Second Round of Bloom and Doom

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on January 28, 2013 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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It’s time for another round of Bloom and Doom. For those that missed the first batch of it in December, here you go.

In an effort to keep the discussion going, I sought out ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon for his opinion on pressing issues for the Dallas Mavericks. You can view MacMahon’s coverage of the Mavericks at ESPNDallas.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @espn_macmahon. Periodically, we are going to touch base and discuss topics with our own unique point of view.

MacMahon likes to call it like he sees it. That perspective can hover on the other end of the spectrum from my optimistic viewpoint on things. You could say it’s a classic case of good cop, bad cop. Our different perspectives should make for an interesting conversation on hot topics revolving around the Mavs. Dallas has been on a bit of an upswing since we last touched based. We’ll see if MacMahon is a little less doom and more bloom this time around.

Have the Mavs been better off this season with O.J. Mayo as opposed to having Jason Terry?

MacMahon: Absolutely. All due respect to Jet – a dude who deserves to have his No. 31 hang from the AAC rafters one day – but a 25-year-old Mayo is a much better option than a 35-year-old Terry. Never mind the fact that Mayo might be a big part of the Mavs’ future. Right now, Terry isn’t nearly as productive as a player. Just look at the numbers. Mayo is averaging 17.8 points per game while putting up career highs in assists (4.2), field goal percentage (.459), 3-point percentage (.418) and steals (1.3). Terry is averaging 9.9 points per game with the Celtics and isn’t close to matching Mayo in any of the other categories. Mayo’s production now pretty much matches or exceeds Jet’s best days in Dallas. You can make a case that the Mavs has missed Jet as a crunch-time killer, but it’s worth noting that that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are the only players with more clutch points this season than Mayo (80), per the NBA’s advanced stats.

Gutierrez: The only time Jason Terry’s name has really come up this season is when things have gone south in terms of late-game execution. Okay, so it’s been a lot, but that doesn’t necessarily fall all on O.J. Mayo. The Mavs have actually found a suitable bench replacement in Vince Carter, and Mayo has worked his way up into a role to where he can be Robin to Dirk’s still working into form Batman. It doesn’t appear that Mayo has reached his ceiling, a promising sign for the remainder of the year. The one thing still left to discover is the ellusive two-man game that is needed in crunch time. The two-man game between Dirk and Jet was lethal in the fourth quarter. Rick Carlisle has mentioned in the past that they don’t want to make a carbon copy of that between Dirk and Mayo due to the fact that Mayo can do different things. As Dirk continues to build himself back up, be on the lookout for those two to build a rapport with each other in the halfcourt game.

Note: Did you see the nugget ESPN.com’s Marc Stein had in regards to Mayo? His field-goal percentage (.408 last season to .459 in 2012-13), free-throw percentage (.773 to .861), and three-point percentage (.364 to .418) have all increased. No other player who appeared in at least 50 games last season has improved in each of those categories by such a significant amount from last season to this one (minimum: 50 games played in 2011-12). Through his ups and downs, Mayo has been a solid contributor.

What does the fixation with older point guards really mean?

Gutierrez: It means that the Mavs aren’t completely sold on the potential of Darren Collison. I’ve had a lingering theory for the last few weeks in regards to the fixation with older point guards, even before the Bank of Cuban comments were made by the owner. They might have a couple of options in mind for a deal as the deadline approaches. Whether it is a big deal or a minor one, they might know that a younger guard might have to be involved to help the deal come to fruition. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Collison is on the way out. They still have Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones that could easily be shipped out. No matter who would be departing, the Mavs would still need some kind of veteran point guard who could continue to help mentor whoever is left behind. It’s now official that Mike James will be staying with Dallas. That’s not a bad thing as long as he doesn’t get in the way of the evaluation process of Collison or whoever is still left on the roster as the deadline passes.

MacMahon: It means that Darren Collison is having a hard time earning Rick Carlisle’s trust. (And Dominique Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois are just counting down their days in Dallas.) I get why Carlisle is reluctant to just give Collison the reins of the closing unit, regardless of matchups and circumstances. Collison’s decision-making, especially in the clutch, was shaky at best earlier this season. (It has dramatically improved, however.) He’s often a defensive liability because of his size, especially on bigger, driving point guards such as Russell Westbrook and Jeremy Lin. But I’d rather sink or swim with the 25-year-old point guard who might have a future with the franchise – yeah, I’m back to having an open mind about Collison entering the summer – than go to a 37-year-old guy just trying to hang in the NBA as long as possible. I never liked the Derek Fisher addition. That’s a move a contending team makes to try to add one last veteran piece to the puzzle. The Mavs, even as they try to extend their playoff streak, are a rebuilding team.

Who needs to be the starting center: Chris Kaman or Elton Brand?

MacMahon: All the numbers say it needs to be Brand. Let’s just keep it simple here: Before they made the switch to Brand in the game against the Spurs, the Mavs were plus-2.0 points per 48 minutes with the Brand/Dirk Nowitzki duo on the floor and minus-11.1 with the German national team combo. Kaman and Dirk just don’t work together defensively. As Dirk so eloquently put it, “Both of us can’t guard nobody.” Brand, on the other hand, is a very good help and post defender who is capable of handling the opponent’s top big offensive threat. That’s really a requirement for the starting center next to Nowitzki (which, on an unrelated note, is one reason why I don’t think dealing for Pau Gasol would be worth the risk for the Mavs). Now that Brand has gotten hot after a horrible early-season shooting slump, you can’t claim that Kaman is a superior offensive player, either. He just looks more like a starting center as a 7-footer. Having said all that, Brand is firm that he wants to finish games, not necessarily that he starts.

Gutierrez: Look at MacMahon go as he spits those plus/minus numbers out there! He’s making a stat geek proud. I know the battle will be over when he types out PUJIT (pull up jumper in transition) and doesn’t do it in a mocking way. Rick Carlisle said they signed Kaman to be the starting center and that they would give him “every chance possible” to make it work, but it appears they’ve reached the end of their rope with that concept. MacMahon has the numbers to back up the theory that Brand is the better option. Kaman has been successful as a backup five. Even this year, Kaman showed effectiveness coming off the bench when he was recovering from his ailments earlier in the season. As long as Kaman’s committed to being a team guy, flipping Brand and Kaman’s roles should be beneficial to the team. If they decided to go back to Kaman, that would simply be done to appease Kaman. The way they could make it work is to make him an honorary starter and make it to where Brand is the “closer” and he handles a bulk of the minutes at the center position as well as the crunch time minutes. With Bernard James now in the mix, who knows what will actually happen.

Should fans be concerned about Dirk Nowitzki’s performance?

Gutierrez: Dirk said he was “encouraged” after his performance against the Spurs. Hopefully the encouraging performance can lead to an overall elevation of his game. The narrative that Dirk’s championship run took away all of his mojo and that he’s done is foolish. Going off of last year’s numbers and the early numbers this season as your basis for throwing Dirk off the basketball cliff is irresponsible. He had to battle through knee injuries and the grueling 66-game schedule last year. There was slippage, yes, but he still was able to perform at a level that kept him in the company of the elite power forwards in the league. With a healthy base and a favorable schedule, it’s now a matter of time until vintage Dirk Nowitzki returns. He’s your “basketball snuggie.” Just give it some time and he’ll make you feel warm, nice and comfortable with his special performances on the court like he usually does. 

MacMahon: Only if they suffer from short-term memory loss. The big German was garbage by his standards for the first month and change last season, averaging 16.2 points on .430 shooting through his first 19 games. He was good ol’ Dirk the rest of the season, averaging 24.0 points on .467 shooting. It hasn’t been pretty to watch Dirk (14.2 ppg, .415 FG) so far this season, but there’s no need to push the panic button. That doesn’t mean folks should expect Dirk to ever be one of the most dominant players in the league again. He should, however, at least return to being an All-Star-caliber player.

Within striking distance of the playoffs, do the positives outweigh the negatives for the Mavericks in making the playoffs?

MacMahon: The Mavs aren’t bad enough for the positives of missing the playoffs to really matter that much. Their chances of winning the lottery would be puny. (Especially since the commish finds a way to rig those ping pong balls. Just kidding … kind of.) You really think it makes much of a difference if they pick 12th instead of 15th? The Mavs might as well extend their postseason streak – the second longest active run in the league at 12 playoff berths and counting – and see if they can’t pull off a stunning upset or two.

Gutierrez: Mark Cuban’s mantra about the playoffs has always been that the seeding don’t matter. The only thing that matters is if you’re healthy and have the ability to get hot. I honestly thought going into the year (with a healthy Dirk), that it would take until around this point or the All-Star break for the team to find some form of cohesion. The Mavs clearly won’t reach that deadline but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They are still within reach of the playoffs, even with Dirk missing time and their rotation basically being a revolving door of players. When Dirk has shown flashes of his old form, the Mavs have looked impressive. As long as he gets back to his old Dirk ways, they have a good chance to get hot at the right time and try to play a serious spoiler role in the playoffs. It’s not time to start thinking about ping pong balls. Ride through Highway 41 and see where it takes you.

Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He is a contributing writer for Mavs.com. Bryan also attended Ball So Hard University. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.