Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Mavericks
2012-13 Record: 41-41
Coach: Rick Carlisle (sixth season with Mavericks)
If the Mavericks make the playoffs, Rick Carlisle should be a Coach of the Year candidate. They have talent, but it's going to be hard to pull all of these veterans together. Every one of these guys they brought in has some warts on him -- the teams they were with didn't want them back.
I began wondering last year if Dirk Nowitzki was starting to break down. He's been looking good in the preseason, and it's going to be huge for them if he's close to what he was three years ago. In that case, they probably should be a playoff team. But I don't know if they can count on that much from him.
Nowitzki is a scorer inside and out. He's not that athletic, but he's also been beaten down a lot. He needs to be able to create that space for himself, and if it hurts a little bit to push off because he's tender in his foot or his knee, that's going to affect him.
Dirk got better for a number of years, and he produced every night. His peak years are underappreciated. He was there for them every single game. The Heat have their Big Three, and the Spurs and Celtics had theirs when they won titles. Who were the other guys with Dirk when the Mavs won the 2011 title? He had some good players with him in Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler, but he didn't have anybody who was at the top of the league. Everybody in basketball appreciates Nowitzki and what he's done, but he hasn't gotten as much credit as he deserves.
We can talk about how he changed the game [as a 7-footer with deep shooting range], but in a way it isn't fair to Dirk. All these stretch 4s now, they're just shooters. Dirk is much more than that. Because he's been losing a bit of his health, he's been pushed out a little more on the perimeter offensively. But he can score in the post, he can isolate in the post facing up and he can pick-and-pop. If he has a little guy on him, he'll back him down inside.
I couldn't tell you who their second-best player is going to be. It could be Jose Calderon one night and Monta Ellis another night. Vince Carter will have his nights. Marion or even Devin Harris [who will miss the start of the season with a toe injury] will have his night.
They missed not having a true point guard last year. Calderon is the kind of guy they think they needed. He is a great pick-and-roll player and he has become a very good three-point shooter. But he can't defend at all.
It's going to be hard to start Calderon and Ellis in the backcourt because they're both such bad defenders. If my team sees them together, we're going to be attacking those guys all night long -- putting them in pick-and-roll, swinging the ball into isolation and just going at them.
Ellis gets to the basket. He's fast, he has a great first step and he's a finisher. He'll beat people off the dribble in the half court. He's not a great three-point shooter, but he's very good in that medium range. Ellis passes when he has to, but he's definitely a scorer.
His size is a problem defensively. He's one of those shooting guards in a point guard's body. That would be OK if they had an excellent defender at the point, but they don't. So they will have to outscore teams, because apart from Marion, Sam Dalembert is about the only defender they have, and he's a knucklehead.
Dalembert doesn't take it seriously. Half the time he's not ready to play. At his best, he's blocking shots and rebounding at a high level. He's super long and very mobile and quick. He could be an All-Defensive player if he showed up and did it all the time. By this time in his career [11 years in], you would think he'd have been more consistent already. He'd be a great weapon offensively if he would consistently roll hard to the basket. Carlisle is good at getting his message across, and he can probably get more out of Dalembert than anybody.
Marion is not the high flyer that he once was. He's become more of a role player, but he's not like some guys who get older and become spot-up shooters. He'll still get some loose change around the basket and run the floor.
I would have thought that Carter might have been retired by now [at age 36], but it helps that he's not bouncing around and moving to a different team every year. Carter is streaky. He still can get it done on certain nights, but not consistently. He became a good shooter a number of years ago, and his playmaking is decent. He's still Vince Carter -- people worry about him driving by and dunking.
DeJuan Blair was in and out of the rotation in San Antonio. He's a good offensive rebounder and he can score on the block. If Dalembert has to miss any time early in the season, Blair might have to start at center because backup Brandan Wright is out with a shoulder injury. Dallas also has Bernard James, a hustling shot blocker, as an option at center.
Harris stopped doing what he used to do well. In 2006, when the Mavericks went to the NBA Finals, he was a high-energy defender. And now he doesn't guard anybody.
Wayne Ellington is a great shooter out to the three-point line. He can come off a screen and shoot it, and he's good at spotting up. He moves well without the ball. He's a little bit below average defensively.
Jae Crowder is a physically active guy who tries to defend. Carlisle took him on as his pet project last year. He's a big, strong guy who's been trying to get leaner. It will be interesting to see how he develops in his second season because so many of the guys they brought in are guards and wing players.
They seem to have hopes for point guard Gal Mekel, a 25-year-old rookie from Israel, and the rest of us in the league are waiting to find out what he's all about.
Players respect Carlisle. They can't argue with him when he tells them exactly what their job is going to be, or when they've lost four of five and he tells somebody, "You're not defending or making shots, so you're not going to be in the rotation anymore."