With The All-Star Break Here, Let's Give Mid-Season Grades To Each Of The Dallas Mavericks.
Turns out, after all that, the Dallas Mavericks will indeed have an All-Star this year.
Last night, it was announced last night that Dirk Nowitzki will replace the New Orleans Pelicans' injured Anthony Davis on the Western Conference squad.
Prior to that announcement, the only active participant that the Mavericks were sending to this year's All-Star festivities was going to be Chandler Parsons, who will be taking part in the NBA's inaugural All-Star fashion show put together by Lebron James
Still, heading into the All-Star break the Dallas Mavericks find themselves in a fairly great situation just the same. From a fan's standpoint, it's hard to not be satisfied with the team's 36-19 record to this point, especially in the absurdly competitive Western Conference. Sure, it'd be nice if the team had a better record against the top eight teams in the West, but after last week's stellar, come-from-behind win in overtime against the Portland Trailblazers — without starting point guard Rajon Rondo, even — it's a little comforting to know that this team's got some potential when it comes to big-time moments.
That said, it was fairly common knowledge that Nowitzki was actually looking forward to not participating in this weekend's All-Star activities so that he could enjoy his week off and rest up. But, as head coach Rick Carlisle told the press last night, there are worse problems to have.
“This is one of the responsibilities that comes with greatness,” Carlisle said, “[Dirk] understands that.”
On the other hand, Rajon Rondo (facial fractures), Tyson Chandler (ankle) and Monta Ellis (hip) will be able to fully use this week to get themselves healthy. And that's good news.
So, too, is this: By the time the Mavericks return from the break, there will be another new face on the roster. It was announced yesterday that the team signed center Bernard James, who returns to the team after being released last October, to a 10-day contract. That signing just bides time, of course, for the team to make the acquisition they've been teasing for the last two months — acquiring 18-year veteran Jermaine O'Neal, who's apparently still working to get himself into game shape. Also rumored? That Amar’e Stoudemire might become available following the break if the New York Knicks' possible and discussed buyout of the remainder of his contract comes to pass. At this point, it seems certain that at least one of these two are coming this way to help alleviate some of Tyson Chandler's absurd workload.
As things are, though, let's take a look at the current roster and assess how well each player has performed this year up to this point.
Al-Farouq Aminu, Forward. Aminu has been a thrill to watch these past few weeks in particular as he's flashed the same ability that he did back during the season's home opener. He's just been all over the floor. Most nights, he jumps into the rotation at small forward, but, lately, the 6'9″ 215-pounder is being tossed in as a center. We all know by now that Carlisle loves that kind of versatility. And Aminu's coming up big, guarding every position from the two to the five. His hustle and intensity is infectious; his teammates damn near fall out of their seats every time they see the guy slam dunk or block a shot from the weak side. Carlisle's spoken out in support of Aminu lately, too, referring to him as a Scottie Pippen type. Sure, his shooting could stand to improve, but his defensive impact and energy off the bench have been a huge bonus for the Mavericks. Grade: B+.
J.J. Barea, Guard. The Mavericks are getting a lot more than they probably thought they would get out of Barea this season — and especially so of late. With Rondo out nursing facial fractures, Barea has been tasked with stepping into the starting lineup over Devin Harris. And, in the West, that means he's had to face the likes of Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry in just the last week alone. It's hard to critique a guy who's facing talent like that each night. Still, throughout the season, it's fair to say that he's been inconsistent, if never outright bad. The good is more important: He doesn't turn the ball over too often; he finds his way to the basket a decent amount of times; and, last night, he went off for 22 points against the Jazz. Even when he's not coming off the bench he still finds a way to be a spark plug. Grade: B-.
Tyson Chandler, Center. Dude's been nothing short of excellent this season. At 32 years old, he's somehow lived up to all the hype and excitement that Mavericks fans had when the team brought him back three years after the championship run. He's the heart of the team and its clear locker room leader. And when he was forced to leave the Clippers game early on Monday after spraining his ankle, it was obvious just how important Chandler is to the team; with Chandler out, Deandre Jordan went on a tear for 22 points, 27 rebounds and three blocks. On the season, Chandler is averaging a double-double of his own with 10.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. He's also recorded 23 double-doubles this season. That's impressive as hell. Grade: A+.
Monta Ellis, Guard. Against the Utah Jazz last night, Ellis made his 219th consecutive start, despite nursing an injured hip — because that's just the kind of stuff Monta Ellis does. And even though it was clear that Ellis was struggling throughout the game — he only made one of six shots from the floor — the Toughest Guy on The Team still managed to snag seven steals. These are the kind of efforts Ellis has been making all season for the Mavericks, and the payoff has been huge. Ellis is now officially the team's go-to shooter in clutch situations, and the team's leading scorer, too. No offense to Dirk, but if anyone on this roster deserves an All-Star nod, it's Ellis. Grade: A.
Raymond Felton, Guard. It took Felton a long time to get on the court as a Dallas Maverick — and, once we saw him play, we quickly learned why. In the 13 games Felton has played in, he's been wholly ineffective. His shot selection is poor and his defense is a liability. Grade: D-.
Devin Harris, Guard. It's pretty obvious by now that Harris is confident with his three-point shot: He's currently on pace to shoot more three-pointers this season than he has any other season of his career. And he's making a respectable 36 percent of them, too. Still, it'd be nice if he thought about it once or twice before pulling up for a three on a fast break; he's not always taking the best shot available. That said, he's still been a solid contributor off the bench this season, and his defense and willingness to sacrifice his body aren't to be discounted. The guy's about as valuable as any of the starters on this team, and the team's lucky that his ankle tweak from last week's game against Memphis doesn't appear to be serious. If he and Rondo were both hurt, this team would be in some serious trouble. Grade: B-.
Bernard James, Center. The guy's played one game and he might only be here for 10 days — but, in his season debut last night, he scored nine points and recorded three blocks, easily outshining Greg Smith and playing a big role in the Mavericks' win. Grade: Incomplete.
Richard Jefferson, Forward. Now 13 years into his career, Jefferson's contributions are greater behind the scenes than they are on the court. But that's OK: You need solid professionals like Jefferson to fill out a roster properly. Off the court, the guy's the consummate role player and lends himself as a mentor to younger players such as rookie Dwight Powell. On the court, he chips in strong defensive efforts and high shooting percentages when his number's called. Grade: B.
Ricky Ledo, Guard. This season, Ledo's been sent back and forth to the D-League pretty much nonstop. He's doing quite well down there with the Texas Legends but rarely gets time with the Mavericks. Only since Rondo went down with his facial fractures has Ledo been up with the main squad for any significant amount of time, but he's still not getting any minutes. There are plenty of more-experienced capable bodies in front of him in the rotation. Grade: Incomplete.
Dirk Nowitzki, Forward. There's no denying that Nowitzki's role on this team is shrinking. That not surprising; it's just a thing that happens when you're 36 years old and in your 17th season in the league. That said, even after suffering through a shooting slump earlier in the year, the guy's still had his moments of greatness. During the team's remarkable comeback against the Trailblazers last week, he shot nearly 60 percent from the floor and made 50 precent of his threes, which helped propel the game into overtime. The shooting is still there for Dirk, that's obvious. But where his decline is most obvious is on defense. He's referred to himself as the slowest guy in the league before, and that's definitely showing this year. His rebounding isn't exactly awesome either; when he's on the floor the team's offensive rebounding is atrocious. Still, he's Dirk. Grade: B+.
Chandler Parsons, Forward. Parsons' contract throws off a lot of fans. Yes, the Mavericks overpaid him. That's usually what happens during free agency. But this team is banking on Parsons' potential. Right now, he's contributing enough at 15 points and five rebounds. We'd like to see more from him, but this team is so full of scorers that Parsons hasn't had to play like the superstar that his contract asks him to be. That's not to say he hasn't contributed, though. His defense shines when he plays against high-caliber talent like Gordon Hayward, as he did last night. And he pretty much carried the Mavericks in overtime against the Trailblazers last week. We expect he'll continue to grow within this offense throughout the rest of the season. Hopefully, some of that contract worry will subside. Grade: B-.
Dwight Powell, Forward. Honestly, the fact that we even know Dwight Powell's name is impressive enough. When the Mavs acquired him as part of the Rondo deal, most people just wrote the guy off as a toss-in. But, for a few games there, he was pretty great. And why can't he be? He's crazy athletic, he can knock down a mid-range jumper and his hustle makes up for his lack of innate rebounding ability. With guys like Aminu and Bernard James jumping into the lineup, though, Powell’s had to take a backseat in the rotation. Plus, the Mavericks aren't known for taking the time to develop rookies. Grade: C.
Rajon Rondo, Guard. The guys's a major upgrade from Jameer Nelson. That much is clear. Still, maybe our expectations were a little too high for Rondo. The offensive overhaul we thought we'd see right away still hasn't come. Sure, the passes are a lot prettier than we've seen at the American Airlines Center before the trade, but there are way too many turnovers and missed shots that go along with them. Carlisle seems to notice this, too; he has no issue pulling Rondo out of close games and subbing in better shooters. Combine that with the time he's currently missing due to facial fractures, and it just hasn't been a great start for him. Grade: B-.
Greg Smith, Forward. No, Smith hasn't had as great an opportunity for minutes backing up Tyson Chandler as expected when the team traded away Brandan Wright for Rondo. But that's because he just flat-out failed his audition and made it glaringly clear that the team needed to bring in another backup center — hence all the Jermaine O’Neal talk. Even with the minutes Smith does get, he usually finds himself in foul trouble very quickly. And, on the offensive end, he's severely limited. It's been a disappointing season for Smith. There's no way around that. Grade: F.
Charlie Villanueva, Forward. Lucky for us, alphabetizing this list let's us end it on something of a high note. And Charlie V really has been just that. He was the last player added to the roster before the start of the season — roster add No. 13. Now, crazy as it sounds, he might just be the team's best shooter. There's a reason Nowitzki calls him a “flamethrower”; the dude doesn't hesitate to throw up a shot. And when he's on fire? He's on fire. His play, far and away, has been the biggest surprise of the season. Grade: B+.