Manager's note: This week, we will be publishing trial posts from our MMB finalists. With almost 100 applicants, thanks to those who sent an email. This piece is by Jonny Auping; enjoy!
The Dallas Mavericks did just fine scoring the ball last season. They had a balanced offense and when the roster was healthy their bench scoring was a big asset. The problem for the Mavericks was defense. Rick Carlisle's game planning went a long way in covering up the defensive deficiencies of certain players, but there's no getting around the fact that teams were scoring on Dallas with relative ease.
The first move the Mavericks made in the offseason was to address that exact problem when they brought back the most heralded defensive player in the organization's history. Tyson Chandler can captain a defense, cover up for others' mistakes and his presence on the floor alone improves any defense.
As the offseason went on it began to seem as though the Mavericks traded for Chandler (and Raymond Felton) and thought, "Ok, fix the defense: check. What's next?" But will Chandler really be enough to even make the Mavericks one of the top 15 defensive teams?
It's far too easy to say "Chandler came to the Mavericks in 2010, changed the culture and drastically improved the defense helping Dallas win a championship. He should have a similar effect this year." There's a lot of truth to that thought process, but the logic isn't so simple.
First, Chandler wasn't the same player last year that he was in 2011. This isn't to say that he won't be that player again, but the last two seasons Chandler has been a much less effective player than he was in the championship season and his first season in New York. Part of that was due to injuries, which was a concern that contributed to Dallas opting to let Chandler walk in free agency, he missed at least 16 games each season since leaving Dallas including 27 last season.
His defensive win shares was a mere 1.9 last season with New York as opposed to 3.5 in his sole season with Dallas and 3.6 his first season with New York. He still rebounded and blocked shots at a high level for his time on the court. He grabbed 27 percent of the defensive rebounds available to him, an impressive number. But his efforts weren't having the desired effect on the defense. New York was a bad defensive team and that fact was not changed by Chandler's presence the last two years.
Which brings us to an obvious point: New York tried to rely on Chandler to cover up for all their defensive issues and it was an unrealistic expectation. They were a bad defensive team his entire tenure there only really sniffing average defensive results in his first season there. Watching Chandler do everything on defense to no avail in New York was emotionally wrenching at times. Carlisle will not let it be that bad in Dallas and the Mavericks probably have more willing defenders on their roster, but the point remains: he is not a defensive fix-all.
We should also address the myth that Chandler single-handedly made the 2011 Mavericks a great defensive team. It should be noted that Marion was still in his prime as a defender in 2011 with defensive win shares of 3.4, just below Chandler's 3.5. Chandler provided great help defense, but Marion contributed to limiting the amount of help needed. DeShawn Stevenson was also in the starting lineup largely because of his on-ball defensive skills and Jason Kidd was blown by at times, but was an extremely intelligent defender.
The 2013-14 Mavericks are not full of sought after defenders. At this point of Dirk Nowitzki's career he has picked up just about every defensive trick in the book, but he's also lost some of that lateral quickness. He will continue to do a good job boxing out defenders and will successfully guard any non-all star forwards. The biggest problem will be at guard. The guard spots will be very small for Dallas and, although they are quick, they will likely allow a lot of penetration.
Monta Ellis improved last season as a defender under Carlisle, but he still has trouble staying in front of defenders and will likely continue to struggle against the league's best. Jameer Nelson is quick and strong, but he has a height disadvantage and has reached a point in his career when guarding the youngest, quickest guards in the league is a tall task. If he is to start at point guard then Chandler may have to make up for a lot of guards getting past Ellis and Nelson. Harris is a strong perimeter defender and will get plenty of minutes because of it.
Chandler Parsons was advertised as a good defender and that's no myth. He is has great defensive instincts and can stay in front of his man. As the replacement of Marion, one might suggest he take on the burden of defending some of the better guards. Parsons is, in theory, versatile enough to do this, but Marion, even in his recent age, has seemingly unlimited energy and had a much smaller role on offense than Parsons will. Asking Parsons to guard the likes of Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker will make it very hard for him to be the offensive weapon they expect from him. He will have his hands full guarding forwards like Kevin Durant and Kawai Leonard. Parsons will be a very effective defender, as long as too much isn't asked of him.
Things can break right for Dallas defensively and Carlisle is a good coach to trust in getting the best defense out of a squad. Ideally, Nelson, Harris and Raymond Felton can be effective enough to rotate at guard and the decreased minutes will increase their defensive energy and output.
But the hard truth is that Dallas is one Chandler injury away from being a bottom of the barrel defensive team. Guard penetration will be a problem at times, there's no getting around that as long as Westbrook, Parker, Curry, Lillard, Paul and Harden are in the West. But Chandler will be there to meet them. The question we will find out as the season goes on will be: is that enough?