After a strange decision to trade emerging star point guard Devin Harris along with two first round picks for Jason Kidd two seasons ago, the Mavericks have had some good short-term success, suggesting the trade wasn’t as bad any many doubters believed. Finishing 50-32 last season and knocking off a San Antonio squad sans Manu Ginobili in the first round of the playoffs, the Mavericks are still in the thick of things in the incredibly strong Western Conference, and some high profile offseason moves intend to make them even stronger. Finishing last season ranked 6th in Offensive Efficiency and 17th in Defensive Efficiency, the Mavericks look to take the next step this season, and they damn well better, seeing how their youngest core player is Josh Howard at 29, and he may not even last the whole season with the team the way he’s fallen out of favor, while seemingly always on the trading block.
The Mavs’ offensive breakdown in the chart below affirms some things that were suspected but suggests a few surprising things as well, though there’s no arguing that the team has a plethora of offensive weapons, and they added even more this offseason with a few key additions.
Using a very high number of possessions, scoring on a high TS%, and virtually never turning the ball over, Dirk Nowitzki is the clear focal point of the Dallas offense, and deservingly so, as he posts very high efficiency for someone using as many possessions as he does. Dirk is one of the most unique players in the league, as most players typically get the vast majority of their field goal attempts from within 10 feet or behind the three-point line, the areas with the highest expected efficiencies. Dirk, on the other hand, makes his living from the area in between, in the 10-23 foot range, where he takes a ridiculous 13.1 attempts per game, far more than any other player in the league. The league average FG% from this range is under 40%, but Dirk shoots near 50% from there, being assisted on a bit more than half his tries, creating many of his opportunities through face-up and post-up situations. In a league where teams often try to force the opposition to take shots in this usual problem area, Dirk excels, giving the Mavericks offense an incredibly unique element, which definitely makes things easier for other players, who can park themselves in areas where they can take more high efficiency attempts. Dirk’s game is not very reliant on athleticism, being one of the best finesse big men in the league, specializing in fade-away jump shots, so his game is unlikely to fade quickly as he has quietly stepped onto the bad side of 30.
Next to Dirk, many people will next look at Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, or even Josh Howard as the next most important player on the Mavericks, but an argument can actually be made for Erick Dampier, surprising given how he is often the butt of jokes about the perils of overpaying for centers in free agency. Dampier posts one of the highest IOE’s in the league while using barely any possessions, finishing with ridiculously high efficiency at 66.4% TS% and posting a monstrous offensive rebound rate at 13.6. He turns the ball over a good share, but he creates a ton of free possessions on the glass and scores with such high efficiency on the few possessions that he uses, which makes him a perfect complementary player in spite of his limitations outside of 5 feet.
Jason Kidd is still managing to go strong at age 36, posting solid scoring efficiency numbers due to his resurgence as a spot-up three point shooter, dishing out a ridiculous number of assists, making solid contributions on the glass, and not turning the ball over often. He’s a bit limited in that he doesn’t create his own shot and he creates a lot of mismatch problems for Dallas on defense against certain quick point guards, but they have a good complement to him in Jason Terry off the bench, and they should be able to hold down the backcourt for at least another season.
Jason Terry is a nice cog in the Dallas offense, being a very efficient scorer from all over the floor who doesn’t turn the ball over often and spaces the floor well. Terry usually guards point guards for Jason Kidd while Kidd defends 2’s, but Terry isn’t a great defender at his age and also struggles against opposing quick point guards, a problem area for the Mavericks. Backup point guard Jose Juan Barea doesn’t provide much help in defense at the 1, as he is undersized without great lateral speed, though he is a capable offensive player, creating a lot of his own shots and posting a good assist-to-turnover ratio. Barea could improve on his scoring efficiency, and he’s likely capable of shooting better than his 36% from behind the arc.
The Mavs’ starting backcourt is still up in the air, as they prefer bringing Terry and Barea off the bench, though they struggled to find anyone resembling competent to play next to Jason Kidd in the starting lineup last season. Devean George, Antoine Wright, and Gerald Green split most of the minutes last season, and all three were awful offensive players, scoring with bad efficiency and contributing little else to offset it. The options this season aren’t much better, as Matt Carroll is a one-dimensional player who hasn’t even excelled at his one dimension (spot up three point shooting) of late, Quinton Ross is just as bad an offensive player as the aforementioned trio, Josh Howard is better suited both offensively and defensively at the small forward position, and rookie combo guard Rodrique Beaubois is inexperienced and lacking in a bit of polish. That said, because every other option is awful and the Mavs are intent on bringing Terry off the bench (which does make sense for various reasons), I’d label Beaubois as the favorite to take over this spot by season’s end, as he’s an extremely athletic player, good defender, and alleviates a lot of the matchup concerns with quick point guards. Further, he has a developing offensive skillset and should get a lot of open spot-up shots with the players around him, which he’s more capable of hitting than the other options even if he isn’t a great three-point shooter yet.
Josh Howard was once a very good player for the Mavericks, but he fell out of favor last season, struggled with minor injuries, and still isn’t healthy yet this season, dealing with a few minor bumps and bruises again. Howard is a capable scorer from various areas on the floor and can create his own shot pretty well, while he’s a good defender at the small forward spot, but he is lacking in the necessary quickness to be the same level of defender at the 2 spot. Howard doesn’t contribute much other than scoring, and off-the-court problems have caused him to seemingly be on the trading block for quite awhile, but the Mavs will need him to perform this season, as their options on the wing are pretty bleak once again.
Shawn Marion was picked up for little to nothing in the offseason, and he provides an interesting option at both forward spots, even with his rising age and declining athleticism. Marion has long been in denial of his limitations as a player, but after failed stints in Miami and Toronto, hopefully he’s accepted what he’s best served doing, and he can provide a large help to Dallas if he sticks to scoring around the basket, attacking the offensive glass, and shutting down the opposing team’s best forward. He’s a better defender at power forward than small forward at this stage of his career, which poses some lineup issues when the Mavericks aren’t playing small ball, though he’s still a valuable player if used properly.
The Mavericks added some more frontcourt depth in the form of F/C Drew Gooden, though Gooden is an inefficient scorer and poor defender severely lacking in awareness and focus, but he does make up for his shortcomings somewhat by being a beast on both the offensive and defensive glass. He provides solid depth behind Marion, Nowitzki, and Dampier in the frontcourt, but could see his minutes cut into by James Singleton and Kris Humphries, both of whom are more efficient offensive players, while Singleton is also a better defender. Singleton is limited offensively but scores on a high percentage with the few possessions he uses and adds a lot of value on the offensive boards using his athleticism and length. Singleton is also a versatile defender, however the Mavericks have balance problems with certain lineups, and they can’t play him with Erick Dampier, neither of whom have a reliable jump shot. Humphries, too, has a poor jump shot, but makes up for it on the glass, though he hurts himself by trying to do too much offensively, and he’s not much of a defender either.
The Mavericks’ frontcourt depth was definitely hurt by the Magic’s powerplay of signing away Brandon Bass and matching the Mavs’ offer to RFA Marcin Gortat, and now they’re left with a lot of subpar options who don’t fit in with the roster particularly well. Roster balance is a concern from top to bottom of the Mavs’ roster, as they will have lots of problems defending quick point guards, they have virtually no one to play shooting guard, Josh Howard can’t be relied upon to be healthy and consistent, Shawn Marion is being asked to put his ego aside and will often be playing out of position, and frontcourt depth is a sore spot. If Beaubois develops quickly, Howard is healthy and returns to form, Marion accepts playing strictly in his comfort zone, and the Mavs excel in small ball when Dampier leaves the floor, resisting the urge to put in poor players such as Gooden or Humphries at center for too long, the Mavs could definitely surprise some people, and with their coaching and veteran leadership, along with the apparent closing window of opportunity, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them come together. They’re definitely a step behind the likes of the Lakers and San Antonio, but they could put up a fight in the playoffs and you know owner Mark Cuban will stop at nothing to improve the team through trades. Things would’ve been a bit more optimistic had the team not been fooled with the Gortat situation, as he’d have shored up frontcourt depth nicely, but the team still has a lot of talent, and it’ll be interesting to see things play out with many players likely playing out of position, and the team likely forced to play a lot of lineups that will have more than one bad jump shooter in it.