1) James obviously has a pretty unusual background. How would you sum up his story for Mavericks fans who had never heard of him before Thursday?
James was the rare high school dropout who completely turned his life around, primarily because he's really smart and has a good family. He got his GED and his family convinced him to try the Air Force, which is where he first played organized basketball. Leonard Hamilton spotted him in a military tourney and got him to enroll at Tallahassee CC with the expectation of going to FSU. Since James didn't play the recruiting game, few had heard of him before he suited up for the Seminoles. He started for two years at FSU and anchored Coach Ham's defense, which is a fairly sophisticated system for the college level. He never got in trouble. He worked hard. His teammates loved him. He's a PR bonanza.
2) Do you think his age (27) will allow him to contribute immediately or is his game still raw enough that he would benefit from the D-League?
He's not a D-League guy in my opinion. Mentally and physically he's ready for the NBA. He's in his prime right now. He has a role to play in the NBA and going to the D-League isn't necessary for him to fill that role. He's a defender. He's a rebounder. He's tougher than most players and he has a solid understanding of his own weaknesses. If the coaches are clear about exactly what they want him to do, he'll go out and do it to the best of his ability.
If you're expecting him to refine his offensive game - it's not going to happen, at least not to the point where he'll be a lead option on offense. He's the ultimate role player because his military background has prepared him to do his job, and he recognizes that his job is whatever the coaches tell him it is.
3) How is his offensive game? At the very least, can he catch and finish on the interior?
His first year at FSU (as a junior) he essentially had one move - a little jump hook over his right shoulder. Everyone knew what he was going to do and he still shot 66% from the field. As a senior his game became more complex which required teams to double team him. He developed a decent short jumper. He used more fakes. But still, he plays basketball like someone who didn't start playing the game until he was 19.
He doesn't have great hands. He's not a guy you're going to feed in the post unless he's matched up against someone smaller, or someone who's slow. He's at his best in situations where athleticism and hard work pay off - in transition, on the offensive glass, on broken plays, etc...
4) Florida State played a few teams with elite front-lines last season (UConn, Michigan State, Florida, UNC). How did James perform against NBA-caliber competition?
He had 11 and 14 against UConn, 13 and 13 against Michigan State. He had some great games against the Plumlees at Duke. He did his thing - rebounding, blocked shots, defense - against everyone. But part of this is due to the system. FSU fronts the post out to 12' against everyone they play. And since James was more athletic and quicker than just about everyone he guarded, this put him in a position to succeed. He could guard, he could help, and he could rely on his motor to get to the glass.
Playing against NBA guys isn't an issue, as long as your expectations as to what he's bringing are accurate.
5) What NBA player would you compare him to?
I'm not crazy about the Joel Anthony comparison, but that seems to be about the best there is. Again, I'm going to go back to the role coaches want him to play. If there's room on the roster for a 6-10 guy with limited offensive skills, but lives on being tough, playing with a high motor, and has an innate understanding of how to play team defense, then James will have a solid career in Dallas. If not, some other team will need him.