What Dallas Mavericks Need from Dirk Nowitzki Next Season

In many ways, the Dallas Mavericks are a completely different team. They have new point guards, a revamped roster, a potential new playing style and, to top it off, elevated expectations for the 2014-15 season.

But really, the core of the team has remained the same.

The team still ultimately begins and ends with Dirk Nowitzki, as it has for the last 15 years. Between his shooting stroke and role as the cornerstone of the Mavericks, as long as he’s on the roster he will be a massive part of the franchise.

Then again, this season will be Dirk’s 17th NBA season. He can’t be expected to be the same player he once was. He’s changing along with the team.

With more help coming in, this is the most talented roster Dallas has had in a while. And as such, they need some tweaks from their star. Tweaks Dirk would be wise to make.

 

Doing More with Less

Last season, Monta Ellis was really the only guy on the floor besides Dirk who could create with the ball in his hands. Okay, maybe one and a half if Devin Harris counts.

But now, that number has ballooned.

Chandler Parsons will be a primary option on the wing, and he will have a lot of creative responsibilities. Raymond Felton and Jameer Nelson both will look to be more aggressive than their predecessor Jose Calderon. And a full season of the ever-attacking Devin Harris adds another player to this group.

And this means that Dirk will be less of a focus point. Fewer possessions will revolve around feeding Nowitzki in his spots. Now this may not be a ton of possessions, but it will be some.

As foreign as this sounds, it might not actually be a bad thing.

Nowitzki seemed to physically wear down as the season progressed. If the Mavs can afford to trim his minutes down and save him for later in the year, all the better.

But the bottom line is that Dirk will have to produce at a similar level with fewer opportunities. Though not being involved as much might save his legs, the Mavs still need production from their big guy.

He can afford to pick his spots, and he’ll probably get more catch-and-shoot opportunities, both luxuries that the Mavericks couldn’t afford last season. Obviously these are things that Dirk could like once he gets adapted to the new adjustments. But once he gets comfortable, these small changes will really help everyone around him.

 

Leadership

Unlike the previous section, this aspect requires essentially no changes from Dirk.

Nowitzki is not just the on-court core of the team, he’s also the leader in the locker room. The guy is loved by his fellow Mavs, and he’s the ultimate teammate, a guy other stars love to follow.

Take it from Tyson Chandler. The 13-year veteran gushed about Nowitzki in an interview with a local Dallas radio station.

He’s the type of guy, if I was a GM or president or owner, that I’d want to start my team with. He’s given Dallas his everything. When I first got here, I remember coming back late at night to get a lift in or work on some free throws and every single time I got there, he was there. He’d be putting up shot after shot after shot. It just shows that he’s never going to settle and he doesn‘t want to settle. He always wants to win and he’s willing to do whatever it takes. A lot was made about what I did and what I accomplished in my year here. He’s the man. When you have the top dog leading that way, you can’t help but fall in line

This team needs a leader. Someone to bring the roster’s mix of age, talent, role and experience together. Chandler has been all over the league and has seen his fair share of ups and downs. He knows a good leader when he sees one, and apparently he sees one in Dallas.

The task of meshing this team together will fall largely on Nowitzki’s shoulders. He’s done it for a couple of years now with all the recent roster turnover. The Mavs need him to do it one more time.

 

Crunch Time 

Let’s play a little game. Look at the Mavericks roster and point out some guys who you’d feel comfortable with taking a big shot down the stretch.

Chandler Parsons doesn’t have much experience in that department. Raymond Felton hasn’t earned anyone’s trust yet. Jameer Nelson shot incredibly poorly last year and Devin Harris didn’t shoot the lights out either. Richard Jefferson might rise to the occasion, but solely as a catch-and-shoot player.

Monta Ellis is the only guy who has recently shown any late-game chops. Him and Dirk Nowitzki.

So though Dirk may see less minutes and fewer touches, until the Mavs know what they have with this new roster, he will still have to be the fourth-quarter rock he’s always been.

According to NBA.com’s clutch stats database, last season Nowitzki was 18th in clutch scoring and had a plus minus of 1.9 in those same situations. Even in his mid-30s, he’s still as reliable as ever.

The guy even has his own top-10 clutch-shots video on YouTube for crying out loud.

Dirk’s late-game heroics are essential for Dallas. When the Mavs really are searching for a bucket, they need Dirk to answer the call. They need to have that option. Whether he’s a decoy or the trigger man, the team must have Dirk be the crunch-time guy they’re accustomed to.

Or else the late-game options get real thin real fast.

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Chandler Parsons Rides Camel for Mavericks ‘Game Day’ Commercial Shoot

This picture would have been very fitting had Chandler Parsons posted it on Wednesday, aka “hump day.”

Parsons—with teammate Devin Harris by his side—hopped on top of a camel for a Dallas Mavericks video. Parsons has yet to play in a game for the Mavericks, but it looks like he is enjoying some wild experiences with his new team.

In the caption, Parsons asked everyone what day it is. For those of you who guessed “hump day,” you would be wrong. Here’s a video the team made last year:

[Chandler Parsons, Dallas Mavericks]

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Breaking Down Dallas Mavericks’ Shooting Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

A year ago the Mavs signed Monta Ellis with the hope that he’d be an upgrade over the incredibly forgettable O.J. Mayo. The Mavs hoped that they could curtail some of Ellis’ wild plays and increase his efficiency, therefore turning him into a solid starter.

Ellis’ inefficiencies have been well documented. He was notorious for launching long, low-percentage jumpers and had a striking aversion to playing defense. His athleticism is undeniable, though before he came to Dallas his basketball IQ was in serious question.

But lo and behold, Ellis exceeded expectations and became a key cog in a 49-win Mavs team. And all of a sudden that third-year player option for $8.72 million seems like less of an albatross and more of a potential opt-out.

Of course, Ellis wasn’t the only new face to see time at the 2-guard. Devin Harris played quite a few minutes off the ball, and Vince Carter manned that spot when he came in off the bench.

But now things are a bit different. The Mavs added two starting-caliber point guards in Jameer Nelson and Raymond Felton to the backcourt, and Vinsanity signed a three-year deal in Memphis.

With all these new pieces in play, the shooting guard spot is due for a check-up before the season rolls around.

 

Grading Last Year’s Performance

After taking a chance and striking out for a year with Mayo, the Mavs had the gall to confidently walk back up to the plate and take another huge swing, this time with a three-year contract for Monta Ellis.

Fortunately, the gamble paid off this time.

Ellis’ reputation as a gunner seemed to fall by the wayside, as he averaged his usual 19 points, but he took fewer shots and upped his shooting by 3.5 points. And as Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry documented in March, Ellis’ once illogical shot chart now has a very focused look to it.

As a member of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2012-13, Ellis shot from just about anywhere and rarely did he hit those shots consistently. As Maverick in 2013-14, Ellis obviously knew his spots. He made his money at the rim and around the right elbow, with a dash of threes sprinkled in.

And best of all, Ellis made his shots consistently.

Put it all together, and Monta becomes a weapon rather than an obstacle. Ellis rocketing off a Dirk Nowitzki screen became a feared play and subsequently the go-to for Dallas.

But Ellis’ turnaround wasn’t the only thing the Mavs had working for them. Once he was healthy, Devin Harris played some minutes at the 2 and proved to be well worth the veteran’s minimum that he played for last season.

On a team full of aging players with older legs, Harris provided a spark whenever he came off the bench. He loved attacking the paint, and was one of the few Mavs who could consistently create his own shot in the half court.

He became so integral to Dallas’ efforts he ended up playing 25.3 minutes per game in the playoffs against the Spurs.

And of course there was Vince Carter. He was a great bench scorer for the Mavs, putting up 11.9 points in 24.4 minutes per game while shooting 39.7 percent from three.

All that being said, there were some problems from Dallas’ shooting guard rotation last season. Ellis’ ability to play defense failed to improve like the rest of his game, and he was a liability on that end of the floor all season. Carter was also pretty bad defensively, though at 37 that’s more understandable.

Harris battled injuries all season and played in only 40 games. And though he provided an offensive spark, he also shot only 37.8 percent from the floor.

The position as a whole improved last season, but still had notable holes. Ellis and Harris both turned out to be shrewd signings, and Vince turned in another solid season. Injuries and defensive struggles held Dallas’ 2-guards back.

2013-14 Shooting Guards: B

 

What to Expect This Season

As with the rest of the roster, the shooting guard position was shaken up a bit with the Mavs’ offseason acquisitions.

No true shooting was guard added, but Raymond Felton and Jameer Nelson are now in play. With Harris also still around at the point, there are a lot of starting-caliber players with only two spots. So the Mavs could easily trot out lineups with a point at the shooting guard.

And though that isn’t traditional, it’s a tool with which Dallas could really do well.

Dallas’ offense is built on ball movement and pick-and-rolls. The more smart players on the floor the better, and ball handlers are extremely valuable. In other words, more players with point guard skills is a very good thing.

That being said, most likely the Mavs’ shooting-guard rotation will remain the same.

There’s nothing to suggest that Ellis won’t continue being the minutes sponge he’s always been. And if he continues to cut down on the bad basketball plays he’ll be even more dangerous.

What really held Devin Harris back last season was health, and though he’s been an oft-injured player in his career, he’s fully healthy right now. And with a training camp under his belt, he should be more comfortable and his awful shooting percentages should bump up.

Between Harris and Ellis, that should be most of the minutes at shooting guard. Though unlikely, it’s possible that someone like Ricky Ledo, who led the Mavssummer league team in scoring, could crack the rotation. And depending on if the Mavs opt to go bigger, some small forward types like Chandler Parsons could see an occasional blow at the 2.

What it boils down to is that Monta Ellis will see 75 percent of the shooting-guard minutes. But with all the flexibility in the Mavs backcourt, that other 25 percent of the time could get very interesting. Maybe the Mavs go small with a point guard there, or maybe they want a bigger wing in that spot. Rick Carlisle could trot out some very interesting lineups, and that will start with how they utilize their minutes at the 2.

Giving Carlisle options is never a bad thing, and he’ll have plenty of weapons to play with at shooting guard this season. It should be a very fun year in Dallas.

 

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Ranking the Dallas Mavericks’ Offseason Acquisitions

The Dallas Mavericks had one of the most surprising offseasons of any NBA team, bringing in multiple impact additions through a variety of means.

By being active in the trade market and exploiting the rules of restricted free agency and offer sheets, Dallas may be re-entering the title picture once again.  

Michael Pina at Sports on Earth broke that down here:

No team — save the Cleveland Cavaliers, for obvious reasons — has had a more pleasantly surprising offseason than the Dallas Mavericks. They filled a glaring hole, added a rising star and filled the margins with cheap, veteran production.

With Dirk Nowitzi still hanging on as a dark horse MVP candidate and Rick Carlisle functioning as the second best coach in the league, Dallas is perhaps once again on the brink of another title run.

There’s a lot of room for optimism in Dallas, but which offseason acquisition should have the biggest impact this season?

Based solely on what they should be able to provide on both ends this season, we’ll rank the Mavericks’ top five pickups this offseason.

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Dallas Mavericks: Rivalry With Houston Rockets Just Got Even Better

First Dwight Howard, then Chandler Parsons. Now Jason Terry? This Dallas Mavericks-Houston Rockets rivalry has now become bigger and breathtakingly awesome. The Rockets made a trade over the weekend, acquiring the former Sixth Man of the Year who won a championship with Dallas in 2011, from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Alonzo Gee and […]
Dallas Mavericks: Rivalry With Houston Rockets Just Got Even Better – Hoops Habit – Hoops Habit – Analysis, Opinion and Stats All About The NBA

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Breaking Down Dallas Mavericks’ Point Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

Anybody who watched the 2012-13 Dallas Mavericks knows that this team needs good point guard play.

And if you were one of those people who hung in there with that squad, you deserve a back rub or something.

That year was rough in many ways. Dirk wasn’t himself, the nucleus from the 2011 title team was gone, and all year the Mavs seemed out of sorts. With a roster almost entirely full of players on one-year deals, it was an experiment gone wrong.

But as the saying goes, you can learn more from failure than success. And one of the primary lessons learned was that the Mavs need a competent point guard.

The 2012-13 playoff-less season was marred by less than adequate guard play. There was a lack of understanding of how to run the offense, how to get the whole team involved and maybe most importantly an inability to perform in crunch time.

According to NBA.com’s team clutch database, the 2012-13 Mavericks were 23-24 in games where the spread was five points or less in the last five minutes. That was 17th in the league.

This team needs a solid point guard play, and with all the turnover at the position this offseason, it’s about time to take an assessment of exactly what the Mavs are working with here.

 

Grading Last Year’s Performance

 The 2013-14 Mavericks went 26-22 in games where the score was five points or less in the last five minutes of a game. An obvious improvement over 2012-13 simply in terms of record, but their plus minus in those situations showed even greater progress. The point differential of 1.3 was a 1.4-point improvement from two years ago.

Obviously some of that is due to Dirk Nowitzki. He recaptured his game, and ended up fifth in the league in clutch total plus minus with 84.

But someone had to get Dirk the ball. Someone had to calmly run the offense under pressure. And that someone had to be a point guard.

Enter Jose Calderon.

The veteran fit the bill in crunch time, and the team owes a lot of their improvement to Calderon’s addition.

Clutch situations weren’t the only spots where Calderon made a difference. Their point differential increased by three points per game, and their assisted field-goal percentage shot up to fourth best in the league.

Of course, Calderon isn’t solely responsible for this. The entire team went through an extreme makeover last season, it wasn’t just the point guard that changed. But these are areas where Calderon can make a big impact. Where a guy with his skills is very valuable.

All that being said, the Mavs were limited at the position last season. The two main guys were Calderon and Devin Harris, though Harris missed 42 games. So essentially, the main guy was Calderon.

And anybody who watched him play knew the Spaniard had gaping holes in his game.

In addition to being a notoriously bad defender, the guy had next to no ability to finish at the rim. He made just 46 shots from five feet and closer last season in 2,468 minutes played last season.

For some perspective, Nate Robinson is generously listed at 5’9” and only played in 44 games last season yet he made 66 shots from that same distance.

The position improved dramatically from 2012-13, but still had plenty of weak spots. It was good, but definitely not great.

2013-14 Point Guards: B

 

What to Expect This Season

Half the roster has changed this offseason, but perhaps no one position has undergone more of a radical shift than the point guard spot. Two of Dallas’ top guys in Calderon and Shane Larkin were traded to the Knicks as part of the package that brought Tyson Chandler to the Mavs.

And along with Tyson Chandler came Raymond Felton. Dallas also signed Jameer Nelson, and re-signed Devin Harris. Those three will be the point guards for this season.

Gone is Calderon’s steady hand, and in come three relative question marks.

As previously stated, Harris missed 42 games due to various injuries last season and he also hasn’t played more than 70 games since the 2010-11 season. He brought energy and some offensive punch when he played, but he also only shot 37.8 percent from the field last season. He was good, but often inconsistent with his production.

Speaking of inconsistency, Raymond Felton will compete for starters minutes. He went from key player on a 54-win Knicks team to an afterthought in just a year. It’s anybody’s guess as to which Felton the Mavs get, let’s just hope it’s an in shape one.

Finally, Jameer Nelson might be the closest thing to consistent the Mavs have at the position. His shooting numbers are in decline, but he’s still a good passer and a smart player. His best years are behind him, but he still has a lot to give.

Obviously, this group does not have a Jose Calderon. There is a striking lack of the sharp-shooting and sure-handed point guard who fixed so many of Dallas’s ills last season.

So the plan of attack has to change, but just a bit.

Even though Dallas is without a Calderon-type point guard, the new guys bring other things to the table. Namely, they’re more athletic.

Now nobody is calling these guys crazy athletes, but athleticism was something the position was sorely lacking last season. Devin Harris brings the speed, while Felton and Nelson are far from slow. All three are quick, and they make their money by getting into the teeth of the defense.

Sound refreshing?

And with essentially three starting point guards, we might see a bit more pace-pushing. ESPN Dallas’ Tim McMahon recently wrote about how the roster seems to be moving in that direction, and the point guards are certainly equipped for that style.

As far as missing a steady hand, the Mavs should be just fine there too. Harris, Nelson and Felton have all been starters. They all know what they’re doing. And Nelson specifically has consistently run a team for all 10 of his NBA seasons.

To be clear, this is a team and a position in transition. Things are going to be different this year. Hopefully better, but nonetheless different.

Where Calderon was a limited player, the new trio is versatile. Where there was mostly just one point guard last season, now there’s three.

In football there’s a saying, “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none.” There’s no saying about three point guards in basketball, but either head coach Rick Carlisle will have his hands full or he will have three weapons to work with.

Based on his track record, it seems Carlisle should be happy this year. The Mavs can now play different styles, play mismatches and be less rigid in their lineups thanks largely to their flexibility at the point.

Change can be good. The Mavs have been proponents of that over the years, and this overhaul certainly puts that logic to the test. But the point guard position should improve with its new look. The front office did a nice job of keeping the position’s basketball IQ high while also upgrading its athleticism and versatility.

Now it’s time to start putting all the pieces together.

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Can Dallas Mavericks Survive with Aging Point Guard Platoon?

The Dallas Mavericks may lack star power at point guard, but they make up for it with depth.

After trading away one of the more reliable game-managers and shooters in the game in Jose Calderon in order to acquire Tyson Chandler from the New York Knicks, the Mavericks are betting that a veteran platoon of guards will be able to share the load and keep one of the league’s very best offenses chugging along.

Who will be the man primarily tasked with that job? It certainly isn‘t easy to handicap.

Raymond Felton, who was acquired alongside Chandler in the trade, is coming off the worst season of his 9-year career, where he averaged just 9.7 points a game and shot 39.5 percent from the field. Felton appeared to lose a step offensively, as he could no longer reliably get in the paint or threaten opponents with his three-point jumper (31.8 percent last year). 

There is hope that Felton will return to the mean this season for the Mavericks, however, as the 2012-13 season was one of his very best. Felton proved to be a capable distributor out of the pick-and-roll with Chandler during that season, and he was part of a team that shot a ton of threes, which is something Dallas should do this season.

Felton will be suspended the first four games of the season, but he’ll get his chance to prove he’s worthy of holding down the starting job.

Counting on Felton to be in shape and return to form is always a dicey proposition, and so it makes sense that the Mavericks addressed their point guard situation with other signings this offseason as well.

Former Orland Magic point guard Jameer Nelson was a late offseason addition, but his shooting and distributing ability should help alleviate some of the sting from losing Calderon.

Here’s what Nelson told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel about joining the Mavs:

I just think with the makeup of the team and the organization it’s similar to what we had in Orlando when we were winning. And I wanted to get back to that. I’ve dealt with the process of rebuilding, and it’s tough. I want to win. I don’t want to sit back and develop anymore.

Nelson may be on his last legs at 32 years old, but he did average 7 assists a game last year with minimal talent around him. Now with guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis next to him, Nelson could have a bit of a revival.

It’s important to note that Nelson only played around 29 minutes a night even in his prime, so sharing the load with the other point guards shouldn’t be much of an issue. He’s used to playing in shorter stints.

In addition to Felton and Nelson, the Mavs also re-signed Devin Harris, who brings a change of pace and a little more size off the bench. Harris should spend a good deal of his time backing up Ellis at shooting guard, but he’s easily capable of getting substantial minutes at point as well.

Here’s Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News with his take on the Harris signing:

Devin Harris got a good deal.

And by the way, so did the Mavericks.

Harris showed in the second half of last season that he is still a very solid option at point guard and at shooting guard in smaller lineups. He also re-proved that during the playoff series against San Antonio, when he was still a pest to Tony Parker.

Harris is the best defensive option of the bunch, which could mean he’ll see an uptick in minutes when the matchups call for that. Harris can also help the Mavericks play a little faster when he’s at the point.

Here’s what Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle told Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas:

The Mavs ranked in the middle of the pack in pace last season, averaging 95.7 possessions per game, almost six fewer than the team that played at the fastest tempo. Carlisle hopes the remodeled Mavs, a team he believes is built to run, will be among the leaders next season.

“We want to play faster,” Carlisle said. “We’re going to have to do it by playing with our depth and playing with intelligence. We should be able to do that because we’ve got a lot of high-IQ players.” 

That includes three point guards with significant starting experience in Jameer NelsonRaymond Felton and Devin Harris. Of that trio, only Harris could be considered fast by NBA point guard standards. However, the Mavs’ hope is that their three-man rotation at the position gives their point guards the luxury of playing at maximum speed without concern for conserving energy. 

The idea isn’t necessarily for the point guards to run the transition offense on a regular basis anyway. The best way for them to push the pace is often via the pass, something Jason Kidd was a master of as an old man during his second tenure in Dallas. 

The reference to Jason Kidd and that 2011 title team is important. The Mavericks have shown before that they can get by with creative defensive schemes to make up for a lack of foot speed and athleticism, which Kidd was short on at that point.

With Felton, Nelson, Harris and maybe even a little bit of Gal Mekel, the Mavs will largely need to get by with intelligence instead of athleticism at the point this season. Egos will need to be cast aside, as playing time should be based on matchups and who has the hot hand. 

That could cause some serious issues, but the presence of a leader and teammate like Nowitzki and an excellent coach in Carlisle provides a pretty strong foundation for this point guard experiment to flourish. 

That being said, there’s no mistaking that point guard is the one weak link for the Mavericks right now. Monta Ellis had some great moments at the 2 last year, Chandler Parsons should be a huge offensive upgrade at the 3, and Nowitzki and Chandler have proven in the past that they are a perfect fit for one another. There’s just one hole in this starting lineup.

Relying on this veteran group beyond this season probably isn‘t ideal. The Mavericks could potentially get involved in a big way in free agency next year, particularly if Chandler re-signed on a friendly deal similar to Nowtizki’s. Thanks to the contract that will pay Nowitzki $8.3 million next season, the Mavs can address their long-term point guard situation sooner rather than later.

The free agent market for point guards in 2015 should be a strong one. Eric Bledsoe could very well be an unrestricted free agent, should he take the qualifying offer for this year. Rajon Rondo is set to hit free agency. Goran Dragic will likely decline his player option and become a free agent. Ricky Rubio could be a restricted free agent.

A lot can change between now and then, but Dallas is in a good spot having point guard as the only real position of need. That’s the deepest positional talent pool the league has to offer.

While it’s possible the Mavericks get involved in trade talks if the veteran platoon doesn’t work out, building chemistry and letting this roster jell is probably the preferred way to go.

There are a lot of new pieces and old faces in Dallas this season, but having multiple experienced players at the point should go a long way for a team that once again has legitimate title aspirations. 

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Dallas Mavericks: Early lineup predictions

The Dallas Mavericks have made several moves this off season that should have a significant impact on their performance this year. Yes, they did get rid of point guards Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin in a trade, but it was worth it to get center Tyson Chandler back in Dallas. Getting Raymond Felton isn’t too bad either, even if Felton is suspended for the first four games for gun related crimes.
Chandler Parsons
They made a big splash in getting Chandler Parsons, which happened with a gutsy large offer sheet that Houston didn’t feel was worth even after missing out on Chris Bosh. It also wouldn’t have been possible if Dirk Nowitzki didn’t resign with the Dallas hometown discount rate.
Other key pieces the Mavs added besides Parsons, Felton, and Chandler include:
Jameer Nelson, former Magic All-Star point guard
Al-Farouq Aminu, former Pelicans small forward
Richard Jefferson, veteran small forward (Nets, Bucks, Warriors, Jazz)
So what does this all mean? It means that the Mavs have gone back to their 

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Dallas Mavericks Have Become Real Contenders in the Western Conference

It’s about time we start to give the Dallas Mavericks some respect. 

Dallas sneaked into the playoffs last season by one game, pulling out 49 wins in an ever-competitive Western Conference and earning the eighth seed. Its reward? A match against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs, to whom the team fell in seven games.

After another disappointing end to the year, owner Mark Cuban’s team, which has failed to make it out of the first round since winning it all in 2011, entered the offseason with the same strategy as it always does: Go big or go home. After all, everything is bigger in Texas, and Cuban wanted himself a star to put next to Dirk Nowitzki in the homegrown hero’s waning years.

The Mavs may have lost Vince Carter (and remain on the brink of letting Shawn Marion walk), but Dallas pretty easily filled the voids created with the departures of those two veterans, aggressively hitting the trade and free-agency markets:

Aggression can only do so much, though. It’s not like Dallas hasn’t tried to shoot the moon for a star in previous offseasons. The problem was it failed to do it successfully.

Two summers ago, the Mavericks planned on pursuing Deron Williams. It didn’t work and they ended up with Elton Brand, Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo.

Last summer, they wanted Dwight Howard. But the same thing happened. Howard shunned Dallas and the Mavs ended up implementing a similar strategy to that of its previous offseason, acquiring dependable, makeshift veterans on one-year deals.

Over the past two months, Dallas has stayed true to that strategy.

Richard Jefferson, who shot 40.9 percent from three last year and has value on a minimum deal, can pull off a poor-man’s version of what Marion and Carter did. Ivan Johnson has already provided us with the best quotevia Yannis Koutroupis of BasketballInsiders.com, of the 2014-15 season (you’ll know which one it is if you click on that link—NSFW language) and can be a bully in every way possible.

And though Al-Farouq Aminu has a somewhat large flaw in that he’s an incapable shooter from the outside with a career 29.2 three-point percentage (just somewhat large), he’s still a player who can defend and hit the glass at elite levels for a small forward.

Dallas improved, but clearly it wasn’t just on the fringes. For the first time since their title, the Mavs successfully brought in some big names.

 

The First Chandler

What’s the difference between this offseason and the last few? Dallas actually shored up its weaknesses, and even in winning almost 50 games last season, the Mavs surely had their share of flaws. 

Most of those came on defense.

Dallas finished 22nd in points allowed per possession last season, though the offense was one of the more fluid attacks in the league. That’s how the Mavs—of all San Antonio postseason opponents—were able to present the most issues for the Spurs, taking the men in black and white to seven games during Round 1.

Rick Carlisle was the only coach who could implement an offense that could match Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s ball movement. 

Look up the teams that played the least isolation during the 2014 postseason, and those will you find sitting first and second on Synergy Sports’ site? The Spurs and the Mavs. But still, even with all that ball sharing on the offensive end, the defense managed to hold back Dallas as a whole.

Mainly, the Mavericks didn’t have a top-notch rim protector, playing Samuel Dalembert, Brandan Wright and DeJuan Blair at the 5 throughout the season. Considering Nowitzki isn’t going to play that role at power forward, the team has to find rim protection and help defense from its centers. Last season, it wasn’t able to do that on a consistent basis.

Actually, the Mavs haven’t been able to find a center to protect the rim since Tyson Chandler‘s departure in the post-lockout winter of 2011. So, what did they do this offseason? They brought the 31-year-old Chandler back to Dallas.

Dallas shipped off Dalembert, Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington to the New York Knicks. In return, it got Raymond Felton and, the main man in the deal, Chandler.

It’s a strange move in that it’s the organization’s way of saying, “We totally messed this one up.” The Mavs balked on re-signing their defensive general in 2011 because they thought Chandler would command too much money on the open market after adding Second-Most-Important Player on a Championship Team to his resume that June. 

Their prediction was right. Chandler would sign a $56 million, four-year contract with the Knicks that summer. 

Now, after Chandler has already won Defensive Player of the Year and has garnered an All-Star appearance, the Mavs bring him back, three years older on a contract they didn’t want to pay him in the first place. Now, they missed the best part of the deal and have to eat the less valuable, back end of the agreement. But the trade still makes sense.

Chandler had a down year last season. No one’s disputing that. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s done forever. Would anyone be all that surprised if the soon-to-be 32-year-old had one or two more great seasons left in him?

There were extenuating circumstances in New York last year. Mainly, the Knicks were the worst-communicating defense in the NBA—and coach Mike Woodson flip-flopping on pick-and-roll coverages throughout the season didn’t help that one bit. That’s not an environment conducive to a defensive floor general.

On top of that, Chandler spent the year dealing with leg injuries and off-court personal issues, which never leaked but did seem to be damaging enough to affect his in-game play:

As Chandler said in a conference call after the trade, he thinks this season can be a turnaround one (h/t to Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com):

I finished the season healthy, so this summer I was able to start earlier. I took a couple of weeks off and then I already started getting back in the gym and improving things. I want to get back to thinking and moving the way I moved. I started correcting things mentally and physically. I was already looking forward to this summer because I felt like there was so many things I could improve on. 

Is it even bold to predict that one of the best help-defending big men of the past five years will improve from a down season as he presumably gets healthier (the Mavs training staff, led by former Phoenix Suns trainer Casey Smith, is fantastically underrated) and starts playing for one of the three or four best NBA coaches, one for whom he’s excelled in the not-so-distant past?

Dallas allowed opponents to shoot 63.9 percent in the restricted area last year, the third-worst percentage in the league. If any part of a retro-Chandler comes back, that stat will change.

 

The Second Chandler

Tyson wasn’t the only Chandler the Mavs brought in. They were just one Bing away from the trifecta

Chandler Parsons, you got us so close. 

Parsons has been possibly the most underpaid player in the league over the past few seasons, earning six figures during each of his first three in the pros. But such is the life of a second-round pick.

The Mavs jumped in and gave a $46.1 million, three-year deal to the restricted free agent this summer, and even if that seems like a reach for a guy who has only been a third option, it’s a deal that makes sense for Dallas, especially considering the amount of flexibility a freshly signed $25 million, three-year Nowitzki contract gives the organization. 

The 25-year-old Parsons is entering his prime and switching to a coach under whom perimeter players have thrived. 

Parsons is still in a position where he’ll have to guard the opposition’s best wing on a nightly basis—a job he’s slightly underqualified for—but at least he’ll have wing defenders like Jae Crowder and Aminu coming off the bench to spell him, something Houston didn’t provide.

Really, this is only going to help the Dallas offense. One of the most underrated parts of Parsons’ game is his passing, and that Dallas offense moves the rock as well as any other attack in the league.

Acting as a floor spacer the Mavs didn’t have at the 3 when Marion was there, Parsons swings the ball around the three-point arc promptly and has the ability to create off the dribble. Often, he’ll receive a pass on the wing and immediately find a guy in the corner for an open shot as a defender closes out on him.

That’s the respect Parsons commands as a 37 percent career shooter from long range. It’s also part of what the Rockets‘ analytics-crazed philosophy has taught the former second-rounder: prioritize the corner three and the shot at the rim over all else.

Parsons will create those looks, and his ability to put the ball on the floor to create for others and himself only helps with that. His 19.5 percent assist rate ranked him in the top 10 among small forwards last season. And remember, this was as a third option when he wasn’t handling the ball as much as he could in the future.

The critique on the Parsons deal is that he’s been a third preference within an offense. But would he be anything other than that in Dallas, with Dirk still going strong and Monta Ellis doing plenty of dribbling? We haven’t even gotten to exactly how great Nowitzki has remained.

The safe bet by now is just to assume that he’s never going to age. 

At 35 years old, Nowitzki came closer to a 50-40-90 season last year than anyone else in the league, and it would’ve been his second 180-shooting year. Dirk is still as efficient as ever, and Dallas has even more offensive weapons coming in next season. The Mavs have a pick-and-roll guy now to pair with Dirk’s Pringle-like popping ability.

Ellis is a pick-and-roll ball-handler but didn’t have a center to play off last season, though Wright has become a reliable screen-and-roll option in his 18 minutes a night. And though Chandler isn’t thought of as an offensive player, his threat as someone who can screen and dart to the hoop actually helps space the floor by bringing guys into the paint.

That helps Dirk when he pops, and the presence of Parsons will only give the 36-year-old a break from offensive reliance. 

Dallas is starting from a high base. This team tied for second in points per possession last season. Next year, it could easily have the best scoring attack in the league.

 

The Organization

Let’s go back to that first-round Spurs series for a second, the one the Mavs ended up losing in seven games despite heading into it as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

No one drove the Spurs to seven games after that—not the Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder or Miami Heat—and part of that was because Dallas was the only team that could come close to matching what San Antonio does best.

We always talk about how Popovich is the best coach in the league, hands down. And that’s perfectly justified. After championship No. 5, it’s pretty safe to say Pop has made his way onto the NBA coaching Mount Rushmore along with Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach and Pat Riley. (How weird is our recent cultural obsession with ranking top fours, by the way?)

When it comes to the conversation about who the NBA’s second-best coach is, Carlisle has to be in the conversation, if not leading it. No one—save Pop—can craft both an offense and defense so methodically. And that’s how the Mavs match San Antonio: with brain power.

Dallas moved the ball so well last season. Part of that was because of personnel.

Calderon is as unselfish as they come. (His “You shoot!” “No, you shoot!” moments when he shares the floor with fellow anti-chucker Pablo Prigioni this season in New York could become an immensely entertaining game of hot potato.)

Dirk, meanwhile, is an egoless superstar on the floor. But then there are the transformation projects, the stray dogs Carlisle rescued from the alley out back.

Look at what he did for Carter’s career, prolonging the basketball life of a guy who once succeeded mainly on athleticism. Now, Carter is an ideal 3-and-D veteran, who makes smart decisions and defends on the perimeter. 

A career transformation—thanks to coach Rick. Clearly, Carlisle brings more to the table than just a striking resemblance to Jim Carrey.

We all know about Ellis, Carlisle‘s most impressive resurrection. It’s not that Ellis took bad shots. It’s that he exclusively took bad shots.

Two seasons ago in Milwaukee, Ellis sunk 28.7 percent of his threes. Of the 716 individual seasons in which a player attempted at least 300 long-range shots, Ellis’ three-point percentage in his final year as a Buck ranked 709th.

Yep, it was the eighth-worst high-volume, three-point-shooting season ever. But Carlisle tamed Ellis’ shot selection and decision-making, and in that, created a totally new player who could score relatively efficiently and even command an offense.

With that, Ellis’ true shooting jumped from an atrocious 49.3 percent the previous season to 53.2 percent during his first year in Dallas.

Carlisle simply understands how to get guys to buy into his offense.

Dallas was this close (the index finger and thumb are almost touching) to moving past the first round back in May. Now, this is a team that has two potential All-Stars in Parsons and Dirk, and one more major scorer in Ellis.

The offense is going to be destructive, and the defense could make its way into the top half of the league if Chandler finds any of the juice he left back in 2013. That’s a formula to push Dallas past any given team in the West…potentially.

Portland doesn’t play much defense and came back to earth a bit during the second half of last year. Houston lost Parsons and Omer Asik. And Golden State is relying on Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry to stay healthy for another season, which is no guarantee.

A top-four seed isn’t out of the question for this team—actually, if the Mavs can outplay the Memphis Grizzlies, it should be the expectation.

With potential on both sides of the ball, Dallas can contend to make the Western Conference Finals—or even beyond that. Finally, holding out for the big names worked.

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPNTrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of August 13 and courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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