Chances are, if you've watched Dallas play this year, you've probably noticed a lot more of this thing called "running".
In years past, the AARP rec team we knew as the Mavericks did less. A lot less. Let's examine the rate of possessions used by Dallas going back to 2008:
2008-09: 93.9 Pace Factor (16th out of 30 NBA teams)
2009-10: 94.8 (16th)
2010-11: 93.4 (19th)
2011-12: 93.6 (16th)
2012-13: 97.1 (2nd)
That represents a pretty enormous jump, from middle of the pack(or bottom-half) to nearly the fastest paced team in the NBA. You may not have noticed just how significant the change is, since Dallas ranks a modest 10th in the NBA in points, but make no mistake: they are getting up and down the floor like no Carlisle team has ever before.
The primary beneficiaries of this shift have been three high profile newcomers, the trio of Darren Collison(who ranks in the top 20 in the NBA according to synergy in points per play in transition), O.J Mayo(top 30) and Chris Kaman. Whether it's been getting out in the fast break, or simply having a green light to shoot at any time, anywhere, you've seen a Dallas team that looks and plays a lot like one of the early-aughts Don Nelson squads, raining down jumpers with a balanced but lethal attack. The career-best shooting marks for Mayo and Kaman would certainly suggest that they are enjoying this freedom.
The question is: is this a recipe for playoff success? Last year's fastest paced team was the 22-win Sacramento Kings...yikes. The year before...the 17-win Minnesota Timerwolves. The year before that, the 26-win Golden State Warriors. Since '08-'09, of the 20 teams to rank in the top 5 in pace, only 7 have made the playoffs. So, generally, it's been a difficult style to make work over the course of a season.
Perhaps the deciding factor in all this is what happens once Dirk Nowitzki returns to the lineup. Will Dallas try to slow it down a little, operating in more half-court sets to put the ball in the hands of their trusted European friend? I would imagine a few of those Vince Carter threes with 18 seconds left on the shot clock won't go over too well on the sidelines if Dirk is on the floor facing single coverage.
A few of the major problems that have held Dallas back in losses have been careless turnovers, which may be largely a negative consequence of the level of freedom Carlisle has given his players on the offensive end. One of Dirk Nowitzki's best attributes is that he creates high-quality, efficient looks with few mistakes, maximizing the possessions Dallas uses on any given night. This kind of player is best deployed when those possessions are limited, and the game is slowed down, because it means your team is likely to do more with less than the other side. If Dallas is racing up and down the court at breakneck speed, this advantage is mitigated slightly.
Of course, it's all theory for now. We'll have to wait for the big German to return before we get to see how exactly it will all play out.