The Dirk Nowitzki-era Mavericks have never had a roster that shows so much promise -- or despair -- until now.
The Mavericks in the Dirk Nowitzki-era have been static. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Static can be good, such as 10+ seasons of 50 wins or more. The playoffs were just a matter of when, not if. A scorer so roboticly-efficient that you wonder if the league will ever see a similar player again (not likely). A second-banana that might have had his quirks, but was uncanny and clutch in the fourth quarter.
Those qualities never changed with the Nowitzki-led Mavericks. And as great this time has been, it's been remarkably predictable. Along with the good static comes the bad: First or second-round fodder. An inability to get second or third-option scoring. A complete waste from the center position. Trouble containing quick guards. An inability to produce easy shots.
While that predictable formula found it's breakthrough in 2011, in 2012 it went right back to the standard from 2008-2010: Dirk is great, Jason Terry is sometimes great, Jason Kidd is old and the Mavericks centers are worthless. That sentence could have wrapped up any Mavericks season from 2008-2012, withholding 2011, of course.
We can debate the ways in which the 2011 champion Mavericks have found their way to this current roster for ages, so let's not focus on that. Let's focus on why this is the most intriguing roster since Dirk Nowitzki arrived: the Dallas Mavericks are dynamic, for better or worse.
The starting backcourt features two 25-year-old guards, which is right on the doorstep of entering your prime in the NBA (unless you're LeBron James, Kevin Durant or in that same tier) with Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo. There's also the 24-year-old Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones and 21-year-old Jared Cunningham. The front court includes the 25-year-old Brandan Wright, 22-year-old Jae Crowder and 27-year-old Bernard James.
That's a ton of youth that the Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavericks have never seen before (especially in the regular rotation). The possibilities could be endless with Rick Carlisle mixing the rotations with his stable of veterans and the youthful parts. It also means we honestly have no idea what these Dallas Mavericks could become. Sure, we have five games, but just as easily as the Mavericks racked up the points so far, they could go into an extended cold spell, like quarters two through four against Toronto on Wednesday night.
But that's the beauty of this team. We don't know what's going to happen. Collison and Mayo could grow into something more than their previous seasons have showed. Jae Crowder could be a 2004-Josh Howard, but with a better jump shot. Brandan Wright, thought to be a third center, could emerge as a viable sixth-man when Nowitzki returns, as he's showing last year was not an aberration...it was a sign of things to come.
For those scoffing at the thought of Collison or Mayo getting better after a few seasons of regression, I point you toward Mike Prada's piece a year ago about the development of Goran Dragic:
Everyone who has watched Dragic knows he can play, but everyone in the NBA can play. Why did a trade invigorate Dragic so much this year? To answer that question, we need to look at ourselves first.
We'd like to think that all young players improve. In general, they do. Most players are better on the aggregate at 24 than they are at 22. But we also stretch that too far, assuming that players improve at a steady rate. We build bell curves and project to the future, thinking that all it takes for a young player to improve is time.
As Dragic's case proves, though, it's really not that simple. Player development just isn't linear.
Read the rest of the piece, it's a brilliant take on NBA player development and applies to Mayo and Collison. It gives plenty of reasons for why the duo's play has legitimate staying power. Both exploded onto the scene as rookies then quickly faded away as the league caught up. The talent has always been there for these two. It's not unreasonable to suggest that with more time to adjust to the NBA's own adjustments and with Rick Carlisle at the helm, that both Mayo and Collison surge ahead this season.
But maybe they fail. Maybe this week is just a flash in the pan. Perhaps Collison and Mayo continue their regressions from last season. Maybe Brandan Wright suffers with reduced minutes when the regulars come back. Maybe Jae Crowder's shooting is a complete mirage. Maybe another lower leg injury derails what should be Roddy's season.
All of that could happen with dynamic, young NBA players. We have no way of telling what we're getting, since each player has yet to step into the 27-28-year-old "in their prime" territory. There is room to grow. But sadly, there is room to fall.
That's what makes this season so exciting for Mavericks fans. Dallas has the ability to be even more by the end of the season. The same couldn't be said about Jason Kidd and Jason Terry and Shawn Marion. We know what those players are. If anything changed in their games, it'd likely be negative since they are on the back-end of their careers. When we watched every season as the Dirk-led Mavericks grew older, there was a content, bored happiness and a fearful dread of the worst-case scenario: natural regression.
Terry wasn't going to magically become a consistent play-maker or defensive whiz. Kidd wasn't going to magically find the speed to deal with younger guards and attack the rim. Brendan Haywood wasn't suddenly going to develop a low-post game. Those Mavericks were who they were -- established veterans who had reached their peak. It's what lulled Mavericks fans into a sort of happy comatose state: we were always excited to watch a good team, but there was a tick in the back of our brains that told us it won't get much better than this. This is what we had.
Now, the Mavericks have promise. Youthful promise. It's something they haven't had in years. This team, already off to a fantastic 4-1 start could get better. There's a lot of excitement that I haven't really seen in recent years, even before the 2011 title run. But with that promise of greatness, there is an equal chance of demise. Of the youth sputtering out and not reaching the playoffs.
Even then, I'll take the trade-off. I haven't seen a Mavericks team this dynamic in over a decade. It's going to be a roller coaster ride. It's going to let us reach the highest of highs but also experience the lowest of lows.
This is going to be a fun season. It already is.