The All-Star break serves as the two-thirds marker for the NBA season, just about. It's an arbitrary marker set up thanks to the Super Bowl stretching farther and farther into winter, but it gives us a good frame of reference for events happening in the future.
If everything goes according to plan, the Dallas Mavericks won't look like the same team when they reach the All-Star break. All the preseason injuries forced some necessary but unfortunate changes to this roster throughout the opening weeks and months of this season. In three months, though, the Mavericks' health should be hitting its peak and everything will start balancing out in some manner or another.
The All-Star break is still a long ways off, but I have some predictions that I think will come true between now and then. Some of it is simply knowing this team's tendencies. A good chunk of my thinking involves regression to the mean. Either way, we'll revisit these in February and see how close I was.
1. Dwight Powell falls out of the rotation, even briefly
With JaVale McGee's return, this one is inevitable. McGee won't immediately barge into the rotation -- as evidenced by his absence in Tuesday's game -- but he's destined for it down the road. That's why the Mavericks signed him and they still desperately lack the athletic, rolling and shot-blocking that his best case scenario self can provide.
Powell's been playing out of position at center all season and there's only so many minutes to go around in the front court. There will be times where Chandler Parsons is a better option playing small ball at the four and times when Carlisle opts for Charlie Villanueva for reasons unknown. Powell's also a young player bound for some inconsistency. He may disappear in a second half and conspicuously pick up a DNP-CD in the following game. That's not to say he'll stay out for good and a few solid practices later he's a prime candidate to force his way back into the rotation. But I'd be shocked if he played every game from now until the All-Star break.
2. Wesley Matthews' shooting numbers fail to improve
Matthews' career averages are 14 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the floor and 39 percent from behind the 3-point line. Through his first 13 games in Dallas, he's at 11 points on 35 percent and 33 percent shooting.
I don't see a quick return to those career numbers anytime soon. We've talked on end about how terrible an Achilles tendon rupture really is and we're seeing it manifest itself on the court. Matthews is "healthy" and he's back, but his recovery continues every day and every time he's on the court. By the All-Star break, hopefully he's shooting a bit better and can truly look like the Matthews of years past in the season's final two months. But until then, just continue to understand how slow of a process this will be.
3. Chandler Parsons averages 20 points in January
The gradual on-court recovery of Chandler Parsons stands alone as the most frustrating part of the Mavericks' young season. Watching his minutes yo-yo around, playing short spurts before he's yanked away again, is difficult for fans. It's harder for Parsons, as you can imagine, who felt as if he could go for 30 points weeks ago. Yet despite the struggles, you see the Parsons who dominated the second half of last year shine through. There's moment where his 6-foot-9 Swiss Army knife abilities look as sharp and utilitarian as they did months ago.
January is still six weeks away. In six weeks, Parsons' minutes restriction should be gone for good. Since the season started, he's been itching to break free of this rehabilitation shell. Give him that chance at long last and I see him taking full advantage.
(The other Parsons prediction I considered making is that he gets injured and misses two weeks. But let's try to be optimistic!)
4. The Mavericks' defensive rating falls below average
Somewhere between No. 16 and No. 20 best in the NBA, most likely. Last week, the Mavericks were rocking a defensive that was nearly as good as the Golden State Warriors. They've now dropped out of the top 10 and are allowing 100.5 points per 100 possessions, which is the No. 11-best rate in the NBA. In reality, they're a middle of the pack team, probably slightly below average, and I expect that by the All-Star break that will manifest itself.
On the flip side, Dallas' offensive rating is No. 12. I believe that should rise several spots, at least, before Drake makes us wish every All-Star weekend took place in Toronto.
5. Dallas hits 15 three-pointers in at least three games
The Mavericks broke the 15 three-pointers mark in five games last year. Not surprisingly, four of those five came in the first two months of the season, before Rajon Rondo arrived on the scene and turned a historically good offense into something resembling more of a carnival game. This season, Dallas has only hit 10 or more 3-point shots in four games, but with Parsons' minutes increasing and literally every other shooter on the roster except Dirk Nowitzki underperforming, you'd have to expect that to balance out.
How do you get it to balance out? By catching fire for a few nights. There are 40 games between now and the All-Star break and making 15 triples a few times would quickly correct those open shots the Mavericks are really struggling to make.