Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE
Dallas has gotten off to a surprisingly fast start without Dirk Nowitzki, but an inability to control the glass could end up being their Achilles heel.
Despite three strong performances, the Mavericks offense, with or without Dirk, remains a work in progress. That's because it has so far relied on the three-ball, and that is not a consistent weapon.
Don't get me wrong, this should be a good three-point shooting team. Mayo is a better three-point shooter than anybody the Mavericks have had in recent years besides Peja Stojakovic (in my opinion, the best of all time), Carter is as good as Kidd or the Jet, Crowder has shown some affinity for it, Troy Murphy is excellent at it if he gets playing time, Beaubois has been known to have strong games in that regard, Dahntay Jones shot 36% two years ago and 43% last year, and we all know what Dirk can do.
But the end of the Utah game showed what can happen, with, I suspect we'd find, a disappointing regularity, to a team with little ability to make shots. And if Vince Carter stays at 37.5%, it'll be his highest percentage season since 2008 (though not impossible), and if OJ Mayo keeps shooting 63.2%, well ... that would be the highest mark of all time, except that it would be less than Darren Collison's current 80%. So ...
The good news is, unlike last year, the Dallas offense isn't doomed by this assessment because it isn't a team with little ability to make shots. They actually do have the personnel to score inside, more so, maybe, than ever before. Darren Collison has been fantastic in his short stint here, and though, if he were capable of maintain this level of production every game he never would have been traded for Ian Mahimni, his ability to drive gives everyone else easier shots.
While Collison won't keep shooting 61% from the field, Elton Brand is not going to continue to shoot 26% either. And as Chris Kaman showed against the Bobcats, the ability to convert those dump-off passes gives this offense the looks it hasn't ever had, the easy looks that most teams rely on. And imagine what adding Dirk to that equation can do? If Collison to Kaman is getting everybody easy shots, what will adding the game's most unguardable player make possible?
But there is a problem. A big, big problem, and it will also be Rick Carlisle's primarily lineup problem. It's that this team can't rebound. And yes, while some part of that problem is due to Kaman's unavailability for the first two games of the season, and more of it due to the preternaturally huge Lakers-Jazz lineups, Kaman is hardly winning most likely to finish the season, will not play more than 30 minutes a game, and wise readers will hardly consider defeating the Bobcats on the board (while still getting out O-boarded) a victory.
And that part might not get better.
A glance at the box score in the Bobcats game is pretty revelatory to how Carlisle is likely feeling. Only Collison and Mayo had more than 23 minutes. Brand, Marion, Carter, Crowde, Kamanr and Wright all had 20 to 23. Murphy, James and Cunningham all had 8-9. It's kind of a diorama of who Rick trusts to be out there, and it's not surprising.
Indeed, the other games reveal similar trends. In the Lakers game, Brand and Marion joined the two young fixtures of the non-Dirk offense in the 30s, and Vince Carter had 27, while Crowder and wright had 20. Against the Jazz, Collison and Mayo had 30+, Marion, Wright and Brand had 26+, Crowder had 22 and Carter had 20.
It's clear that the Mavs' guard depth, not surprisingly, is not what it was cracked up to be. Indeed, there are no players on the Mavericks besides Mayo and Collison who seem to be getting consistent guard minutes. Roddy has gotten some, Dojo got some against the Bobcats, and Vince has often played the 2, but also the 3. But Jared Cunningham is currently a garbage time player, Dahntay Jones hasn't gotten more than 8 even against the Bobcat.
It's clear that the Mavericks' front line is thin. There's not much doubt that Brand's high minute nights were due to the absence of Kaman, and they'll probably both be 20 minute men till Dirk gets back, but Bernard James has not, so far, earned playing time or trust. Wright has been tremendous as a scorer, and is one of my frontrunners, this season, for the highest field goal percentage in the league, currently at 81%. However, he's grabbing just 4.7 boards a game.
This was what inspired the pick-up of Troy Murphy which, to his credit, resulted in 5 boards in 9 minutes against the Bobcats. Though it's still the most likely probability that Murphy's back injury permanently ended his time as an impact player, if he keeps doing that, all I can say is, you're going to be seeing a lot of Troy Murphy. And that's all that needs to be said about the Mavericks' rebounding woes, really.
Carlisle has so far refrained from putting Kaman and Brand on the court together, either in preseason or against the Bobcats. Looking at the other options, he may not ultimately have much choice. If the Mavs offense keeps clicking otherwise, it will make that decision easier to make. On this, as so many other things, time will tell.