2014-15 NBA SEASON PREVIEW CONTENT LIST
Atlantic: Celtics | Nets | Knicks | 76ers | Raptors |Division Preview
Central: Bulls | Cavaliers | Pistons | Pacers | Bucks | Division Preview
Southeast: Hawks | Hornets | Heat | Magic | Wizards | Division Preview
Pacific: Warriors | Clippers | Lakers | Suns | Kings | Division Preview
Northwest: Nuggets | Timberwolves | Thunder | Trail Blazers | Jazz | Division Preview
Southwest: Mavericks | Rockets | Grizzlies | Pelicans | Spurs | Division Preview
Articles: Assessing the Cavaliers Trio | Important Season for James Harden | Return of Paul George? | Trading Rajon Rondo | Are the Nuggets This Season’s Suns? | NBA’s Best Starting Five | NBA’s Worst Starting Five | Now or Never for Durant and Thunder After Injury
Fantasy Basketball: Top 10 PGs | Top 10 SGs | Top 10 SFs | Top 10 PFs | Top 10 Cs | Sleepers, Studs, and Sinkholes | Analyzing the Schedule | BMF Mock Draft | Cavs and Cav-Nots | Like A Bosh | Rajon Injury Impact
The basketball world was obfuscated in the early days of free agency, particularly in Miami, where the dark clouds loomed as LeBron James danced about, playing “just the tip” with Cleveland Cavaliers fans as he whispered subtle hints via social media about whether or not he’d be returning to his disgruntled home. Days later, as the whole city of Cleveland was busy Googling how to un-burn jerseys after James made his announcement, owner Mark Cuban and his Dallas Mavericks were eyeing a seat at the offseason winners’ table with the addition of Houston Rockets small forward Chandler Parsons. Parsons came aboard weeks after Dallas exchanged Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, and Shane Larkin for former Maverick Tyson Chandler (oh, and that Raymond Felton dude). Dallas also welcomed former Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, Al-Farouq Aminu from the New Orleans Pelicans, and Greg Smith from the Rockets, in order to round out the new Mavericks class of 2014-15.
Most Important Player: Dirk Nowitzki
This was a hard one for me since I had to take the power forward’s vampire-like age into consideration, but Dirk Nowitzki barely ever fails to live up to his own high standards. The object this offseason was to surround Nowitzki, who carried the Mavericks offense last season averaging 21.7 points per game, with a phenomenal supporting cast in order to shave down his minutes to keep the man fresh on the court. He is still the heart and soul of this team and seems to vivify his teammates both during games and during practices, and his loyalty to Dallas has captivated players around the league (given, I’m pretty sure anyone wanting to leave the South must first win a dueling banjo match with Gregg Popovich). It was hard to decipher between Nowitzki and his pick-and-roll partner Monta Ellis, who averaged 19 points per game last season. Although, he still has some quirks that need tuning (like some progress on the defense would be a huge help, thanks), Ellis looks to be a rather large aspect in terms of the Mavs offense this coming season.
X-Factor: Tyson Chandler
Okay, so last year Chandler wasn’t quite himself due to some inimical injuries that plagued him, faltering his ability to play well on defense. But there was a reason he took home the 2011-12 NBA Defensive Player of the Year: Chandler is one massive player, and oddly enough, extremely vertical in terms of basic movement while playing defense. If he’s healthy and in sync with the team (which no one doubts—at least the in sync part), he’s a huge asset for the Mavs, who ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency and 26th in rebounding. So, needless to say, the Mavericks were pretty much the NBA equivalent of gas station sushi in terms of defense and since Chandler excelled during his time in Dallas, it will be interesting to see if he slides right back into his 2010-11 form.
Rotations: The projected starting five will most likely be Nowitzki, Ellis, Parsons, Chandler, and Jameer Nelson at point guard. Even though Felton is higher on the depth chart and Devin Harris’ four-year, $16 million deal is staring analysts square in the face, Nelson is, for lack of a better word, freaking fast. Plus, his three-point range (34.8 percent) could do a world of good in Big D. Rounding out the rest of the projected 15 will be Harris, Felton, Brandan Wright, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ricky Ledo, Jae Crowder, Greg Smith, Richard Jefferson, Bernard James, and Gal Mekel.
What Needs to Go Right: Defense. Oh, for the love of everything that’s sweet and holy, defense. “I’m going to make them defend,” Tyson Chandler told ESPNDallas.com writer Tim MacMahon. “We’re going to defend. You can score as many points as you want, but at the end of the day, defense wins championships and that’s what we’re going to do.” The loss of Shawn Marion left quite a large gap on that end of the court, so the other Chandler (Parsons) is looking to slam shut those particular holes by stepping up his defensive game, which will prove difficult since he ranked 190th as an overall defender last season (per Synergy Sports). It’s no shocker that head coach Rick Carlisle plans to utilize Parsons the same way he did Marion: by having him cover, well, freaking everyone and their dog.
It’s Really Bad If: The boys in blue aren’t able to capture the chemistry they’ve been able to rely on in the past. This team is a combination of heart and murderous talent, and now with Chandler bringing back the energy he took when he left, the Mavericks have found the crucial missing piece of the puzzle in terms of player camaraderie. I have no doubt the flow in the locker room will coruscate onto the court. But if it doesn’t, the team will be walking on parlous ground.
Bold Prediction: The energy surging through Dallas right now is akin to that same optimistic 2011 feeling. This was a wild and beneficial offseason for the Mavs and even though all eyes are on Houston, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Phoenix Suns in the West, Dallas will nab that fourth seed at the end of the regular season and slide into the playoffs and silence all their naysayers. Maybe if the Mavs push to the finals, ESPN will finally remove their mouth from the Rockets’ crotch in terms of the Western Conference, but I think that’s probably asking too much.
Al-Farouq Aminu, SF/PF
Strengths: Aggressive, amazing rebounding skills.
Weaknesses: Needs to improve on his perimeter shooting.
Season Prediction: Aminu caught Cuban’s eye when he terrorized the hell out of the Mavericks when his then team, the New Orleans Pelicans, played them last season. Coach Carlisle will be able to unlock that same aggression which will allow Aminu to dismantle opposing teams’ offenses. In regards to his weak shooting, the Mavs have a way of giving confidence to their players, and right now, that’s something Aminu desperately needs in order to improve on that angle.
Tyson Chandler, C
Strengths: Strong presence in the paint for opposing players, intense.
Weaknesses: Plagued with reoccurring injuries.
Season Prediction: Chandler is well aware of his team’s weaknesses, but he also knows how to properly drive his teammates and is dedicated to turning this defense around, which I believe he will do this coming season if he’s able to stay healthy.
Jae Crowder, PF/SF
Strengths: Versatile, strong skill-set.
Weaknesses: Undersized for the 3, plus his presence confuses the hell out of fans and analysts alike—is he good, is he bad, what’s with the hair?
Season Prediction: Crowder went from playing hot during his college days, to being mediocre and flying under the radar in the pros. You’re able to see flashes of greatness during the playoffs, but the flashes never erupted. If he’s able to show some consistency, he’ll be able to thrive and run with both the offensive and defensive leaders of the team.
Monta Ellis, SG
Strengths: Strong play-making ability, cat-like quickness, thrives in Mavs pick-and-roll sets.
Weaknesses: Averaged 3.2 turnovers per game last season, will play even when injured (which is both good and bad).
Season Prediction: The Mavs will end up looking to set Ellis and Chandler up for pick-and-roll sets, which will lead to a steady decline in his turnovers. While I’m impressed with his ability to rack up minutes on the court even with a mild injury, I’m worried that his dedication to the game may lead to a larger, and more time consuming, injury.
Raymond Felton, PG
Strengths: Can get in the lane and create.
Weaknesses: Remaining healthy all season, low work ethic, can’t hide a gun super well.
Season Prediction: Felton may have his problems off the court, but it’s a clean slate with Dallas. The Mavs are known to bring out the best in their players, and they have a project in doing so with Felton—but a project that is worth the time and effort.
Devin Harris, PG/SG
Strengths: Attacks the basket well, is able to thoroughly piss off Tony Parker.
Weaknesses: Will probably have to battle Nelson for more playing time.
Season Prediction: During the second part of last season, Harris showed his worth, which is why Dallas gave him the contract they did. I believe that Nelson will most likely end up being the starting point guard due to his three-point shooting abilities at the start of the season, but Harris will see more and more minutes as the season progresses.
Bernard James, C
Strengths: His serious “can-do” attitude, huge heart.
Weaknesses: Will have to battle Brandan Wright and Greg Smith for playing time.
Season Prediction: James had to claw his way up the ranks in the Summer League in order for the Mavericks to re-sign him to a one-year, fully-guaranteed deal. He impressed with his offensive game, but now he has to impress during the regular season in order to win minutes. But it’s nothing new to the veteran, who served six years in the Air Force.
Richard Jefferson, SF
Strengths: 13 years NBA experience, could fill the void left by Vince Carter.
Weaknesses: Those 13 years of NBA experience also means he’s 287 years old.
Season Prediction: A Carter-shaped hole was left in the hearts of Dallas fans after the Memphis Grizzlies swept up the veteran before the Parsons deal was finalized. Enter Jefferson, who averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game over the course of his career. His past season with the Utah Jazz actually slightly compares with Carter’s 2013-14 season with the Mavs (Carter averaged 11.9 per game while Jefferson averaged 10.1) so it’s not too far-fetched to think that he will replace Carter nicely off the bench.
Ricky Ledo, SG
Strengths: Promising up-and-comer, excelled in the Summer League.
Weaknesses: His name is pronounced LEE-doh, you dick-clogged fembots.
Season Prediction: Ledo was a standout in the Summer League because of his ability to drive past his defender. He knows that he has to improve his game in order to earn playing time, so he works harder than most people on the team in order to prove his worth and collect minutes.
Gal Mekel, PG
Strengths: He’s pretty?
Weaknesses: He’s lowest on the point guard depth chart.
Season Prediction: Mekel played in only 31 games last season and averaged 2.4 points, two assists, and managed to shoot 34.9 percent from the field. The kid wants to be more aggressive on the court and attempted to do so during the Summer League, with not much progress. As point guard-heavy as the Mavericks are right now, it’s clear that Mekel will rarely log any minutes. But, hey, at least that frees him up to do more modeling in his home country of Israel. Right?
Jameer Nelson, PG
Strengths: Team leader, highest on the PG depth chart, experienced.
Weaknesses: Lacks defensive intensity.
Season Prediction: Analysts predict that Nelson will start at point guard over Harris and Felton due to him being a good distributor. As long as he can score at least 10 points per game, Nelson can be extremely essential to this Mavericks team.
Dirk Nowitzki, PF
Strengths: Fiercely loyal, one of the top five power forwards in the NBA, he’s Dirk “F**king” Nowitzki.
Season Prediction: Even at 36, Nowitzki is always looking for ways to improve his game. Over the summer, he spent most of his days back home in Germany working with his lifelong mentor Holger Geschwindner on speeding up his shot release. “What else can I do at 36 when the feet slow down a little bit?” Nowitzki told ESPNDallas.com. “Try to be quicker with the shot, because once you get older, you don’t jump as high and the first step is slower. Shooting quicker should help my game for the back end of my career.” Due to his age, his minutes on the court will be receding in order to keep him healthy.
Chandler Parsons, SF
Strengths: Versatile on both ends of the court, quick.
Weaknesses: Mediocre on defense.
Season Prediction: Parsons will most likely be the face of the Dallas Mavericks once Dirk retires, and he wants to live up to that role—a task that won’t be a simple one since he has to fill the shoes of Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion, and Vince Carter. However, the reason Cuban shoveled out so much money to secure Parsons is because he knows that the small forward will be able to handle that particular load. Under normal circumstances, filling those talented shoes would be overwhelming for the new kid in town, however, not every player has Carlisle as a coach. Carlisle knows exactly how to both bring out and enhance players’ strengths, so I can see Parsons doing a little bit of everything during his first season with Dallas.
Greg Smith, C/PF
Strengths: Mobile, could potentially be a difference maker.
Weaknesses: Most people don’t know who the hell he is.
Season Prediction: Smith can be a difference maker if Tyson Chandler is injured during the season, which is a possibility considering Chandler’s history.
Strengths: Dangerously efficient, thrives in rolling to the rim off a screen.
Weaknesses: Only sees around 18 minutes per game.
Season Prediction: Wright is one of the best players in the game who doesn’t see too much time on the court. The Mavericks saw this, which is why they gave him the offer they did in order to keep him around. His catch-and-shoot method limits his turnover rate and if he can remain as efficient as he has been, he can help the Mavs take a ride to the playoffs by way of the bench.