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2013-14 NBA Season Preview: Dallas Mavericks

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In projecting the Dallas Mavericks’ third campaign since capturing NBA supremacy in 2011, my first order of business will be to scold some of my fellow Mavs faithful in the blogosphere for undo angst. As a fan of the Florida Gators, I know where fan entitlement comes from, and in balanced people, it doesn’t come from seeing your team win its first championship in 31 years of existence. And it especially doesn’t come from that championship being one most fans didn’t see coming. Entitlement comes from seeing your team as perennial favorites to win it all. It comes from actually winning it all on multiple occasions, and from being just a heartbreaking moment away from many more.

There’s been a lot of alarm-sounding by Mavs loyalists since the “Dwightmare” went down, but I’m personally still riding high from what happened in 2011. In fact, I could probably withstand three or four more subpar seasons before I start getting really perturbed. That being said, my fan optimism never dies, and this season I’m looking for good things to happen. So here it is, your unqualified, unofficial predictions for the Mavs’ 2013-14 season.

Most Important Player: Dirk Nowitzki
This one goes without saying. As Dirk Nowitzki goes, so go the Mavericks. The possibility of injury is weighing heavily on the minds of all Mavericks fans. If Dirk can stay healthy this year, I expect his revamped complementing cast to give him the space to be as good as ever, and I think injury to Dirk is the only thing that can prevent that.

X-Factor: Jose Calderon
Monta Ellis would be a fairly easy answer here, and I believe a case could even be made for Samuel Dalembert. But anyone who watched last season knows the most costly void on the team was at the point guard position. Signing Jose Calderon and Devin Harris was a big deal for Dallas, and I believe makes them as effective at the position as their championship team in 2011. Being the starter, Calderon gets my vote for this season’s difference maker.

Rotations: My starting lineup for opening day is Dalembert, Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Ellis and Calderon. As far as the depth chart goes, I think Devin Harris and Vince Carter will be the first guys off the bench on a regular basis, with Brandan Wright, DeJuan Blair and Jae Crowder following. Expect everyone after those five to be a crap shoot, especially at the guard position.

What Needs To Go Right: Basically, everyone needs to stay healthy and do what they’ve been capable of doing in previous years. The biggest question mark on that front has to be Monta Ellis. He can be the icing on the cake or the fly in the ointment. Right now I’m trusting that Rick Carlisle won’t let the latter happen.

It’s Really Bad If: Dirk gets injured and the offense has to rely on Ellis as the primary scorer. And frankly, this isn’t an outrageous scenario. Dirk is getting on in years and Ellis has shown in the past that too much scoring responsibility can make him more dangerous to his own team than to his opponent.

Bold Prediction: Oh, baby. I’ve been wringing my hands about this prediction for weeks. Not too long ago, I was sitting at Babe’s Chicken Dinner House (a fine, southern establishment) with my younger brother, an astute Mavericks observer in his own right. I had the audacity to ask him this question: “Position by position, how do you think this Mavs team compares to our title team?” He was quiet for a moment, realizing what I had already realized. Indeed, the differences are scarce. Calderon/Kidd. Dirk/Dirk. Marion/Marion. Ellis/Terry. Dalembert/Chandler, with a comparable bench. What am I saying? Am I saying the Mavs can win a title this year? Definitely not. I’m simply saying this team could’ve seriously given the 2011 Mavs a run for their money. Unfortunately, there are different obstacles in the road in 2013-14. The Western Conference is far more competitive than it was in 2011, with the rise of the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves. If the Spurs are as good as last year, they’ll be a challenge, not to mention the Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, who continue to compete (anyone notice I didn’t mention the Los Angeles Lakers?). Add an up-and-coming New Orleans Pelicans squad into the mix and the West is an outright gauntlet.

Alas, my prediction is two-fold. Firstly, the Mavs will easily return to their customary 50-win ways. Postseason potential notwithstanding, there’s no way a team comparable to the 2011 squad doesn’t hit that mark. Secondly, I predict the Mavs to upset someone in the first round of the playoffs, and frankly, I’d love nothing more than for it to be the Rockets. It would be a fitting déjà vu from 2011, when the Mavs defeated in the championship series the team that a particular “big fish” free agent spurned Dallas for. Naming no names.

So how will all of this come about? Every team is merely the sum of its pieces, so let’s put the pieces under the microscope.


DeJuan Blair, PF
Strengths: One of the hardest interior bruisers in the league. Only one inch taller than wing man Jae Crowder, Blair’s strength, thickness and energy let him play—and produce—as a 5.
Weaknesses: Physical play makes him somewhat foul prone, can be exposed by more athletic big men due to his height.
Season Prediction: Within the Mavs system, expect Blair to be a more energetic, more fit version of Elton Brand, though perhaps getting inside more as opposed to settling for the 10-foot jumper. Also expect him to be more utilized than he was last season in San Antonio where he experienced career lows in almost every statistical category.

Jose Calderon, PG
Strengths: Strong basketball I.Q., one of the NBA’s best from the free-throw line and behind the arc, ability to penetrate, one of the better distributors in the league.
Weaknesses: Nothing to get in a fuss over. After last year’s point guard platoon of Mike James and Darren Collison, Jose is a godsend. I’ll give him at least half a season before I start nitpicking his game.
Season Prediction: Jose Calderon is as close to Jason Kidd as Mav fans could’ve asked for. Some will argue that Kidd’s court I.Q. is second to no one, and that may be true. But Calderon is no slouch, and more fit and much more productive statistically at this stage in his career than Kidd was at the end of his second Mavs stint. I expect Calderon to see his points per game stay about the same from last year to this, but I can see his dimes hitting 10 per game with the scorers he has available to him now. Also expect the entire offense to cease being the herky-jerky frustration it was last season.

Vince Carter, SG
Strengths: Still has an all-around offensive game. Takes more jumpers than in his earlier days, but still has the ability to get to the hole and posterize people. Can get white-hot from outside from time to time, hustles on the boards, gives the Mavs a second clutch shot taker when Dirk is covered up, and has added a strong post game in the latter stages of his career.
Weaknesses: Not much to complain about. Goes cold from time to time, but not problematic enough for a guy coming off the bench. Like fire and ice in the clutch. Can hit the game winner, but will make you forget about it the next night when he ignores an open Dirk for a contested fadeaway three when the team is only down one.
Season Prediction: Expect about the same as last year. Will primarily serve as Marion’s backup but will play some 2 as well. His impact will be enough that when he’s off, the team will feel it.

Jae Crowder, SF
Strengths: Makes his presence known on both ends of the floor. Willing to get the bruising rebound, able to hit the three. Can go on shooting hot streaks. Hard worker.
Weaknesses: Sometimes goes cold as dry ice, but has trouble adjusting his game accordingly. Tendency to take the ill-advised shot rather than make the extra pass.
Season Prediction: Jae was last season’s biggest surprise both for fans and for the organization. That being said, I don’t think he gets those opportunities if Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion don’t miss as much time this year as they did last. Now with new contractual interest in Brandan Wright and DeJuan Blair somewhat clouding the outlook for the forward position, expect Crowder to narrowly avoid a regression simply by virtue of his ability to play the 3-spot.

Samuel Dalembert, C
Strengths: No. 2 shot-blocker in the NBA over the last 10 years. Has a soft, easy stroke inside the paint and can hit pretty well from inside 17 feet. Reminds me of a less lazy Brendan Haywood.
Weaknesses: Frankly, nothing that really bothers me. He can look a bit sluggish at times, and for Mavs fans dreaming of finally getting a Tyson Chandler replacement, I don’t think Delambert is your man. But he’s nothing like the waste of space Brendan Haywood had become by the time the Mavs dumped him.
Season Prediction: I’m really looking forward to watching this guy. I’ve already mentioned Haywood and Chandler, and Dalembert actually seems like an athletic halfway point between the two, but with more scoring ability than both. That makes him an upgrade over the defensively challenged Chris Kaman. Health might be a concern after only playing in 47 games for Milwaukee last year, but on the flip side, he managed to play and start in all 82 games over a three-year span in Philadelphia. Though Dalembert has the skill set to average a double-double, expect him to go about 9 and 8 this season, providing welcome stability in the middle.

Wayne Ellington, SG
Strengths: At 6’4’’, Ellington can replicate Jason Kidd’s physical presence and get a few boards. Has a soft touch with the ability to get hot from behind the arc.
Weaknesses: Hasn’t been able to consistently produce on either end of the court despite averaging about 20 minutes per game over a four-year career.
Season Prediction: Ellington’s level of production through four years in the league doesn’t seem likely to improve on a team where he’ll be competing for minutes with Vince Carter, Monta Ellis and Devin Harris. Expect some timely help from Wayne over the course of the season, but for his overall stat line to dip below his career average.

Monta Ellis, SG
Strengths: A natural born scorer and shot creator. The only player besides Dirk on this team who may have the ability to go for 40 on any given night. Above-average distribution for a shooting guard, coming off a season of six assists per.
Weaknesses: For all his scoring ability, he was statistically the worst pull-up shooter in the league last year, which means he’s prone to bad shooting slumps compounded by “shoot-through-it” syndrome.
Season Prediction: I may be one of the only people in the Mavericks blogosphere who thinks Ellis’ poor pull-up numbers are a completely irrelevant indicator. The guy has played on mediocre teams since he entered the league, bearing the perpetual responsibility of carrying the scoring load. This Mavericks team is by far the best situation he’s been in to date, and I have every confidence that Dirk’s presence, Calderon’s play as floor general and coach Rick Carlisle’s savant-like direction will see an end to Monta’s ball-jacking ways. I don’t know that I’d bet on him scoring his career average of nearly 20 points per game, but expect Ellis to be a huge contributor and for his net productivity to increase over last season.

Devin Harris, PG
Strengths: Slashing ability when playing the point as well as distributive ability, decent shot, big-time worker when on the court. Never takes plays off, useful as a 1 or a 2. Has given consistently productive minutes since entering the league in 2004.
Weaknesses: He’s no Grant Hill, but he’s somewhat injury prone nonetheless. Tends toward the occasional “bull in china shop” moment when going to hole.
Season Prediction: This is one of the more interesting prospects for this season. His experience playing the point and at the 2 makes him potentially the first guy off the bench for both Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis. I can see a scenario where, as a backup, he takes a noticeable step back statistically. But I can also see him in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation. Either way, I think he’ll be a fan favorite by year’s end.

Bernard James, C
Strengths: Physical inside, great attitude, can be a legitimate stopper on defense.
Weaknesses: An awful finisher around the rim on the offensive end, to the point of being a liability, and didn’t show improvement in that department over the course of his rookie season. Still showed scoring ineptitude during Vegas Summer League against inferior competition.
Season Prediction: The fourth guy off the bench at the post position, expect Bernard to make mild offensive improvements over last season. But barring injuries to guys ahead of him, don’t expect him to be anything other than a periodic defensive role player.

Shane Larkin, PG
Strengths: Great speed, great handles, great penetration and an ability to hit from outside. A college game reminiscent of J.J. Barea. A strong vertical helps him play “bigger” than his meager 5’11” frame.
Weaknesses: The unknown factor. The guy broke his ankle right out of the gate and won’t recover until after the preseason.
Season Prediction: Being a rookie and having missed the entire lead-up to the regular season, Larkin will begin the year at the bottom of the pecking order in perhaps the most over-staffed backcourt in the NBA. That being said, should he come back strong from his injury and should that injury prove to be an aberration, Larkin stands a chance of doing what last year’s first-round flop Jared Cunningham couldn’t: compete for regular backup minutes at point guard.

Ricky Ledo, PG/SG
Strengths: A bigger version of Rodrigue Beaubois. Ankle-breaking handles, sees the court well, decent outside shot.
Weaknesses: Very young, very raw, very untested. Showed propensity during Vegas Summer League to force shots, then over-correct and force passes.
Season Prediction: Starting the season with the D-League Texas Legends, he probably won’t don a Mavericks jersey until at least after the All-Star break. Expect above average play with the Legends and negligible late-season statistics with the Mavericks, though I wouldn’t rule out an appearance or two on Sportscenter’s “Top 10.”

Shawn Marion, SF
Strengths: Tireless worker, greater length than most guys at 6’7″, probably the Mavs’ best defensive stopper, capable of banging inside with the big guys and stepping out for the three (despite having the ugliest shot release in the league).
Weaknesses: Nothing to harp about as far as his game is concerned, but he has become injury prone the last couple of seasons, missing some fair-sized chunks of time.
Season Prediction: While Dirk’s missed time last season was an outlier by comparison to the rest of his career, Marion’s injuries may suggest a pattern. I can’t help but feel a little pessimistic that the pattern won’t continue into 2013-14. Expect Marion to play in about 60 to 65 games. He’ll still be just as integral to Carlisle’s system, but look for his stat line to dip a little with the probable development of Jae Crowder and a potentially increased role for Brandan Wright.

Gal Mekel, PG
Strengths: A “pass first” point guard with better-than-average vision. Should prove to replicate Jose Calderon’s distributive ability on an abbreviated basis.
Weaknesses: Looked a little slow in Vegas at times, unimpressive shooting ability, pass-first orientation tends to include passing on open shots
Season Prediction: I expect his turnover tendencies in Vegas to be more a function of working out the bugs than anything else. Expect Mekel to see up to 10 minutes per game in a timeshare with Devin Harris as Calderon’s understudy, and throw in a few “Did you see that?!” assists for good measure.

Dirk Nowitzki, PF
Strengths: Owner of the NBA’s most unguardable shot since Lew Alcindor’s “Sky Hook.” More consequential to world events than Tim Duncan. The irreproachable, benevolent source of all basketball life in the city of Dallas, Texas, as well as the great nation of Deutschland.
Weaknesses: Lacks Michael Jordan’s ability to dunk from the free-throw line.
Season Prediction: Health, health, health. Last season, Dirk returned earlier than he should’ve from offseason surgery and struggled to get his feet under him. Charles Barkley famously pronounced him “done.” But as the season ticked down to its finish, Dirk’s productivity ticked up. And up, and up. By season’s end, Dirk was looking like his old self and doubters were eating steamy, smelly platefuls of crow. This year, there’s no injury to bounce back from. Being Dirk’s 16th season, however, it would be foolish to rule out the possibility that injury could indeed strike. But I still trust in his ability to bounce back from the odd ankle twist better than any guy with his size and style of play. Barring a season-ending injury, I expect Dirk to return to the form he showed in the followup campaign to the title run, with perhaps a dip in points now that Monta Ellis will be sharing some of the scoring expectations. 19 points and 7 boards per game.

Brandan Wright, C
Strengths: Soft touch inside, an improving jump shot, great leaping ability and athleticism for a player of his length, shot blocker, good hustle.
Weaknesses: A bit of a catch-22 as a player. Despite offensive ability, gets bullied on defensive end because of his lanky build, and for that reason, doesn’t get left in for extended periods.
Season Prediction: A new contract should bolster Brandan’s confidence and shows the Mavs plan to use him more, but that’s a little clouded by the addition of banging center/forward DeJuan Blair and a more dependable true pivot man in Samuel Dalembert. Given Wright’s ability to play the post and to step out some, I’d wager we’ll see comparable production to last year from the gangly big man. Unless injuries to others give him extra playing time, though, I wouldn’t expect much more.

And that’s a wrap, party people. Don’t forget to revisit Baller Mind Frame next June for confirmation of my clairvoyance.

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