The Mavericks' Speedy Off-Season Backcourt Acquisitions Are Changing This Teams' Identity.
Who needs Dirk Nowitzki, am I right?
That's a gross exaggeration, of course, but the 3-1 Dallas Mavericks sure aren't the tired, trudging, untested and unreliable group they were made out to be.
Surely, head coach Rick Carlisle deserves a lot of the credit for transforming Dallas into a running squad rather than the plodding half-court team they were in previous years.
But, most of all, the one spearheading the quick attack on the court is new-to-town point guard Darren Collison. Time and again in the four games the Mavericks have played to date, Collison has raced down the court in transition, collapsing an opposing defense that's not sure whether to guard against his pull-up jumper or watch him stride past en route to the rim.
Make no mistake: This has had a major impact on the Mavericks' overall offense, directly creating more scoring opportunities for the entire team. They've registered a 114.2 offensive rating (the average number of points a team scores in 100 possessions), and a 94.8 pace factor (the projected number of possessions a team will have during the course of a 48-minute game) in this early season, and both are significant increases from last year — not just because Collison's attacking, but because he's also setting up his teammates incredibly well. Against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, Collison assisted on five of the team's 10 made three-pointers, registering his second consecutive double-double in the process.
More than anyone else, the player reaping the benefits of this sleeker, faster style of play is combo guard O.J. Mayo. After getting off to a rocky start in the preseason, the Juiceman erupted for 32 points against Portland and 30 against Charlotte on Saturday.
Without a doubt, fueling Mayo's scoring surge is his three-point shooting: Mayo connected on 13 of his 18 three-balls — that's a gnarly 72 percent clip — over that two-game span. And, of course, it's exactly the type of production the Mavericks' front office had hoped to see when they brought Mayo in from Memphis in the off-season.
Expecting Mayo to maintain this level of output would no doubt be foolish, but consider this: The last time Mayo scored 30 or more points in a game came on November 1, 2009, when he scored 40. But if Mayo's recent performance foreshadows the time he'll spend with the Mavericks organization, general manager Donnie Nelson will come off looking like a genius — even if Mayo's shooting inside of the three-point line could stand to improve (he's only connecting on 38.7 percent of those shots).
As inseparable and valuable as Collison and Mayo have been in Carlisle's rotation, though, neither can currently make a case for being the team's most valuable player. The key component in the Mavericks' 3-1 start has been, without a shadow of a doubt, small forward Shawn Marion. With center Chris Kaman and Nowitzki out for the season's start, Marion has stepped up and shouldered the rebounding load for Dallas. He's averaged nine rebounds a game (his best average since the 2007-2008 season) while pulling down a whopping 18.1 percent of all rebounds available while he's on the floor. Beyond simply being the one bright spot in the Mavericks' woeful rebounding game, Marion has also defended well and played the break solidly alongside both Collison and Mayo.
The bad news? Marion has joined the team's growing list of Dallas players struck by the injury bug, and will be sidelined for the team's next three games (against the Raptors, at the Knicks and at the Bobcats) with sprained MCL in his left knee.
The Mavericks' deep bench will have to fill the void in his absence. Rookie forward Jae Crowder (the fifth leading scorer on the team), and swingmen Vince Carter and Dahntay Jones will likely rotate in and out, splitting Marion's minutes over this span. Unfortunately, it's doubtful that these players will pick up Marion's rebounding numbers — at least so far as statistics have shown us this year.
So, yes, Marion will be missed.
Luckily, Kaman is back from his injury, and, better yet, he's been playing well, too. Still, for a player that should consistently grab double figures in rebounds, he's only been mediocre on the glass so far, pulling in just five rebounds per game since his return.
As you may have gathered by now, yes, rebounding is a major concern for these Mavericks. Against the Jazz, in the Mav's lone loss to date on the season, Dallas was mercilessly destroyed on the boards. This, along with turnovers, completely negated the team's high octane offense in that game at Salt Lake.
As a stopgap measure for their rebounding woes, the team this week brought in journeyman forward Troy Murphy. Throughout his career, Murphy has averaged a strong 7.9 rebounds per game with a 15.8 percent total rebounding rate despite bouncing between several teams for the past couple of years.
That transaction does mark an end to an odd chapter in Mavericks' history, though: After two games, the team waived center Eddy Curry. The really weird thing? The forever underwhelming Curry actually played well in Dallas in the face of the low bar he's set for himself over the course of his 11-year career. In his two-game run with the team, he averaged 13 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Those are actually pretty decent numbers. But it all comes down to rebounding with these Mavs, and, despite his size, Curry's 5.8 boards a game weren't enough.
There are other things the Mavericks need to work on. The backup point guard situation, for instance, is still in flux. The team's turnover rate, meanwhile, is a little too high for comfort.
In this young season, though, the Mavericks have at least established themselves as a promising entity. And that counts for something. A lot, really.
Sure, it helps that they've had an easy schedule to start the season, thus affording them the chance to come together as a unit. But, really, it would've only been a matter of time before these Mavericks clicked.
Under Carlisle's watchful eye, Dallas is in good hands. They'll be fine until Nowitzki returns in a few weeks.
The real question now is how they'll fare once Nowitzki returns to the active roster. At that point, the onus will certainly be on him to work himself into the lineup that has thus far played a far faster brand of basketball than Nowitzki has played in recent memory.