Friday, December 23, 2011
Dallas Mavericks’ nine-man rotation not quite there
With a 66-game schedule there won’t be much time to gel, so let’s get it going, guys.
Last year at this time, I would have laughed at the assertion of the Dallas Mavericks as championship contenders. It wasn’t until Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic rained a parade of threes on the L.A. Lakers in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals that I became a believer. When the season started, I thought the team was too old and carried too much baggage. When Caron Butler went down, it all seemed lost. I was wrong just like everyone else outside the team’s locker room.
So this year, I’m willing to give the Mavericks all the latitude in the world as they round out the roster that will compete to retain their title. The 2011-2012 Mavericks seem to be extremely deep. If Roddy B. and Dominique Jones could move forward, they’re even deeper.
But come playoff time when the bench gets shorter and minutes get hard to come by, what matters most are the guys at the top of the postseason rotation. When Brendon Heywood was limited by injuries conference finals and NBA Finals, and Peja Stojakovic fell back to Earth, the Mavs were really playing a seven-man rotation: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, Dirk, Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, and Jet Terry.
In the Finals, the Mavs got some memorable minutes from Ian Mahinmi and The Custodian Brian Cardinal. But really it was the seven players above who did the heavy lifting in the Finals and through most of the playoffs.
I held out hope the Mavs would bring back Stevenson (reports are he’s signed with the New Jersey Nets), but now three of those seven players are gone. A comparison of last year’s nine-deep roster vs. this year’s as currently constructed makes me optimistic but not convinced.
I make one assumption in my comparison: The returning players are equal pieces to this year’s team as they were to last year. You could make an argument that says Dirk is better because of the championship run or J. Kidd is a step slower this year; but I think it’s all a wash.
Position/2010-2011 Player (Champs)/2011-12 Player (Current)
-- Point Guard Jason Kidd - Wash
-- Shooting Guard DeShawn Stevenson/Vince Carter – Advantage Current
This is a slight advantage for the new team. Stevenson was a Maverick no one wanted to tangle with. Last year he was a Kobe stopper and a LeBron stopper. Stevenson only averaged 5 points in the regular season but stepped it up in the postseason. Some of his ill-advised three pointers found the bottom of the net and were huge.
If Vince Carter can come in and average 14-15 points again and give the Mavs a little something on defense, he can make up the points that leave with Chandler and Stevenson both.
-- Small Forward Shawn Marion – Wash
-- Power Forward Dirk – Wash
-- Center Tyson Chandler/Brendon Heywood – Advantage Champs
This is a pretty big advantage for last year’s team -- not just in points and rebounds (Chandler averaged 10 points/9 rebounds last year) but intangibles. You can’t measure the toughness and energy Chandler brought to the Mavericks each and every time he stepped on the court.
Heywood doesn’t play the game that way, but that doesn’t mean he can’t pick up some of the statistical slack from Chandler’s departure.
-- Guard off the bench Jason Terry – Wash
-- Guard off the bench J.J. Barea/Delonte West – Advantage Champs
In the playoffs, the Lakers and Heat had no answer for the quickness of Barea. They couldn’t stop him on offense and couldn’t exploit him on defense. He earned a lot of minutes in crunch time, and it’s hard to envision a scenario where West would be an option late in games.
But West has played in big games in his career, which could benefit the Mavs. That doesn’t make up for J.J. of the playoffs, who gained the respect of the entire league last postseason.
-- Forward off the bench Peja Stojakovic/Lamar Odom – Advantage Current
This is the biggest advantage of this year’s squad, especially when you consider how Peja disappeared late in the playoffs. Lamar Odom makes up for some of the intangibles that were lost with Chandler. He’s tough, experienced and can obviously score from all over the court.
Odom’s length is a problem for opponents on both ends of the floor. He seemed to be much more interested in the preseason (from a competition standpoint) than his Maverick teammates.
The Lakers could not have done what they did without Odom’s valuable contributions. The Mavericks cannot do what they hope to do without the same from Odom this season.
-- Backup Center Brendon Heywood/Ian Mahinmi – Advantage Champs
This is another big advantage for last year’s team. If you compare the three-deep center rotation last year to this year’s, it’s not even close as of today. Heywood gave the Mavs an NBA starter coming off the bench last season, in a league with fewer true centers each year; that was huge.
Though Mahinmi made a valuable contribution in the Finals, I’m not ready to say he’s better than Heywood. If he was, he would be starting. I feel like this is an area the Mavs will look to address as the season goes on.
Advantage goes to last year's team, obviously, because they proved it. But I won’t count out this year’s team and the potential that they returning players will dial it up. With a 66-game schedule there won’t be much time to gel, so let’s get it going, guys.
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