With the most recent signings of Delonte West and Bernard James bringing the total number of players under contract for Dallas to 15, it would appear that the Mavericks are at or very near to full assembly of their 2012-13 roster. Here's a quick breakdown of said roster:
Guards (7) - Darren Collison, O.J Mayo, Delonte West, Dahntay Jones, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Jared Cunningham
Forwards (5) - Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder
Centers (3) - Chris Kaman, Brandan Wright, Bernard James
Now, any Rick Carlisle lineup is going to have some fluidity in terms of positional deployment, so calling Carter a forward or Wright a center is more a function of there being an abundance of guards and a paucity of centers than any sort of rigidity in their skillset.
Looking at this team, my initial assessment is that we're likely to see a fairly radical shift in terms of where offense is going to be generated from this year as opposed to years past. With All-Star guard play a near constant in Dallas' decade-plus playoff streak, and offensive ineptitude from the center position also a near constant, it may take some getting used to for us to watch a pair of guys sharing center duty in Chris Kaman and Elton Brand, who are both more than capable of putting points on the board.
As I've said recently as the roster began taking its final shape, I believe we may also be in for an adjustment, as fans, watching a young backcourt take its lumps, after so many years of having the capable, veteran guiding hands of future Hall of Famers like Steve Nash and Jason Kidd running the show.
For Dirk, Brand, Kaman, Marion, etc., we have a pretty good idea of what to expect. They've been in the league for years, and their production is reliable and consistent, things I believe Rick Carlisle values greatly. For some of the other Mavs, there is a level of uncertainty surrounding expectations. This brings me to the player that I'm going to attach the title of "the X factor". This isn't to suggest that this is the most important player on this team. That's obviously Dirk. It isn't to suggest this player has the highest upside, either. However, this is the player that, in an organization that has for so long favored reliable, veteran production, I think has the greatest chance of fitting in despite his inexperience, and rising from the inchoate mass of unrealized potential that is the guard position for the Dallas Mavericks to make an impact. That player is Darren Collison.
Poll the majority of Dallas fans on what the best bargain of the Mavs' offseason acquisitions was, and they'd probably say Elton Brand, the polished veteran who was won for the paltry sum of $2.1 million. Ask them who the "sexiest" acquisition was, and they might say O.J Mayo, 24 year old former prodigy and once-touted future star. Ask them which signing they were happiest to see, and they'll probably say Chris Kaman, Dirk's buddy and competent replacement of the sadly unpopular Brendan Haywood. So what exactly is Darren Collison? Well, unlike Brand and Kaman, he's not exactly a known quantity. Unlike Mayo he may not still have the cloud of prime-time hype still looming over him. Unlike any of those other three, he wasn't a high draft pick. However, in my opinion, he is the guy most likely to see serious improvement in Dallas.
The biggest reason is simple: depending on what you think of Delonte West's passing abilities, Collison might be the only true point guard on the roster. So, right away he distinguishes himself with a skill not easily replaced. Also, if we're strictly comparing Collison and Mayo(who I think are the favorites to win the starting backcourt jobs), I'm much more encouraged by the statistical profile of the former. Mayo has put up fairly unimpressive rate stats in all his four seasons, and I think was probably overrated as a prospect initially due to a raw statline that exaggerated his actual skill level. Collison, meanwhile, came on very strong as a rookie with very encouraged rate stats post All-Star Break, and was rewarded for his fine play by being immediately traded to a team that wasn't suited to his style of play and tried to use him in a role he was never ideally suited for, eventually relegating him to the bench.
Most of the offense for Dallas, as I've already covered, will likely go through the bigs. What I hope to see happen, given the unique talents of the Mavs bigs, is that Carlisle spaces the floor with these guys(who are all capable of hitting the midrange jumper), and opens up the lanes for Collison to attack, which he can do in ways that the two Jasons were years past being able to. If Collison is given room to operate, I think we could see a year similar to that sensational rookie campaign.