There are just under two weeks and seven games left for the Mavericks before the end of the regular season, time enough for a seemingly infinite number of potential outcomes. While a playoff berth is anything but assured (gulp), it seems like Dallas will at least be present in the first round to begin a title defense in the postseason proper. A year ago, the Mavericks finished the regular season by winning four in a row, then systematically built themselves into a seamless juggernaut through a series of progressively more astounding playoff victories.
Although they don’t have the same components that completed last year’s title run, there still exists on this roster all the raw materials to build a similarly potent contraption. Over the last three and a half months, each of Rick Carlisle’s attempts to rebuild this machine have been derailed by injury, inattention, and periods of inexplicable individual futility. However, the nature of the project has changed with the departure of Lamar Odom.
Odom represented a large and potentially powerful piece of the puzzle, and until it was announced that he and the team were parting ways early last week, there was simply no question of his inclusion. Now that he’s out of the way, the slate is cleared and the job can be begun anew. No more accommodations or allowances need be made; Carlisle has 13 days to dabble and experiment, try new looks and new orientations, and decide what this team will look like when the playoffs finally, and hopefully, arrive.
Here are a few chemistry experiments Carlisle might be interested in trying.
Odom’s absence leaves a void in the Mavs’ front court, and judging from the two games since, Brandan Wright will be helping to fill that space. On Thursday night against the Warriors, Wright spent most of his playing time strictly as a center and backup to Brendan Haywood. He played admirably in this role crashing the glass, scored on found possessions, and did his best against the wily David Lee. However, on Tuesday night, we had the opportunity to see a few minutes of Wright on the court alongside Ian Mahinmi, which to me is a much more tantalizing possibility.
Mahinmi and Wright have alternated this season in playing backup center minutes, lifting fans with the athleticism and effort, before grounding them with their inexperience and lack of awareness. However a Wright/Mahinmi combo offers some the potential to be a devastating combo if deployed in the right situation.
The two have played just 37 minutes together for the entire season, but some very positive things have happened in those minutes. With both on the floor the Mavericks have posted a Defensive Rating of 77.2, holding their opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 35.7 percent. Stretched (and stretched they would be; 37 minutes isn’t much of a sample size) across an entire season, those numbers would be the best in the league by a wide margin. When Wright and Mahinmi are on the floor together, the Mavs have a total rebound percentage of 56.0 percent with an offensive rebound percentage of 37.5 percent –and accomplished all that defensive and rebounding dominance at a pace of 97.7 possessions per 48 minutes.
That said, having both players the floor together presents some serious problems. Offensive spacing would suffer dramatically, and polished post players like Andrew Bynum, Zach Randolph, and both Gasols would eat either Wright or Mahinmi alive. However, against an athletic up-tempo team like the Thunder, Spurs or Clippers, Wright and Mahinmi could help the Mavericks keep pace, disrupt pick-and-rolls, defend the rim against penetration, and control the glass. Games against the Warriors and Trail Blazers might be the time to try this combo out for an extended period of time and see what it might offer for spot duty in the playoffs.
Small-ball lineups featuring multiple ball-handlers have been a staple of Carlisle’s cross-matching rotations the past few seasons. Vince Carter has played plenty of small forward this year, but what I’m really talking about here is some three-man combination of Delonte West, Jason Kidd, Rodrigue Beaubois and Jason Terry. The one that intrigues me the most would be the West-Beaubois-Terry grouping — that trio hasn’t played a single minute together this season, and while they present the most potential problems at the defensive end, they also present the most interesting combination at the offensive end.
If the playoffs started today, the Mavericks would be matched up in a series with the Los Angeles Lakers. Even with the addition of Ramon Sessions, the Lakers would have struggled against quick, athletic penetrators. West-Beaubois-Terry would allow the Mavericks to keep the floor spaced, attack from multiple angles, and put pressure on Gasol and Bynum to defend the rim. It could end up being a disaster, but almost every other combination of players has been tried by Carlisle this season. With seven games left, it might be worth giving this one a look to see if there’s anything there.
I realize this suggestion may cause me to get laughed off the internet, but I think Odom’s departure may also make room for Yi Jianlian to make a meaningful contribution in the playoffs. Yi is best known for the disparity between his production against chairs and his production against NBA players, but he does have a few legitimate basketball skills; he’s a solid rebounder, can move the ball on offense, and most importantly: is a consistent shooter. Although he’s shooting just 38.0 percent on the season, Yi is averaging 1.03 points per possession on spot-up possessions. Looking again at that potential Lakers matchup, it would be nice to be able to keep Gasol away from the rim, and open space for the second unit when Dirk is on the bench. He’s certainly a liability defensively, but no more than Peja Stojakavic was last season, as he was busy shredding the Lakers from the perimeter.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.