 20 (Mike James interestingly enough was their best performer at #34) for the first time since 2007. Jason Kidd was a perennial Top 5 assist to turnover performer and the dropoff to Mike James and Darren Collison was often painful to watch. Last year’s Mavs team wasn’t very talented but the point guard play made it sometimes seem even worse as plays weren’t run smoothly, mismatches weren’t spotted, and a flood of turnovers too often knocked the Mavs out of a game that they were just in a few minutes before. That won’t happen this year as the Mavs didn’t just upgrade but went straight to the top with their acquisition of Jose Calderon. Calderon has been one of the three best assist to turnover players in the league each of the past 7 years. He IS the best in the league in this statistic besting everyone over that period including Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and Rajon Rondo. This year I think fans will appreciate Calderon’s point guard play as he will protect the ball, distribute it correctly, and return the Mavs to the free flowing style of play Dallas had grown accustomed to under Kidd.

Elite long range shooters: Speaking of Calderon, did I mention that he led the NBA in three point percentage at 46.1%! That is an astounding percentage considering it would mean someone had to shoot 69% from the 2 point area to equal his points per shot production he got every time he shot a three. It was the 2nd highest mark in the past 3 NBA seasons and cements his status as one of the deadliest bombers in the league yet he will hardly be alone in that category for Dallas as Dirk last year was 22nd in the league at 41.4% (1st among non-PG/SG/SFs), Vince Carter was 27th at 40.6%, and Wayne Ellington was 35th at 39.2%. Only the Miami Heat (are you seeing a pattern here?) had a better ranked group of shooters than the Mavs do as they had 4 of the top 27 shooters last year. The Mavs lack the defense to shutdown an opponent but they don’t lack the firepower to win their fair share of shootouts this season and I expect the long ball to play a large role in their offense.

Motivated players: Dirk is coming off two injury plagued seasons which have been rather difficult to watch. The national media has largely forgotten the most recent player, not named LeBron James, named NBA Finals MVP as his team has been an afterthought and his play has noticeably deteriorated. Yet Dirk seems re-energized with a new set of teammates, a new woman in his life, and now a new baby girl born to the married couple recently. Mark Stein indicated it was the best he’s seen Dirk in preseason maybe ever and I fully expect him to return to the +20 pts on +48% FG that we’ve become accustomed to. For Monta Ellis it’s an important season too as this offseason he expected to cash in and instead was served a little humble pie by the 30 NBA teams. Ellis turned down a 3 year $36 million extension by the Milwaukee Bucks and had his agent advise all teams he was seeking a minimum of 4 years $40 million for his services. Instead he garnered no interest in the first few weeks of free agency and eventually settled on Dallas’ 3 year $25.08 million deal which really is a 2 year $16.36 million deal with a player option for the 3rd season at $8.72 million. It’s money that would make most people blush but for Ellis it must have been a huge disappointment. Also it might have been the first time he realized how the majority of NBA coaches and executives think about his game as I can’t remember the last time more vindictive things were said about another team’s free agent. He had an attitude. He wasn’t coachable. He was a coach killer. He was selfish. He wouldn’t know a good shot if it hit him in the head. Ellis has been the best or the 2nd best player on almost every team he’s ever been on yet he’s also played for quite a few bad teams. I have a feeling he’s motivated to not only put up big stats but also to fit in and be a more steady player so that he can prove to the rest of the NBA that they were wrong about him. Finally there is Jose Calderon, the consummate pro, who has had so much success internationally and has been such a star to stat geeks like me but who is still relatively unknown due to his stints in Toronto, Detroit, and Milwaukee. Jose finally is playing in a large market and is finally teamed up with a legit NBA star in Dirk Nowitzki. Now is his time to shine and have his coming out party as if he continues his efficient ways and helps Dallas regain relevancy in the West the attention will come.

Rick Carlisle: The Mavs are replacing 9 of the 15 players on their roster and have 3 new starters around Nowitzki and Marion. Normally I would say that would end in disaster but I’m fully confident Dallas can pull it off because of Carlisle. Other than Popovich there is no coach in the NBA I’d rather have than Rick as he’s a great combination of players coach and disciplinarian. He gets the best out of his players and is adept at changing systems to fit his team’s strengths yet also has a core of beliefs in how you win in the NBA. You win with intelligent players who work hard and work together. Whether it’s the defensive oriented teams he had in Indiana and Detroit or the offensive minded teams he’s had in Dallas you know a Rick Carlisle team will be smart, hard working, and work together as a team. With so many new faces I suspect there will be some early growing pains but by January or February I think Carlisle will have this team playing up to their potential and transform them into a fearsome team to face come playoff time. My prediction is the Mavericks start out slowly but eventually catch fire and surprise people by making a run at one of the Top 4 spots in the West. Due to the slow start I think they’ll come up short but they’ll still end with +50 wins, a playoff berth, and the #5 seed ahead of a few more high profile teams like the Warriors, Rockets, or Grizzlies.

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