After swinging for the fences season after season and failing to land that big piece to remain to contention, the Mavs opted for plan B and reloaded with fringe All-Stars and role players in an attempt to return to relevance. A still-fantastic Dirk Nowitzki got reinforcements in the form of Monta Ellis Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert and Devin Harris. The team seems talented enough on paper to potentially land a low playoff spot and while that's not as appealing as actually contending, the Mavs will take for now and bid their time until they can make that big move.
Prediction: The Mavs will finish in the lower half of the league in defensive efficiency and will miss the playoffs because of it.
Offensively, the Mavs could be positively scary. A Nowitzki/Ellis pick and roll basically forces the defense to pick its poison: hedge hard and Nowitzki is open from mid-range; don't hedge and Ellis turns the corner and gets to the rim. Something similar happens with Calderon as a ball handler as the Spaniard is a passing savant and one of the best shooters in the league. If they need a dive man, DeJuan Blair, Dalembert and even Brandan Wright (when he returns) can fill that role as Dirk draws the defense out, like he did when Tyson Chandler was there.
They also have off the dribble creators in Ellis, Carter and Harris and shooters to space out the floor in the aforementioned Calderon and Wayne Ellington. Rick Carlisle is a fantastic coach and if the players don't disappoint, the Mavs could be a top ten offensive unit, which should place them squarely in the playoff hunt.
Unfortunately, their defense could and likely will ultimately be their downfall.
The Mavs only have two bona fide plus defenders in their roster: Shawn Marion and Samuel Dalembert. They are both on the wrong side of 30 but I still expect them both to contribute greatly defensively and on the boards. Unfortunately, the Mavs will need the type of impact Marion had on the game in his prime and for Dalembert to be, for the first time in his career, a consistent defensive anchor for 35+ minutes. With Wright out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, his backup is DeJuan Blair and Blair is incapable of providing the rim protection the team needs. Bernard James is solid on D but a non-entity on offense, so it appears Rick Carlisle is not a fan. With Nowitzki being a neutral defender at best, they need their complementary big men to be as close to elite as possible on defense and the players they have now don't even approach that level.
There is not Tyson Chandler to hold it all together like in the championship year and with the collection of sieves the Mavs have at guard, even peak Chandler might not have been enough. Jose Calderon is so good on offense that he offsets his often terrible work on his own end but he definitely is a minus on defense. Monta Ellis tries hard (sometimes) but he seems clueless as to the nuances of team defense most of the time and is too small to really body up shooting guards. Devin Harris, Vince Carter and Wayne Ellington are about average but the Mavs need more than that to compete in a conference loaded with above-average teams.
There are some pieces that could help Carlisle construct a league-average defense. Lineups including Marion, Dalembert and either Jae Crowder or Carter should be solid at worst. Having only one of Ellis or Calderon on the floor as much as possible wouldn't hurt. And either keeping Blair next to James or going small with Marion at PF and Crowder as SF could help control the damage to team defense when Dalembert rests. But doing that would likely negate the Mavs' biggest strength by robbing them of a big part of their firepower.
The Mavs roster is filled with one way players that need elite talents to lift them. Carlisle has Nowitzi on offense to do just that and it wouldn't surprise me to see a career year for Monta Ellis, which should be enough to keep the Mavs on the playoffs hunt. But on defense the talent simply isn't there to sustain them and ultimately lift them past their competition. Unless some of the notoriously bad defenders the Mavs employ make a huge leap, the Mavs will miss the playoffs.
- Jose Calderon will put together another 50-40-90 season
- DeJuan Blair will have good numbers but won't affect the team positively when on the court.
- Vince Carter will get traded to a contender
- Dirk Nowitzki will re-sign with the Mavs after the season ends