One of the things you learn, when you look around the NBA, is that surprisingly few teams get anything from their bench. If one looks, for example, at the Mavericks last 6 opponents, one would find this:
Pellies bench: 10 points for 5 guys (0, 0, 2, 8, 0)
Bobcats bench: 15 points from 4 players (3, 2, 0, 6, 4, 0)
Timberwolves: 18 points from 4 players (8, 4, 0, 6)
Hawks: 10 points from 4 players (2, 2, 3, 3)
Warriors: 13 points from 4 players (2, 1, 6, 4)
Denver: 41 points from 8 players (6, 11, 0, 0, 3, 4, 17, 0) (Okay, Denver has a sick bench).
It's really hard to imagine having a bench that bad, it's been so long since the Mavericks have. And in that sense, the Mavericks bench, which is averaging 27.4 points over that same stretch, is still wicked deep. Even if you take away a 43 point bench effort in the Mavs' only statement win of recent vintage, over the Golden State Warriors, it's 23.5.
But here's the thing, as of right now, if the Mavs get bench scoring it's from three people, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder or DeJuan Blair. Ellington's not playing, but averaging 2.8, Larkin's at 2.9, Mekel at 3.3.... Still sounds pretty good, not everybody has three solid producers off the bench, but then you take a look at some other things.
Since the middle of November, 11/5 against the Heat, our man Jae is shooting 17/48 from the floor, good for 35% and 9/30 from three, good for 30%. Before last night's Pelly's game, Vince had his last really good game against the Heat, going for 7/12 for 21 points. Since then, he was 33/97 for 34%, until going 5-9.
DeJuan Blair's been amazing. Nothing to say about DeJuan Blair.
But if there's a reason why the Mavericks offense has been slowly sliding down a fire station pole---from 123 against the Rockets to averaging 97 since, including scoring less than 90 in 2 of the last 3 games, this is the reason. The bench is basically non-existent.
Sure they're still scoring points, but right now the Mavs have the starters and a deeply inefficient three-man bench mob.
It's the major reason they've gone from giving good teams trouble-losing by 4 to Miami, beating Houston and Golden State-to struggling against Charlotte and the Hawks. 12 bench points would have won the last Hawks game. 12.
In a way, this is good news, or good enough. Carter has, at least, been a 38% three-point shooter for his career and is likely to revert to mean, and if not there's Wayne Ellington, even if one of the front office's favorite things is to sign three-point specialists and one of Carlisle's favorite things is not playing them. At least one of Mekel or Larkin is likely to improve, they're not doing too badly now and they're just getting started in the NBA.
But more importantly the Mavericks have a great bench, sitting in the trainer's office. Devin Harris, who scored 10 points as a Hawks backup last year, wants to play his first game before Christmas and went through a full practice earlier this week. Brandan Wright, who scores whenever he has minutes, should probably be back by then, too. This isn't pure addition, since Harris should cut into Mekel/Larkin's playing time and Wright is probably going to take from Blair.
Right now, the Mavs have no compelling reason to feel confident when any of their starters go out. Crowder, Mekel, Carter, Ellington, and Larkin are not bringing the Thunder. It's the worst news for the Mavs season so far, and the best reason for optimism.
But, the Mavericks had better find a way not to fall much farther in the ferocious West before those guys get back and get clicking because it's hard to imagine making up ground on a lot of these teams in any significant way. Two wins in a row, one, at least, against a tough team is something to build on. Let's hope they do.