October 25, 2012
NBA Enemy Lines
Dallas Mavericks
2011-12 Record: 36-30
Dirk Nowitzki (right) will open the season sidelined with a knee injury. (Brett Deering/Getty Images)

This is a first-round-and-out team -- and that's assuming Dirk Nowitzki gets healthy pretty quickly [after having knee surgery that is expected to sideline him for six weeks]. I don't think they can do better than that.

They have one of the best coaches in the league in Rick Carlisle, but they have been built to make changes. They are looking to the future. Their additions are Band-Aids. I expect next year there will be a lot of changes. They tried really hard to get Deron Williams during the summer, and they did a nice job filling out the roster when they struck out. But this isn't a roster that can contend, and they know that.

Father Time is catching up with Nowitzki. There was slippage in Dirk's game last year. He could still dominate a game on a given night, and every coach feared that. But I don't think he was as effective from game to game as he used to be. Late in games he was short on more of his shots. He looked like he was hurting when he ran. It took him more time to get going and when he did, it was more labored.

[Rob Mahoney: Mavs in trouble early without Nowitzki]

Not having center Tyson Chandler beside him last season hurt Nowitzki. Chandler took a lot of the load off Nowitzki on the glass and he covered for Dirk's and his teammates' defensive mistakes during their championship season.

Having Elton Brand will reduce some of Nowitzki's minutes at power forward. Brand has been with a few teams and probably not had the career many thought he would, in part because of injuries. But he has a lot of character. He's still solid on the defensive end and he can play both power forward and center. When they go small, which a lot of teams do now, he will be effective at center. He can still make that 17-foot jumper, though he is not a very good low-post player. If you take away the jump shot, he's not left with many weapons.

I have a feeling Brand is going to be in the lineup a lot. There was a lot of pressure on him early in his career with the Clippers and later with Philadelphia after he signed a big contract. The situation is different in Dallas. He can just play his game and be a complementary player.

Carlisle likes to run a lot of half-court sets, but I think that will change now that Darren Collison is his point guard after coming over in a trade with Indiana. Collison is more of an open-court, transition-type player. He struggled with the Pacers in getting the team into sets, and he's a reluctant perimeter shooter. He wants to push it. If it works, you get easier baskets in transition.

Collison is very fast, but he has a hard time seeing over the defense. If they try to grind it out in the half court, I don't know how effective he can be. But Rick will make the adjustments. He is one of the better coaches in adapting to his talent. He knows that they didn't have a great offensive year last season, so he'll look to address that.

I'm not sure about center Chris Kaman. His numbers are always pretty good, but they are deceiving. He's not a force defensively. He's a very good offensive player, though he probably had to do too much in New Orleans last season and he still turns the ball over a lot. But he can play with his back to the basket and he can make 18-footers. If you do run sets, you can go to him and he can score. He just has never been able to stay healthy.

[Rob Mahoney: Southwest Division preview]

They lost Jason Terry and needed another perimeter shooter. O.J. Mayo is not a great one, but he is a good pickup who can play both guard spots. Mayo has pretty good size and is a little better than average from the perimeter. Terry made big shots for them. Dirk was No. 1, Terry was No. 2 in their pecking order. I don't see Mayo's being able to replace Terry in that way.

I think Shawn Marion is their second-best player, after Dirk. He rebounds, he's good in the open floor and you could mention him as one of the better defensive forwards in the league. His down year shooting last season [Marion made 44.6 percent from the field, the second-lowest mark in his 13-year career] contributed to their offensive problems, but he could benefit if they run more with Collison at the point.

Roddy Beaubois is a great athlete, but I'm not sure he is a point guard. He is a slasher who has always had potential, but the toughest thing in the NBA is for a guard who is not a natural point guard to try to play the position. That transition rarely works. [At 6-feet] he is just not big enough to play the 2. It's hard to figure out where he fits in.

I don't know how much Vince Carter can give them. He has lost a lot. He doesn't create space on his jump shot anymore and that awesome athleticism is fading. He always played above the rim, which he doesn't do anymore because he can no longer rely on his legs. They don't run much for him. He's a specialty player now, a guy Dirk kicks it to when he's doubled. But Carter and Marion are both good soldiers. The Mavs have a good rookie in second-round pick Jae Crowder who will learn a lot playing with them.


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