So it's over. Hard to believe just two years out from a championship the Mavericks closed the season with the worst record since 1999/2000. Wow. That's a sobering statistic. However, despite missing the playoffs and ending with a .500 record, the season just didn't seem that bad. I mean, we had a solid shot at the 8th seed up well into the final weeks of the season. Of course, cheering for the 8th seed isn't exactly what one would hope for as a Mavs fan (and missing it is even worse). So why don't I feel crushed, like Cuban destroyed all hope and the Mavericks are doomed for mediocrity for the foreseeable future?
Well, it was a tale of two seasons...
Despite a great many moments of frustration, this roster actually had a shot. If we had played the first half of the season anywhere near the level we played in the second half, this roster full of rent a players and NBA castoffs would be sitting in the 6th spot in the west. So why weren't the Mavericks able to execute in the first half? In my view, there were three big differences in the second half, in order of impact:
1. Dirk's return.
2. Playing Wright 20+ minutes
3. Collison coming off the bench.
I don't think anyone can argue point one so, we'll just let that one marinate and move on to Brandan Wright. Wright averaged 8.5 PPG (and 61% shooting!), 4.1 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks on only 18 minutes a game. That puts his per 36 minutes numbers at nearly All-Star levels. In the games he played more than 25 minutes the Mavs were 11 and 3. The team record when he did not play was 8 and 11. On the whole, he appeared in 64 games with the following splits:
GP MIN REB BLK PTS In wins 33 20 4.8 1.3 9.6 In losses 31 15.8 3.2 1.1 7.2
In my most humble opinion, the Mavericks really need to re-sign him. The issue is of course more minutes for Wright at his natural position means less minutes for Dirk. But, Dirk might actually be OK with that at this point in his career. Also worth consideration is when breaking down the season Wright actually performed better in games when he was playing at center rather than power forward.
Moving on to Darren Collison. This is a much more complex "problem". There's no question Collison has some skills, I'm just not sure his skills match with team needs. I mean, losing your starting position to Mike James is a pretty strong statement of your overall worth to the team. However, Collison was actually pretty effective off the bench. The question in my mind is would he embrace this role going forward and how this season has impacted his value on the free agent market. In a scenario in which he and Dirk don't share too much floor time, perhaps his speed against other teams secondary units could be a valuable asset. Then again, according to 82games.com the most successful five man unit Dallas played this year was Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Brandan Wright.
However, beyond the obvious reasons we missed the playoffs, the perhaps more serious issues were the a lack of consistent low post defense and lack of depth at shooting guard forcing O.J. Mayo to be played more minutes than he could really be effective. While one could argue a Kaman-less rotation provides an immediate defensive upgrade, Sarge and Wright aren't quite at the level defensively at center I'd like to see (though both show promise).
If the goal is to be contenders next year rather than being content to make the 8th (or even 6th) seed, the Mavericks front office have a lot of work to do.