Welcome to the inaugural edition of eDraft’s NBA Season Preview. We turn our attention to the Southwest Division, covering everyone from the pretenders to the contenders. Today we take a look at the Mavs. They will light up the scoreboard, but can Dallas play enough defense to make the playoffs?
Key additions: Chris Kaman (F/C), Darren Collison (G), Dahntay
Jones (G/F), Elton Brand (F/C), O.J. Mayo (G)
The Mavericks will not be contending for the NBA championship this year, and likely won’t make the playoffs in the deep Western Conference, but may be positioning themselves well for the future. Mark Cuban’s team has been excellent for over a decade (they won the championship as recently as 2010) and are wisely using this season to re-tool. Most of the key players on the current roster are signed to short-term contracts, and the ultimate goal is to clear cap space for a big name free-agent signing either this summer or the next. There will be a time, someday soon, when the great Dirk Nowitzki (2011-12: 21.6PPG-6.8RPG-21.8PER) hangs it up and Dallas wants to be sure they are well situated when that time comes.
Of course, many pieces will have to fall in the right place, for the future is not guaranteed, as the Mavs know all too well. It was just this past summer that Dallas was to have signed both Dwight Howard and Deron Williams, but when both deals were botched, Dallas was forced to push the rebuilding project one year back.
As always the Mavs are lead by Nowitzki, the sweetest shooting seven-footer to ever play the game and a shoo-in for the Hall. Nowitzki, when healthy, is nearly unstoppable. His game, and in fact the entire Mavs offense, centers around his unblockable jump shot. Nowitzki hits the shot with unbelievable accuracy, and defenders must play close or pay a price. Once Nowitzki gets the defender in tight he is a master at drawing shooting fouls on the overplay, or simply using his deceptive quickness to step around the defender towards the rim. Most teams will choose to double Nowitzki, but given the generally high level of talent surrounding him over the years, this strategy has its major drawbacks as well. It will be interesting to see how effective his new teammates are at taking the pressure off of Nowitzki; perhaps no incoming player is more important than Memphis castoff OJ Mayo.
Taken third in the 2008 NBA draft, Mayo (19.8PPG-3.1APG-3.4RPG-18.57PER) was once considered one of the brightest stars of his generation. Expectations have been lowered for Mayo after several disappointing seasons in Memphis, and the Mavs represent a fresh start for the 25 year old. Mayo has a respectable, but not elite, three-point shot and should be able to keep teams from collapsing on Nowitzki. He is also outstanding at getting to the rim, and if he can hit the three with enough consistency this season Mayo might lead the team is scoring.
Point guard Darren Collison (12.9PPG-6.3APG-15.4PER) will play an instrumental role in making sure Mayo and Nowitzki get the ball in the right positions, and he should be up to the task. When Collison and defensive specialist Dahntay Jones were acquired from Indiana for backup center Ian Mahinmi, the Mavs were widely credited with having gotten one of the steals of the summer. Collison, an all-world athlete, is finally posed to put up numbers that justify the excitement he generated in New Orleans three years ago when he brilliantly substituted for an injured Chris Paul. Collison has one of the quickest first steps in basketball and he excels at breaking down defenses and drawing fouls. With Mayo and Collison, the Mavs have one of the most athletic backcourts in the league, a dramatic change from a year ago when the aging Jason Kidd was leading the charge at point.
The Mavs should get solid offensive contributions from Elton Brand and Chris Kaman in the post, though both veterans leave much to be desired on the defensive end. In fact, with the exception of defensive wizards Shawn Marion (9.4PPG-7.3RPG-14PER) and Jones, Dallas has few players who can stop opponents consistently, and this fact will plague the Mavs all season. There is no question that Dallas will rank in the top-ten in offensive efficiency, but the team misses the defensive presence of Tyson Chandler more than anyone could have expected when he was allowed to leave for New York in 2011. Fans should expect to see exciting basketball, but the team will likely lose as many games as it wins unless it can pull off a trade for an elite stopper. But if a trade doesn’t materialize this season, there’s always next summer, when Dwight Howard should once again be on the market. If Dallas can sign the mighty Howard to a long term contract all of their present shortcomings will be moot.
Reason for optimism: Nowitizki should return just in time for the new year, and if the Mavs can play .500 ball until then they have a fighter’s chance of making the playoffs. There have been questions about Nowitizki’s ability to mesh with the new up-tempo style of the Mavs, but coach Rick Carlisle should have no problem making the adjustment.
Reason for despair: If Dallas fails to sign a star this summer, the twilight years of the Nowitizki era could be down-right depressing. Word is that owner Mark Cuban dropped the ball this summer during contract negotiations with Deron Williams, giving the Nets a gift. Mavs fans have to hope Cuban learned from this experience.
Projected record: 41-41