In the sports landscape, there's a glaring need to label teams and set them in stone. Fans of the casual and hardcore alike don't take "maybe" for an answer. In this world of social media and instant analysis, people want to know if Player A is better than Player B. If Team B is greater than Team C and just how awful Coach D is.
It's tricky to always look through that perspective, especially in this bizarre shortened season we find ourselves in. But once again, the Dallas Mavericks looked decidedly...average. Which, compared to the first week of the season, really isn't that bad.
And last season, the Mavericks looked average yet again. As Zach Lowe pointed out in February of 2011, despite all the praise and defensive awareness Tyson Chandler had brought, Dallas was still statistically the same team that continually was bounced from the playoffs from 2008-2010. They were slightly above-average in defense and offense with a slightly above-average efficiency differential.
Being the astute and fine writer that he is, Lowe immediately reminded all of us that some of those numbers were skewed with Dirk Nowitzki's right knee injury where the Mavs looked downright awful in a 2-7 stretch. This year's Mavs are 10-7, another particularly average record (seventh in the weakened West). But the team this year is average in a different sort of way.
Last year, the Mavericks were neither elite in offense or defense, just merely pretty good in both, which usually dooms playoff teams when opposing teams take away their crutch, they have nothing to fall back on. This year's team is boasting an elite-level defense (third in the NBA in defensive efficiency, according to Hoopdata) with a downright brutal offense (hovering in the low 20s).
And that offense is in shambles thanks to Dirk's balky right knee, which he's now taking time to get right. As Rob Mahoney mentions, the Mavericks offense is completely built around Dirk. He's the foundation on which other players use to create looks for themselves and others. Taking Dirk away (whether a shell of himself during a game or out of the game completely) is like removing the bottom-most piece of a Jenga tower. The other pieces are important and can function on their own, but only if that bottom piece supports it all.
So, theoretically, Dallas could maintain this elite-level defense and once Dirk is in shape, the offense could return to its top-10 status, thus solidifying Mark Cuban's claim that this group could be even better than the title team of barely a year ago. Right?
The Mavericks defensive numbers are heavily inflated by some rather unique blowouts and, quite frankly, facing some mediocre offenses. Shutting down New Orleans (twice), Sacramento, Milwaukee, Detroit, Phoenix and Toronto doesn't say too much about a team's defensive aptitude. Hell, even strangling the Lakers offense doesn't seem that noteworthy anymore, everyone is doing it.
Still, there are some impressive feats against Boston and Oklahoma City but those are few and far between. What should give hope that the Mavericks can sustain what they have is that they've completed switched their defensive philosophy from sitting back, playing sound defense to attacking and creating turnovers. Therein lies the possibility of the Mavs defense having some staying power.
But still, right now, the Mavericks are an average team. Elite in one area (with some potential flaws) while staggeringly weak in another. Considering that last year's team seemed to barely push above average, I think I'll take my chances with this year's team as well.
Follow me on Twitter!