I've watched the games, and I've examined the stats. I've waited and waited for some kind of trend to show itself, but I can't wait any longer. We're 16 games into the season, and I still don't have a handle on what kind of team the Mavericks have become under Rick Carlisle. Part of me is thinking (hoping) that this is a good thing.
At the beginning of the season my initial thoughts were pretty simple: What a mess. The Mavs weren't playing at all like a team on either side of the floor. I had significant expectations for the offense and--while giving them a slight pass on defense--certainly expected more than what we saw. I was honestly wondering what the heck system Carlisle was using, because it was more often than not simple chaos.
As time went by the team started to look more like a team, but the personnel decisions were decidedly odd. You'd have players not playing for three games, then come in and chalk up major minutes. Diop was part of the solution, and then he wasn't. Green was a star in the making. Then he wasn't. As I said, at least the team was playing more like an actual team. We saw some real defense and the offense looked like it had more of a rhythm.
Still, as the past 16 games have unfolded, the underlying chaos of Carlisle's system is still there. Part of me thinks that Carlisle is treating the Mavs as a 12-14 player unit, as opposed to a core of 5 with three or maybe four coming off the bench. In this way, Carlisle is like a crazier version of Nellie. Nellie would exploit matchups on the floor during the play of the game. Carlisle looks like he is exploiting much more difficult to define team-wide match-ups.
In this way, Carlisle has his core of Dirk, Kidd, and Josh, and then he kind of builds the team around them depending on who they are playing and who may be hot at the time. If that mean Diop sits for 48 minutes, so be it. If that means that Green starts, well that's fine, too. Whatever works.
You can see it in the minute distribution. Against Los Angeles, a tough game for anyone, you'd expect the standard starting five plus three rotation (By the way, that's exactly what you saw out of Phil Jackson). But the Mavs saw 9 players logging at least 15 minutes, and a tenth (Gerald Green) started the game and was on the floor at the end.
We're also seeing some wonderfully strange combinations, such as playmaker Jose Juan Barea on the floor with playmaker Jason Kidd at the same time. Let's be honest, how many of you out there in Mavsland would have realistically predicted those two players on the floor at the same time this season?
I guess I'd be more enthusiastic about all this experimentation if we were seeing some significant trends that illustrated the team was moving conclusively in a positive direction. We are vaguely seeing this on defense, but the reality is that the Mavs defense during the winning streak wasn't that much better than the Mavs defense during the losing streak. They currently have the eighth best defense in the league, which is pretty good, but this is a team that has been top five in the past and with a more athletic team, should be there again.
On offense the team is incredibly inconsistent. There is honestly no trend to be seen. The team is currently 16th in the league in offense, and while I may have said I'd give up some efficiency on offense for a team offense that was more difficult to shut down, a drop to 16th wasn't exactly what I had in mind.
Ideally, what we'd see is what we saw in Sacramento--a smackdown on defense and a machine on offense. Unfortunately, we can't play 82 games against a Kings team without Kevin Martin. What I really want to see is the Mavs start to put together a string of these game performances while continuing to be entirely unpredictable with their roster. That would really rock.
Ultimately, my hope is that this is the future for the Mavs: A team with an almost completely unpredictable roster and nearly impossible to prepare for. Can you imagine trying to lay out a game plan not knowing whether Damp and Diop are going to play 48 or whether Bass and Dirk are going to play at center for 30 minutes? I know, it's easy to overemphasize these things, but that's the main vibe I'm getting from the first 16 games of the season.
As it is, the Mavs are certainly not awful. Their defense is quite good, and, well, the offense is hit or miss but hopefully can get a lot better. About the best news I can say is that this is an odd year for the NBA. There are exactly two teams with a top ten offense and a top ten defense: The Lakers and Cleveland. That leaves a whole bunch of teams that are still finding themselves, including the Mavs.
It's a long season, and it can still go any number of ways. I just wish I had a better handle on which way the Mavs were going.