The Dallas Mavericks opened up exhibition play today against Alba Berlin, from 02 World arena in Berlin, Germany. Naturally, Wurzburg's own Dirk Nowitzki was the featured attraction, and the German born star had plenty of fans in the crowd, who cheered as loudly after his made baskets as they did for the "home team".
Dirk and the Mavericks, who arrived in Berlin Thursday, clearly were still suffering a bit from jetlag, as the game was a bit on the sloppy side. Dallas committed 26 turnovers, including 10 in the first quarter, which helped create an early deficit.
In the second quarter, Dallas began to settle down, and we started to see the potential of several newcomers, such as Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, O.J Mayo and Elton Brand. Collison led the team in scoring at halftime with 10, and was one of three players who finished the game with a team-high 14.
Dallas stretched the game to a double-digit lead in the second half, thanks in large part to a torrid midrange shooting display from Chris Kaman(who also finished with 14 for the game), but Alba Berlin closed the gap by exposing holes in what is still a work in progress in the Maverick help defense.
However, Dallas was able to hold on to the lead, as the always crafty Shawn Marion had an offensive rebound and basket that essentially iced the game with under 30 seconds left.
All in all, a satisfying win for a proud group of veterans, but really, the results are less important than the progress in team cohesion. There were flashes of the kind of chemistry we might see from a Dallas team once the new pieces are fully integrated. A constant in the Dallas offense has been the jumpshot and a common trait with just about every new face is the ability to shoot the basketball with range. During one stretch, Dallas had a lineup on the floor of Darren Collison, O.J Mayo and Vince Carter, who combined to shoot 7-15 from three, along with Dirk and Kaman. That five man lineup may be the best shooting lineup, top to bottom, in basketball.
One important injury note: Roddy Beaubois went down in the third quarter, clutching his leg after landing awkwardly on an opponent's foot. He appeared to be in a great deal of pain, and had to be helped off the floor. Word came from the commentators that he could not put any weight on it, and it has been classified for now as a left ankle sprain. We'll update you more on this unfortunate development when we know more.
Here are my impressions individually for the team today:
Dirk Nowitzki-The star of the show has reportedly had a hectic schedule the last few days, but maybe the best news of all for Mavericks fans was that Dirk looked far fresher and healthier than he did to start last season, clearly the result of better conditioning in the offseason. Dirk had one silly moment when he missed a breakaway layup, but his first shot of the night as a patented gorgeous fadeaway that we'll hopefully see a few hundred times this year. Dirk appeared pretty active on D(by his own standards anyway), and my subjective assessment was that he played better sharing the frontcourt with Olympic teammate Kaman, who combined take up a lot of space in the interior.
Chris Kaman-Kaman really came alive in the second and third quarters, and I think this game gives a pretty good indication of what his approach will be. On offense, almost all his shot attempts were from 10 feet and out, where he displays terrific touch. However, he's had a reputation of being a bit of a ballstopper, and that was fairly true today, as he would usually either shoot immediately or try one move too many and turn it over. We won't mind that on days when he's on fire and shoots 7 of 9, but when the jumpers aren't falling, it could be an issue. On defense, however, you have to like his effort. Kaman had a pair of blocks(I was fairly certain he had more than that actually; this may be a scorekeeper mistake), and bothered many more shots. There were some issues rotating that left men open for easy interior passes, but Kaman was usually not the problem.
Shawn Marion-This may have been a classic Shawn Marion game. Other than a random post up or two, Dallas didn't call any plays for him, or go out of their way to put the ball in his hands. He did have an aggressive block early that showed he was treating this game with the same level of intensity he does any other, exhibition or not, but for most of the contest he seemed fairly invisible. Then, when you look at the boxscore at the end, you see he had 12 points on just 6 shots, to go with 11 rebounds and 3 steals. Marion is the super glue guy for Dallas and though he'll probably continue to not get the full credit he deserves he's a big part of what is going to make this team work.
O.J Mayo-For a lot of people Mayo is probably the most anticipated new Mav, not just this year but maybe in several. He wasn't overwhelming, but I was encouraged at what I saw as a sign he is becoming a player who can fit into an NBA system. I don't think Mayo is going to be a star in this league, but one thing that seems apparent is that he has a good feel for the game, with ballhandling acumen, passing skill and an improving idea of where to space himself when he doesn't have the ball. This is something a lot of mega-hyped former high school and college superstars can't and don't learn, and I'm glad that Mayo isn't the type of guy who is taking his time with Dallas(on what is essentially a "make good" contract) to try and play Kobe-ball so he can put up fancy stats and earn a big payday next year. I think he can play a role on offense, sharing the duty of "second banana" to Dirk with Collison, Kaman, and maybe others. His defense, however, needs a lot of work.
Darren Collison-Collison received the most playing time with 35 minutes(part of this may have been due to the Roddy injury), and as you might expect put up the prettiest statline with 14 and 9. I think the nine assists might overstate his effectiveness slightly, but it does show that he is capable of handling the "flow" offense Carlisle runs. Collison got out in transition several times and looked to score, which post-Jason Kidd I had practically forgot was allowed, but his halfcourt game could probably get better. The knock on Collison has been that he's pretty good at generating his own offense, but that he's not as good at running the pick and roll as his quickness and shooting skill say he should be. Dallas is going to do a lot of P&R, and so far Collison acquitted himself OK(I don't think he has tremendous passing instincts, but he can do the job), but how he progresses is a key bullet point going forward.
Elton Brand-Brand's play was maybe a little bit of a mixed bag, but you have to love the way Brand goes about things. He and Shawn Marion seem to be cut from a similar cloth in terms of the level of energy and intensity they do everything with, as well as the craftiness that has allowed them to continue to produce despite advancing age and declining athleticism. Brand was barking orders on defense, much like Tyson Chandler did while here, and there is a confidence that you would expect from a veteran who has played in more than one All-Star game. As I said in the Kaman comment, my eyeballs told me that Brand was not quite as effective at defending against interior passes, when in tandem with Dirk, as Kaman was. He also failed to grab a rebound in 19 minutes. Overall, though, Brand's defense was hardly poor. Over time I fully expect him to establish himself as a major force in the Dallas second unit.
Vince Carter-Carter played, by my estimation, nearly every minute at small forward, which is exactly the right spot for him. As a floor spacing 3 I think he can thrive, and provides a great change of pace from garbage-basket extraordinaire Shawn Marion. I can't tell you how frustrating it's been the last few years to see Shawn Marion receive passes out of double teams or off dribble penetration WIDE OPEN beyond the three point line that didn't result in a shot(or if they did, a highly unattractive one), because, well, it's Shawn Marion. Almost all of Vince's points came on threes today, except for one attempt at a drive that five years ago probably would have been a highlight dunk but instead resulted in a pull up fadeaway. Carter can't beat opponents to the basket as well anymore, but it will certainly be less of a challenge against forwards than guards.
Delonte West-His first shot was one we saw a lot of last year, a between the leg dribble leading to a step back midrange jumpshot. West also hit a corner three late in the game that kept the lead more than a single-basket. Otherwise there wasn't a whole lot for West to do. He entered the game with Roddy and seemed to play more in deference, letting Beaubois, Collison, or Mayo do a lot of the ballhandling. West is adaptable and versatile, and I think he's just in there to provide toughness, grit, and whatever else is needed on a game to game basis. He is great for this role.
Rodrigue Beaubois-As I said, an ankle sprain in the third quarter ended his day, and we hope just his day. At this point I doubt I even need to say how bad a serious injury could be for his career, or at least his career in Dallas. It was a fairly freak thing, and I'm not too keen to rush to some judgement on this being further evidence of a "proneness" to injury. Get well soon, Roddy.
Jae Crowder-He checked in at the 8 and a half minute mark in the second quarter, and played with a lot of energy if not much control. An errant pass here and a defensive miscue there, but the guy is a rookie second round draft pick. He did have a nice offensive rebound and putback, exhibiting the kind of nose for the ball we'd love to see from somebody not named Shawn Marion. From my recollection, Crowder played most of his time at the 3, but I'll be curious to see if Carlisle doesn't try him out at other spots.
Bernard James-"Sarge" was the first rookie to check in, right before the end of the first quarter, and it was a shortlived run, as James logged just four minutes for the game, scoring on his only attempt on a nice assist from Dominique Jones. James looked a little smaller than I'd remembered at the summer league. I have a feeling he was out there mainly because of the absence of Brandan Wright.
Dominique Jones-We saw more of the same from DoJo: nice drive and dish game, but no jumpshot to speak of. If Roddy is out for any extended period of time, Jones may have a chance to prove he can play, but the deep roster of guards makes it an uphill climb to say the least.
Josh Akognon-We had an Akognon sighting right after Roddy went down, getting a mention from Mark Followill, but nothing else, really. Akognon can shoot it but it's a major upset if he makes the team.
Dahntay Jones-Didn't play, though he was dressed and on the bench. I haven't heard personally of any injury, so I have no explanation for this.
Jared Cunningham-Like Jones, dressed and on the bench, but didn't play. I have heard he has practicing, but may be still dealing with some lingering effects from the hamstring injury which kept him out of the summer league. I was looking forward to seeing J-Flight for the first time in a Dallas uniform, but I guess we'll have to wait.
Brandan Wright-Out, after being limited in practice Friday(though there was word he might be cleared to play).