Early in the 2013-2014 NBA season, Dallas Mavericks fans might have reasons for concern. The Mavericks are 23rd in the NBA in rebounding and 26th in points allowed, among other things.
Individually, aging superstar Dirk Nowitzki is ostensibly healthy but averaging only about 20 points per game. José Calderón’s assists are the lowest since their rookie season and small forward Shawn Marion is again leading the team in rebounding.
But the individual stats are deceiving. The Mavericks are playing the kind of team basketball that most franchises can only dream of and after knocking the Utah Jazz off Friday night, the Mavs are 9-4 with the fourth best record in the Western Conference.
Dirk is finally able to not worry about shouldering the burden for the first time since the days of the original big three (Nowitzki, Nash and Finley) as Monta Ellis has taken the NBA by storm by not only averaging over 23 points but leading the team in assists as well. Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Calderón are also averaging double figures and although Brandan Wright has yet to play this season, the center tandem of “Dalemblair” (Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair) has been contributing around 16 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals per game.
Not too shabby.
The Mavericks are a smarter team this year, a team that moves the ball and knows how to penetrate and either take it to the rim or kick it out to one of many capable three point shooters. Carter has been the Mavs’ three point mainstay for a couple of years and he’s way down the list shooting only 31%. Meanwhile Marion’s long-lost 3-point skills have returned in a big way and he’s sinking almost half his threes, better even than last year’s NBA leader, Calderón.
The words “basketball IQ” were bandied about a lot last year and with a backcourt consisting largely of O. J. Mayo, Darren Collison and Mike James, the ball didn’t always end up where it needed to be. In fact, it’s staggering coming to the realization that the Mavs have 3 point guards and 2 combo guards on the roster who are likely far better decision makers than any of the point guards on the roster last season, with the possible exception of short timer Derek Fisher, and he doesn’t count. Why? “Because I said so.”
Instead, the Mavericks have found that Calderón, a perennial high-assist pass-first guard, is just as advertised but is being helped by Ellis, the very player the naysayers thought would be too selfish and take too many ill-advised shots. Not only is Ellis leading the team in scoring, shredding defenses with his speed and hitting smart open jumpers to the tune of a 49.5% field goal percentage, he’s facilitating as well, particularly on the pick and roll or when he draws a double-team and kicks it out to the open man. Both Ellis (5.7 apg) and Calderón (5.3) are getting the ball where it needs to be.
Whoda thunk it?
As a result, the Mavs are 5th in the NBA in scoring with nary a single loss at home.
There is still work to be done on defense and better teams have been a challenge. While the Mavs split the season series with the Rockets so far and lost a close one to the Heat in Miami, they were throttled by Minnesota and Indiana, largely due to a porous defense. Still, the season is young and the return of Devin Harris and Brandan Wright should be of some assistance.
We’ll see if the Mavs have continued to make progress as they face the Denver Nuggets Saturday night, followed by the TWolves again next week. Minnesota is one of the teams that easily handled the Mavs earlier this season and has one of the NBA’s other most potent tandems in los dos Kevins, Love and Martin. Dallas was able to turn its fortunes around against the Rockets with a thrilling come-from-behind victory earlier this week and will hope to do the same vs. Minnesota. Regardless, Rick Carlisle proved last year he could turn a rag-tag group into a winner and this year’s group is way ahead of the curve.