(editor's note: this was written a couple of weeks ago and for various reasons is just now seeing the light of day, so take that into consideration if anything written seems a little behind the ball. But we talk about Devin Harris' potential return, so it's timely and relevant. Enjoy!)
Sometimes we complain about Rick Carlisle's wacky rotations, but how many coaches in the NBA would you take over him?
Kirk (@KirkSeriousFace): Greg Popovich and every one else comes in third. Rick is the best there is at getting the most out of a set of players. Last year, he understandably took some heat for how he handled his guard rotations, but he had just finished working with a Hall of Famer in Jason Kidd. When/if the Mavs ever do have to blow it up, Carlisle probably isn't the coach for an inexperienced roster because he just doesn't have the patience for mistakes, but for a roster like Dallas has now? He's perfect.
Andrew (@andytobo): Listen, Carlisle is great at what he does. Perfect coaches don't exist. So when we talk about Carlisle's flaws, which I sometimes do a bit too much, it's with the full knowledge that if he ever left the Mavs would be worse off. They couldn't get anybody better, period. There may be a Mavs team someday that's a better fit for another guy, a Doc Rivers type, even an Erik Spoelstra type, but what attracted me to Carlisle initially is the same thing that makes him the perfect choice. There just aren't a lot of guys in the league who can CHANGE their strategy based on their personnel successfully. I wish he'd get over his combo-guard in the last one minute thing. That's all.
Doyle (@TheKobeBeef): It would be easy to say Popovich. However, when the team let Avery Johnson go, I was quick to leap on the hire Carlisle bandwagon. What he produced in Detroit (a championship team that was stolen from him by Larry Brown) and Indiana (a championship caliber team that was decimated by the Malice in the Palace) clearly signaled his place as one of the best coaches in the league. In Dallas, he finally got his ring. Since the championship, he has dealt with a constantly shifting roster and had to adjust on the fly. His current rotations are the result of the players he has. Many of whom are old. He can't run them out there all game and expect results like Tom Thibodeau. While Nowitzki and Wright are a great offensive duo, they are mediocre (to be generous) defensively. He uses what he has and does the best he can.
Tim Cato (@tim_cato): Rick Carlisle is a top three coach in this league. I'll concede Gregg Popovich and maybe Doc Rivers, but no more. He does have a tendency to not be flexible enough with his sub patterns, but there's a hell of a lot more to coaching than that. For one, the fact that this team is not in the bottom ten in defensive rating (though they're close) is a miracle that Carlisle has somehow sustained with every trick he knows in the book.
How would you describe the Mavericks' bench right now as compared to the rest of the league (above/below average, top/bottom 10, etc.)?
Kirk: Below average, but it has the potential to get better if Vince Carter were able to turn in a few more consistent performances. His role as the sixth man isn't all that helpful for Maverick production. I actually really like the bench the deeper you get, because there are a lot of options. If Dalembert ever actually locks down the center position for 25 minutes a night, being able to go to Brandan Wright, DeJuan Blair, or both is really useful. And if Devin Harris can come back and give Dallas just 15 minutes a game, I think the bench goes from frustrating to a real weapon.
Andrew: It's really average, it's just been so long since they've had a bench that wasn't more or less the best in the league. I was surprised at first by how bad they were, but each game I made a point of checking out the other teams' benches to see how they stack up, and we're blessed over here, we really don't know how bad some benches are. Against the Clips, for example, the Clips' bench did score 26 points, but 20 of those came from Darren Collison (Damn you, DC), and only three guys played. It feels like the end of the world because we're used to better, but it's currently quite decent. Which says something about benches in the NBA.
Doyle: Statistically, they are completely average (ranked 15th in the league in scoring). They are scoring 10 fewer points per game than the bench squad that paced the NBA last season. Of course, Carlisle was running his bench out there much more last year to try and find something that worked. This season, the Mavericks have the luxury of a group of starters that can actually be relied upon. Carter's regression was somewhat inevitable. There was no way that he could continue shooting as efficiently as he did last season. Especially with all the long twos and threes that he hoists. All and all, the bench is fine but it does have the potential to be better.
Tim: I'd call it a below average bench that's greatly helped by Carlisle consistently using Dirk to buoy a lineup of the backup players. Of course, the only remotely good defender to come off it (excluding the rare sighting of Wayne Ellington) is Brandan Wright, so bench scorers can have a field day if the Mavericks aren't careful.
How will Devin Harris' return from injury affect the bench rotations?
Andrew: Well it should help. The thing is, guys always take way longer than expected to round into shape and the longer Devin's out, the longer it'll be before he's Devin. If it weren't for Carlisle's disinterest in playing Monta at the point, for good reasons, what you might see is a lot more rotations with Calderon at the 1, Devin at the 2, or Devin at the 1, Monta at the 2. You probably won't see it because that leaves Monta with too few minutes, but it could really make a difference in the Mavericks' overall defense. I expect Harris to have a few more boo-boos throughout the season--he's known for it--but at the very least, it's probably the end of Gal Mekel and Shane Larkin gets promoted to "only if he deserves it" territory.
Kirk: I'm not sure, because both Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis were signed to be the starters yet they don't work very well in terms of defensive assignments. I think the two of them should play a fair amount of minutes together, but inserting Harris into the rotation for short spurts might help Dallas stop the bleeding that seems to occur on a nightly basis. The only disappointing part of a Harris return means we've probably seen the end of meaningful minutes for Shane Larkin or Gal Mekel. I'd prefer Harris over both of them, obviously, but the front office used a draft pick on Larkin when there were other players available, so I'd at least like to see what he can do over a longer stretch of games.
Doyle: I honestly can't say. It is likely that Harris will take the role of Larkin in the lineup, playing spot minutes while Nowitzki and Ellis are on the floor. He could also be used as a defensive substitution for Jose Calderon. I'm not so certain that his return will have a huge impact on the bench rotation. As Andy says, it will take time before he returns to full health even after he is cleared to play.
Tim: Harris is everything the Mavericks need right now -- a perimeter defender, a ball handler off the bench, and a secondary playmaker who can find open shots and prevent stagnant ball movement on the second unit (which, in turn, will hopefully help Vince Carter). Larkin will likely be relegated to a energy role and play sparingly, while I'd love to see Harris sub in for Calderon as early as possible to break up that Monta/Jose backcourt (who have a defensive rating of 106.6 whenever they're on the court together, per NBA.com/stats).