The Official The Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Official Season Preview for the Official 2011-2012 NBA Season
The excruciating introduction to the regular season is finally over: the defending NBA champs are set to take the court again in short order, both for their own benefit and our considerable entertainment. If nothing else, this year promises all kinds of intrigue; the Mavs have lost some notable players, but in their place have added a star, some capable veterans, and a few interesting projects. Donnie Nelson has infused his team with youth and flexibility while maintaining a promising financial outlook, and though Rick Carlisle will have a seemingly infinite number of possibilities and lineups to sort through and fully comprehend, we have the pleasure of watching an expert chemist at work.
The Mavs a truly bizarre roster, but if anyone can optimize the rotation, it’s Carlisle. We may not know exactly what Rick has in mind in terms of terms of minutes distribution or even the starting lineup, but he’ll tinker throughout the season and adjust according to fit and performance. Then, the playoffs will come and he’ll continue to tweak and alter the rotation as he sees fit. There will never be a depth chart with fully dried ink, but the regular season should give us all a fairly good idea of the roles in which Carlisle prefers to see certain players, and the frequency with which certain lineups. It’s all fluid, but the freedom of matchup movement is the very mechanism that has elevated Carlisle close to the top of his profession. He finds and exploits mismatches, and this roster may give him more mismatch potential than any he’s ever coached.
That should only enhance the Mavericks’ greatest offensive strength: their pure shot-making ability. The concept is simple enough, but Dallas was a truly elite team last season in their capacity for efficient shooting from the field; they ranked third in the entire league in effective field goal percentage (eFG), meaning that the Mavs not only made shots with the best of them, but chose their shots more carefully than most. Even though the Mavericks have lost their individual leader in effective field goal percentage (farewell, Tyson Chandler’s dunks-only doctrine), they’re adding a highly efficient scorer in Lamar Odom, and filling out the rotation with Vince Carter and Delonte West — both of whom posted higher eFG percentages than J.J. Barea and Caron Butler.
But even more importantly: the Mavs are loaded with playmakers. Jason Kidd remains one of the best in the league at setting up his teammates with ideal passing placement, and his playmaking talents will be supported splendidly by West, Odom, Carter, Jason Terry, and possibly Dominique Jones. Finding the open man is a damn inevitability with this group; even the lesser passers on the roster are still willing distributors, setting up the entire offense for a perfectly spaced and well-executed attack.
It’s going to take time. The Mavs aren’t just getting back into the flow of playing NBA basketball, but are very much in the process of feeling each other out. Odom in particular has looked a bit out of place at times, but once he has a better idea of where to be on the court and a better sense of how his new teammates move and operate, he’ll add plenty to Dallas’ bafflingly potent offensive formula.
Let’s just all keep ourselves reminded of the slow boil we’re about to watch carefully over the next few months. Dallas will heat up, but with the natural scrutiny that comes along with a championship club, the fervor of basketball-hungry fans who have waited too long to feast, and the high standards set by this franchise over the years, it’s going to seem arduous. They’ll get there soon enough, but not without their trials and their prolonged growing pains.
That isn’t, of course, to say that all of the Mavs’ problems can be resolved over the course of the regular season. Defense is a very clear area of concern for this roster, and one that — barring an unlikely mid-season addition — likely can’t be rectified. Dallas will defend to the best of their collective ability, but how could we reasonably expect the Mavs to sustain both their incredible track record of challenging shots (Maverick opponents posted just a 0.488 eFG percentage last season, good for ninth in the NBA) and their uncanny knack for defending without fouling? Tyson Chandler cast a shade over the Mavericks entire defense, and allowed Dallas’ perimeter defenders to aggressively prevent three-pointers in favor of opponents taking a step inside the arc. With Chandler as a deterrent, that was as far as many offensive players would go; Dallas was able to force many of their opponents to settle for intermediate shots in the 10-15 foot range, denying them both high-percentage looks around the rim and high-efficiency looks from the three-point line.
Having Haywood in the middle provides a very different look. He’s still a strong post defender and a mobile big, but Haywood simply isn’t as skilled in preventing penetration or maintaining vertical position around the basket. Chandler was prone to pick up silly fouls when stepping outside, but his technique as a preventative defender was –and is — impeccable. Haywood hasn’t managed to capture the same artistry in his shot-challenging ability, and as a result, the entire defense will likely suffer.
Funneling ball handlers into the paint now comes with a much greater price, putting more pressure on Jason Terry, Vince Carter, and Rodrigue Beaubois to prevent penetration. When Haywood rotates on time, he still provides opponents with a bit more space than Chandler, facilitating further ball movement or driving opportunities. There’s a painful ripple effect; everyone on the floor benefits greatly from having Chandler behind them to limit the impact of their mistakes/strategic allowances, and while Haywood has a similar effect, it’s nowhere near as profound. The difference between being a good defensive big and a great defensive big can seem like an ocean, and I fear that we may see a world of difference in Dallas’ team defense this season.
The principles are proven. The system very clearly works. But the pieces don’t fit quite as snugly as they used to, and opponents will likely find ways to work through the gaps.
There should also be concern that an incredible weakness — the team-wide dearth of offensive rebounding — might become an all-too-glaring flaw. The Mavs have generally been able to coast by on the offensive glass thanks to their otherwise efficient scoring, but a projected defensive drop-off would put more pressure on the offense than ever. Dirk Nowitzki and co. would not only need to be hitting on a comparable (or superior) level in terms of effective field goal percentage, but would also need to create more opportunities to score by collecting offensive boards.
It’s just hard to say where on the roster those offensive rebounds might actually come from.
Dallas ranked 26th in the NBA in offensive rebounding rate last season (they collected a board on just 24.1 percent of their misses), and have seen their top offensive rebounder flee for New York. There is some hope, though:
|Lamar Odom (LAL)||7.8|
Haywood should theoretically be able to fill the void left by Chandler in terms of offensive rebounding. But can Ian Mahinmi maintain his rebounding rate to provide a comparable backup? It’s hardly a certainty; this will be Mahinmi’s first NBA season with frequent and regular playing time, thus giving us no reliable statistical base to really consider. He was able to grab nearly 11 percent of available Maverick misses while he was on the floor last season, but 488 minutes is hardly an appropriate sample size from which to draw any reasonable conclusions. Ian will certainly have a chance to prove his worth as a rebounder in the coming months, but without any real empirical data, we lose virtually all predictive power in regard to his future rebounding performance.
Lamar Odom does help a bit, though. He’s does much better board work on the defensive end, but he provides the Mavs with yet another strong positional rebounder. He may not be quite on Shawn Marion’s level in terms of creating opportunities from the forward position, but he’ll fill his spot in the rotation — for which there is no clear congruent from last season’s team — with quality all-around production and supplementary work on the offensive glass.
Though you’ll find a lack of gushing optimism in this preview and in the coverage to come, the Mavs are likely to remain in the upper class of the league, if a bit below the competitive elite. That’s not such a bad place to be; the same could be said of Dallas at the beginning of last season, and I hear things worked out quite well for them. There’s no promise of a similar progression or even true contention for a championship, but the Mavs are again in a position to work toward the playoffs and give virtually any opponent a run for their money. They can create mistmatches in unlikely places, exploit them regularly, and adapt to opponents’ coverages. They’ll have their struggles defensively, but this is still a team of smart, versatile defenders who can play well in a within the team concept.
This is a very successful team with an indisputably effective core. It just may not be enough anymore; Dallas has done well to augment the players that remain from that glorious postseason run, but they’re still hedging weaknesses rather than solving them, and scrambling to compensate rather than building a case for another title.
To conclude, a few essential questions that will be asked and answered over the coming months, and could very well decide the season in the process:
1. Which players will flesh out Rick Carlisle’s rotation? Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Lamar Odom, and Brendan Haywood will obviously provide the skeletal structure of the Mavs, but where do Delonte West, Vince Carter, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Brandan Wright, and Sean Williams fit in? Who starts? Who finishes? Who combines with the regulars to form the most successful lineups?
2. What’s the value of defensive versatility without a true anchor? Guys like Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and even Lamar Odom and Dominique Jones give the Mavs some impressive flexibility on the defensive end. But does that ability to switch and control defensive matchups create a winning defense without Tyson Chandler on the back line? Can Brendan Haywood be effective enough to serve as a reasonable Chandler replacement for the purposes of the Mavs’ defensive fluidity?
3. Can the Mavs’ vets fight off injury/a harsh decline for yet another season? A question that deserves to be asked of a team this old entering any season, much less one with a grueling schedule.
THE 2011-2012 DALLAS MAVERICKS
Projected record: 41-25
Projected Western Conference standing: 4th
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.