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 Craig Berlin; enjoy!
The Mavs' offseason has been robust, to say the least, with some emotionally uplifting and pragmatically positive arrivals (Tyson Chandler Parsons, Jameer Nelson, Al-Farouq Aminu) and some sad and slightly worrisome departures (Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, José Calderón). The attention accordingly has been more on the changes and less on those returning from last year.
On an offense that ranked second in the NBA last year that will have only 2 returning starters, it's still a given that the focus on offense will largely continue to be facilitated through Dirk and Monta Ellis while Chandler Parsons will most certainly complete Dallas' approximation of a "big three."
On defense, the team has significantly fortified itself. With the return of TC and the addition of Aminu along with Greg Smith and the departure of Calderón, Dallas should have a significantly better defensive presence both in the post and on the wing.
Of the other returning veterans, it's only a given that Devin Harris and Brandan Wright will see significant playing time. Based on the current roster it's not likely tat Gal Mekel or Bernard James will be part of the rotation and Ricky Ledo is obviously a kid with great potential but early in the development stage.
One guy who has seen significant playing time his first two years with some notable ups and downs and something of a statistical anamoly is Jae Crowder and with the new arrivals, this could be a make-or-break year for him in Dallas.
There is no player who has perplexed Mavs fans and the MMB staff more than Crowder, who may be starting to rival the departed Roddy Buckets in the "WTH" department. He's a player who doesn't offer much in the stats column yet seems to have an impact if you dig deeper.
Most casual observers give long odds on your typical second-round draft pick and by that barometer, Crowder may have exceeded most generic expectations by the law of averages. However, the outlook from Crowder coming out of college seemed to indicate greater possibilities.
Some scounts saw him as a possible shorter, saner Metta World Peace. Draft Express tweeted two years ago "I love this Jae Crowder pick at #34 for Dallas. Toughest SOB in the draft, and probably also the best defender. Will carve out a NBA career."
The impression was that his best skills were on defense but he still considered to be "one of the most versatile and effective players in all of college basketball" who could guard "every position on the court one through five, often within a single game." Statistically, he ranked as one of the best players in college basketball.
After a rookie year that didn't see Crowder accomplish much beyond some inconsistent three-point shooting, Rick Carlisle did utilize him more on the defensive end last season. Unfortunately, Crowder still didn't do much to fulfill his promise on the offensive end. In college he was known for "diving to the rim to position himself for drop-off passes from his guards, running the floor in transition, posting up, or through his work on the offensive glass." Granted, he went from being Marquette's primary offensive weapon to an aspiring role player on a team loaded with offensive firepower but surely the team was hoping he might start to develop some of the opportunistic offensive skills ala Shawn Marion, who himself went from being an offensive centerpiece to a defensive-minded role player but continued to be in the right place at the right time offensively during his tenure with the Mavericks and periodically coming up big.
Carlisle needs to continue working with Crowder to reverse his devolution...the regression he made from a tough two-way standout in college to streaky (at best) 3-point shooter in the NBA. He seems to have the physical tools and skillset to possibly evolve into a Kawhi Leonard-type player but will he get the chance?
Crowder resembles a power forward in a small forward's body but in the NBA he is undersized for the 3 as well. While Vince Carter spent significant minutes there as well as at shooting guard, Carter's post-up skills and the ability to drive remain solid even at his age and are part of a savvy and versatile offensive game. Richard Jefferson will likely be called on to try and fill Carter's role on the offensive end while Parsons and Aminu are almost certain to take up most of the small forward minutes along with some small ball power forward. That may leave little court time available outside of shooting guard minutes in relief of Monta and Devin Harris may also get minutes at the 2.
Crowder's impact during his brief stop with the Texas Legends last year was impressive (27.5 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in two games) but with the Mavs he slumped again toward the end of the season and never hit a consistent stride.
The Mavericks are now loaded with potential impact players who, unlike well-loved veteran players now departed, may not have peaked and offer significant upside along with an infusion of youth and athleticism. Where Crowder fits in may be entirely up to how much more he can develop his game both offensively and defensively and most importantly, show some consistency.