Monta Ellis, no. 66
Above: Rudy Gay. Below: Andrew Bogut.
Ellis hasn't changed much in the last year, but a chance to play for a first-rate coach alongside a superstar scorer has clarified his optimal role.
We now have empirical evidence that a team with Ellis as a central part can gun for the best offense in the league. Dallas was just that potent last season with Ellis as one of its creative leads, a remarkable turnaround after years of inefficiency with the Bucks and Warriors. Ellis deserves credit for buying in and giving the Mavs the off-the-dribble force needed, in the process generating more points via drives for his team than any player in the league (per SportVU). Some slight discount is in order, though, given that Dallas is so far from ordinary. In another context Ellis' shot selection might still be more of an issue. He also might not have the offensive success overall to make up for his loose defensive coverage -- a problem in Dallas forgiven for all else that Ellis provided. -- R.M.
Rob Mahoney breaks this down pretty well, but the ranking still seems low for Ellis, consider just how important breaking defenses down off the dribble is in today's NBA.
Chandler Parsons, no. 56
Above: Gordon Hayward. Below: Luol Deng.
By prying Parsons away from the Rockets, the Mavericks landed one of the league's very best complementary players. Make no mistake: all "No. 3 guys" are not created equal.
Parsons stands as a desirable addition, even at that inflated price, because he brings so many different positive attributes to the table: he has logged heavy, heavy minutes in each of the last two seasons; he is a proven high-volume, solid-efficiency three-point shooter; he can create for himself and others in spot situations; he has ideal size for a wing defender and plays with discipline on that end; and he fills up all aspects of a box score through high-energy, selfless and fearless play. To help underscore that last point, Parsons joined LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Gordon Hayward and Michael Carter-Williams as the only players to average at least 16 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal last season. The 2011 second-round pick, who has spent much of his three-year career ranking among the league's most underpaid players, should find a solid fit in Dallas, where he will play off Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. Look for Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle to make full use of Parsons' floor-spacing ability, his comfort in transition, and his knack for creating dunks and lay-ups with his timely off-the-ball cuts. -- B.G.
We all know Mahoney's a Mavs guy, but I guess he didn't get to write all the blurbs. Ben Golliver describes as a complimentary player of the highest tier, which isn't too far off from the conclusion I came to when I broke down his offensive tendencies. The interesting part of this ranking is that Hayward is above him and Deng below him, two other small forwards who were on the market this offseason. I'm fine with that ranking -- Deng's an established guy, so give him the benefit of the doubt this season. Mid-50's seems accurate for Parsons.
Tyson Chandler, no. 39
Above: Rajon Rondo. Below: DeAndre Jordan.
I didn't blame Chandler much for playing with an uncharacteristic level of disengagement at times last season. By the time he returned in mid-December after missing 20 games with a broken leg, the Knicks were already in the midst of a downward spiral.
Chandler's job of covering for the defensive lapses of Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton, Andrea Bargnani and Tim Hardaway Jr. in a switch-heavy system would be challenging under any conditions but particularly so on a team that was no longer responding to its coach.
With his return to a more stable situation in Dallas, however, Chandler seems due for a return to form. Maybe he'll never play at peak levels again, as would be a reasonable assumption for a 31-year-old, injury-plagued center reliant on athleticism. But Chandler has better play in him than what he showed last season, if only because another working environment might be more conducive to giving a damn. With that bare minimum of organizational direction in years past, Chandler proved to be an outstanding player -- the second best on the Mavericks' 2011 title team and the Defensive Player of the Year the next season for a playoff club in New York.
When healthy (which can't be assumed but shouldn't be ruled out yet) and engaged, Chandler can lead a defense with his mobility, vertical explosion and energy. The 2013 All-Star can also catalyze an offense. He's only a minimal scorer, but his rolls to the rim have a transformative impact on a team's spacing and his potential as a lob target challenges the speed of an opponent's rotations. With that kind of low-usage influence complementing first-rate defensive play, Chandler could serve as the potential backbone for an elite team. -- R.M.
This is very optimistic projection for, as they say, an injury-plagued 31-year-old. Without knowing for certain he's healthy, I probably wouldn't have put him quite this high. But if he's healthy, yeah, he absolutely deserves this ranking.
Dirk Nowitzki, no. 14
Above: Tony Parker. Below: James Harden.
There are certain players on our list who were given the benefit of the doubt in their ranking based on extensive playing histories. Nowitzki was not one of them.
Nowitzki is this good right this second, having just led the Mavs to a virtual tie for the best offense in the league last season before challenging the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. At 36, Dirk is still utterly impossible to defend, wrecking opponents with his shot-making and bending defensive principles to his will.
He's an awesome hub for offense, even at this late stage of his career. Nowitzki is as good as it gets from the post. If covered by a single defender, Nowitzki maneuvers through footwork to arc his fadeaway comfortably out of reach. His success rate on that shot all but demands a double team, which Nowitzki generally uses to either create contact for a foul or exploit with a pass. His years of dealing with pressure from every conceivable angle has helped him identify the open man quickly in those situations, which in most cases nets a wide open look for some shooter on the weak side of the floor. On his scoring attempts alone Nowitzki returns better than a point per post-up possession, according to Synergy Sports, awesome output for an easily accessible half-court option.
Buoying that efficiency is Nowitzki's careful execution. So methodical is Nowitzki in his rhythm of ball fakes that he very rarely turns the ball over. By percentage, only five qualified players turned the ball over less frequently last season. Among them were two spot-up specialists (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Tim Hardaway Jr.), a big who rarely touched the ball save when in scoring position (Dante Cunningham) and an invisible sop of empty minutes (Tayshaun Prince).
Where Nowitzki gets some demerit are in the expected regards: defense and rebounding. He declines steadily in both categories as he ages, though to this point Nowitzki is passable enough to avoid any serious problems.
Nowitzki just does too much to enable high-functioning offense to dwell on where he falls short as a rebounder or defender. As a pick-and-roll partner, Nowitzki opens up the floor completely for those around him. Ball handlers coming around one of his well-angled screens are likely shocked, again and again, to find the coast clear on the other side. All because Nowitzki can't be left; his defender is responsible for showing or dropping or providing some kind of resistance to the ball handler, yet wandering even a few steps from Nowitzki risks giving a clean look to one of the best shooters in the game. Just by being on the floor Nowitzki pulls an opponent out of their usual timing and off of their needed responsibilities. That kind of disruption -- when accompanied by awesome production -- can change everything. - R.M.
ROB, COME BACK AND WRITE ABOUT DIRK AND THE MAVERICKS ALL THE TIME LIKE THE TWO MAN GAME YEARS. This is just great. Dirk is great. Basketball is great.