Finding some sort of common theme so early in a season isn't the easiest thing to do. But with the Dallas Mavericks, is anything ever easy?
Just look at Saturday's win over the New Orleans Pelicans. The Mavericks built a 17-point lead, only to see it vanish in the blink of an eye. Last year's narrative lives on, and we are all here to share in the anxiety together.
But, let's look at the bright side: Dallas is 2-1 (could very well be 3-0) and there are a lot of positives to take away through this first week of the season than negatives. And there are plenty of negatives.
This week's roundtable focuses on the Mavs' first week of the new year. Jamie Plunkett (@TheDSportsRant), Andrew Kreighbaum (@kreighbaum) and Austin Ngaruiya (@garooya) have been kind enough to be the ones to put these first three games into perspective, along with some hypothetical situations. Let's get to it.
1) First impressions from the first week of the season. What stood out to you either positively or negatively?
Jamie: This offense is absolutely incredible. It's well balanced and has the ability to score 110+ on any given night. That being said, they seem to struggle shooting the 3-ball. As a team, they're shooting 38.1 percent from deep, but only three guys (Dirk, Jameer, Devin) are shooting better than 33 percent. They're also struggling to defend the three, allowing opposing teams to shoot just under 43 percent from beyond the arc. That will need to change, but just three games into the season I'm not too concerned about it yet.
Andrew: I thought it was interesting how quickly Rick Carlisle seemed to settle on a rotation over the past three games. In the first half against the Spurs, Greg Smith was the first man off the bench and all three back up wings--Crowder, Jefferson and Aminu--saw action in the first half. Thirteen players ended up seeing the floor in a game that was decided by the last possession. While he's tightened the rotation in the last two games, it's become apparent that Aminu will be a regular fixture. He just has such a unique skill set with his ability to gobble up rebounds and he's fit well with the starters as a solid backup four. JJ Barea, surprisingly, also looks like he's taken over the backup point guard spot playing alongside Devin Harris. He's managed the team well when he's in the game and somehow keeps the game from getting out of control. And, just like last season, Carlisle has found an explosive lineup featuring Dirk and four reserves--Barea, Harris, Jefferson and Brandan Wright--that allows him to stagger the starters' minutes and keep them fresh for the end of games.
Austin: The offense is ridiculously ridiculously good. Monta, Dirk and Parsons have looked like we all expected, but the diversity of the offense has really impressed me. They can attack the rim, shoot the 3, and they’ve also been absurdly good from mid-range so far. Carlisle has over a dozen lineup combinations at his disposal, which has lessened the burden on Dirk and Monta. After watching this offense for a week I expect this to be the number 1 rated offense without any player averaging over 30 minutes. On the negative side, perimeter defense from the guard position is going to be rough. Tyson has been incredible defending the rim and rebounding, but the constant stream of ball handlers attacking the rim has resulted in foul trouble for him and even Dirk.
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2) After Chandler Parsons' dud against the Spurs, he's played like the $46 million man the last two games. What stands out with Parsons in this offense and do you like how Rick Carlisle is utilizing him?
Andrew: Parsons seems to be really meshing well with the rest of the lineup. He's been conscientious about making the extra pass and looking for shooters on drives to the basket. But he's almost been unselfish to a fault. Even when he racked up 20 points in the first half against the Pelicans, it didn't look like he was really looking for his own shot. And there were some possessions where he would dribble the ball into the middle of the defense without appearing to know what he wanted to do next. You get the sense he's hesitating a little bit because he's looking for the right pass. I wonder if Carlisle will push him to be more aggressive on the offensive side of the ball at some point.
Austin: Parsons’ ability to get to the rim has been really impressive. He has a very effective in and out crossover that helps him get in the lane along with his elongated pump fake. Carlisle has done a great job of getting the ball to Parsons while the defense is shifting. Parsons rarely catches the ball with the entire defense facing him. Carlisle has even run a few post ups for Parsons. I’m interested to see how effective a post player he can be over the course of the season.
Jamie: Parsons has shot 51.7% from the floor over the past two games, and 43.5% including the dud against San Antonio. That's largely in part because of good spacing and aggressiveness on his part. Honestly, I think he's still getting used to the pieces around him, and as the season progresses we'll see Carlisle get more creative in how he uses Parsons. But at this point he's done enough to keep people who want to jump to irrational conclusions after three games off his back.
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3) Dirk appears to be loving life right now. He's shot 52 percent from the floor, averaging almost 19 points per game. How do you feel about Dirk being a decoy in this offense and how much longer can the Mavs rely on him not being the No. 1 option on some nights?
Austin: I am just fine with using Dirk as a decoy. Dirk’s gravity makes him an extremely valuable player by simply being on the floor. Tyson and Brandan Wright owe most of their rim runs to Dirk’s gravity. He opens up the floor for drives by Monta and Parsons. There was a possession in the Pelicans game where Asik got switched onto Parsons while Anthony Davis was guarding Dirk on the weak side. Davis nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to decide whether to leave Dirk to help Asik. Decoy Dirk is still a very dangerous Dirk. There’s no reason Dirk still can’t be a number 1 option on some nights. He’s still a very efficient post up player and a super catch and shoot player. His scoring numbers are more likely to dip because of his dip in minutes rather than skill.
Jamie: I'm fine with Dirk being a decoy, because the offensive weapons around him are legitimate. With Monta and Parsons, as well as Harris, Nelson and Chandler, this offense truly takes the pressure off of Dirk. However, that doesn't mean he won't be the No. 1 option most of the time, but it means that he can defer to others with elevated confidence.
Andrew: I don't know that Dirk has been a decoy as much as he's scored a lot of his points in the flow of the offense, like Parsons. They seem to recognize that they're going to score in bunches no matter what. And I would guess that the team likes the idea of Dirk shouldering less of a burden this year, so he's better rested for the playoffs. Hopefully, the Mavs can start to win games with other guys as the No. 1 option sooner than later. But it was still impressive watching him force the issue late in the game against New Orleans with a clutch jumper from the free throw line. Those shots from Dirk will never get old and, even if he takes a step back in usage this year, I think we'll still see plenty of them.
4) For all the hype on Dallas' offense, the defense continues to be suspect, especially from 3-point range. They've allowed 34 made threes in three games. The Pelicans struggled heavily Saturday, but beforehand, Dallas was in trouble defending the three. Is this something that we shouldn't worry about because it's so early, or is this panic worthy?
Jamie: Well, allowing 43% to opposing offenses from behind the arc. We probably shouldn't worry because it's early in the season, but if it continues it will have to be addressed. Forcing guys off the three into Tyson Chandler may be the way to go, as long as the backside defender is willing to mix it up in the paint.
Andrew: I'm not going to worry too much about the three point numbers a few games into the season. The Spurs have maybe the best collection of three point shooters in the league and I don't think the stats from a blowout of the Jazz mean that much. If Dallas is still getting lit up from three 10 or 15 games in, I'll be concerned. That said, it is a little bothersome when Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday are nailing shot after shot from distance and defenders aren't even bothering to get their hands up to contest the shot. I'm thinking of Monta Ellis and Devin Harris specifically. Ellis played pretty impressive defense in the first half Saturday. But in the second half, he just looked frozen on some possessions as his man went up for a shot after getting a screen. More than once, Harris appeared to half heartedly run at a Pelican guard as a shot went up. The Mavs don't have a lot of lock down perimeter defenders, but a lack of focus contesting shots hurt them a few times this week.
Austin: The perimeter defense will definitely be an issue this year, but I’m not sure if it will be as porous as it was during the first week of the season. I don’t expect the three pointers to remain at this clip, but the drop won’t be significant. Monta is pretty bad at closing out on shooters and Devin is the only positive defender in the backcourt. Carlisle will really need to work some magic to get this backcourt to defend.
Jerome Miron - USA TODAY Sports
5) J.J. Barea is back and a city-wide party still needs to be thrown in his honor. The Mavs are looking to get the band back together. If you had a choice to bring back one more player from the 2011 team, but it was only out of the great Brian Cardinal, DeShawn Stevenson or Brendan Haywood in their current state, who would you bring back and why?
Andrew: I want to say Brendan Haywood because you never know when Tyson Chandler will miss games. But I really think one thing the title team had that this team doesn't is a little crazy. And DeShawn Stevenson will bring the crazy. That weird factor on great teams is underrated--almost all title teams have that one guy from Rodman to Rasheed Wallace to Metta World Peace. I doubt DeShawn adds much perimeter defense at this point but maybe the team could add another player development spot so he could help bring the nutjob out of Mavs players.
Austin: Give me Brian Cardinal, because I’ve always wanted Woody Harrelson to be on the Mavs.
Jamie: DeShawn Stevenson, no question. Perimeter defender that can hit the occasional three? Sign me up. I mean, sign him up.