The NBA season is long, and we can hardly blame you if you're just now tuning in. (Well, we can blame you a little, but we're glad you're here now!) We're here to catch you up on what you missed and get you up to speed on what you can expect to see during the final 30 of the season.
We may just now be getting to the All-Star break, but it's already been an emotional roller coaster of a season. Monta has had it all (except when he hasn't). Something seems to be wrong with Dirk's shot. We're still not totally sure if we're panicking or not worried at all about the Rondo trade and the Mavericks' record against top-tier Western Conference teams. The Mavs were totally shut out of the 2015 All Star game, which may be a snub with a silver lining: seven days of rest.
Currently, the Mavs are sixth in the Western Conference standings behind the Warriors, Grizzlies, Rockets, Trail Blazers and the Clippers and third in the Southwest Division with a record of 33-18. So how did we get here? Let's take a look at what's changed since last season, how the team is looking going into the All-Star break, and what you can expect to see going forward, plus a lot of awesome stuff you may have missed.
Getting the championship band back together
The Mavs made bringing Tyson Chandler back a priority following their last playoff run, and made it happen in June with a 6-player trade that sent Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, and Wayne Ellington to the Knicks in exchange for Chandler and Raymond Felton. Mark Cuban admitted that letting Chandler go was a mistake, and he was right. Having Chandler back has been integral to this team's defense, not to mention rebounding, and he's putting up career numbers. Classic Chandler.
In late October, the Mavericks released Gal Mikel to make room for JJ Barea and his 4 year, $18 million deal. Mavs fans were divided about the deal: happy to get a member of the 2011 championship team back but concerned about his lackluster performance in Minnesota last season. He's still having issues on defense but has been a pretty reliable player in general. While Rondo's out he really needs to step up, move the ball more and generate more for his teammates.
Signing a young free agent with a lot of upside
Landing Chandler Parsons was a wild ride in July, and was especially tense given the whole Mavs-Rockets rivalry and the "Is he overpaid?" conversation (he got a three-year, $46 million deal and owes Dirk dinner forever). As Austin detailed last month, it's clear that Carlisle hasn't yet figured out the best way to utilize Parsons. His primary role is as a catch-and-shoot guy, and that's adding up to fewer minutes this year. His shooting game has been up and down, but his free throw percentage has gone up. His numbers are down from 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists last year to 5.5, 4.6 and 2.2 currently. His defense still needs work. But digging deeper into Parsons' stats reveals that he is making progress. If Carlisle redistributes ball-handling and focuses on getting him to the rim, Parsons could get out of the corner and start contributing like we know he can.
Strengthening the reserves
The addition of Al-Farouq Aminu to the roster in late July has really paid off so far - he's filling up highlight reels while blocking/stealing/assisting all over the place. True, he's not the best as far as shooting goes, but he's been an invaluable asset to the Mavericks defense which needs all the help it can get. Carlisle had him warming the bench for awhile but he's getting more minutes lately because somebody on the court needs to be able to rebound. If he keeps up the energy and intensity he's had for the last few games, he could certainly move up in the bench rotation.
Adding a few savvy veterans
It was sad to say goodbye to Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, but the Mavs added a few veterans in their place. This summer, the Richard Jefferson acquisition was slightly overshadowed by the whole Chandler Parsons deal. Plus, he wasn't an exciting young player (a rare addition to the Mavericks), he was a reliable veteran player. But Jefferson should get the credit he deserves. He's filled the shooting role that Carter left and is the percentage leader on the team in 3-pointers. And that's exactly what we needed from him.
Wondering who the Mavericks' second best 3-point shooter is? It's Charlie Villanueva. Who would have thought? Charlie V signing to the Mavs caused a lot of angst, since his stats did not bear out his ability to really even play in the NBA. But he put up big numbers in the pre-season, and made the cut. He could stand to improve defensively, and he's not really into assists. But he's a veteran and a pure-shooter, which definitely has a place on this team.
Trading offense for defense
Dallas came out on the top of the list of Rajon Rondo's many suitors in December, and we gained a point guard with excellent passing abilities who can make plays and create pass-and-shoot opportunities for Dirk and Chandler Parsons. He's got above average skills on defense (just not closing down shooters) and is certainly an upgrade in that area. He's not a great shooter as far as point guards go but he's smart regarding shot selection. However, his rebounds and assists are down, and his fouls are up. Basically, we're still not sure if we're still worried or all in on Rondo.
So, what did we lose in the Rondo trade? Offense, in the form of Brandan Wright. He is incredibly accurate - he leads the league by shooting 74.8 percent from the floor. He's at the rim all the time. He's even 3rd in the league in blocked shots. In other words, we lost our backup big man. Was it worth it? We honestly don't know yet.
Dirk's quicker shot release
After last season, Dirk decided that being really tall and shooting over his head was not enough - he needed a quicker shot release. He spent the summer with Holger Geschwindner, his German shooting coach refining his technique and debuted it in his first jumper of the season (check out a last season vs. this season comparison here)and it's slight, but it's there. It's interesting to think back to the summer when Dirk was working so hard to improve his already fantastic jump shot in light of his shooting slump last month. Hopefully his yearly All-Star break visit from his mentor Holger Geschwinder will set him back on the right (consistent) track for the rest of the season.
What have these changes meant for the team?
This year's Mavericks team is stronger than last year's, though it remains to be seen if that'll be enough to improve their postseason outlook. The team got much younger with the addition of Parsons and Aminu on the wings in place of Carter and Marion, and the team looked rejuvenated at the beginning of the season, starting off as one of the hottest offenses in NBA history.
The pre-Rondo trade team suffered from pretty serious defensive issues on the perimeter, though. Tyson Chandler was as strong a presence in the paint as ever, but he couldn't compensate for the issues on the perimeter. Luckily, the Rajon Rondo trade that sent Brandan Wright and Jameer Nelson to Boston slowed down the offense, but gave a much-needed boost to the team's defense. The offense remains among the top ten in the league, and the defense that started out in the bottom tier has been the 11th best since the trade. Only three teams (the Rockets and the conference-leading Hawks and Warriors) currently have top ten offenses and defense.
Still, concerns remain. The Mavericks are just 5-5 over their last 10 games (there are multiple Western Conference teams better than .500 that will fail to make the playoffs this year), and the Rondo-led offense still sometimes looks like it needs more time before everything gels. Dirk in particular has struggled with his shot this season, recently dropping to just 40 percent against other Western Conference playoff teams. The team will need him to improve if it hopes to make it far in the play-offs.
This team is undoubtedly better than last year's, but unfortunately, so is most of its Western Conference competition. The Mavericks are looking like a lock to make the playoffs, but only three games separate the third through seventh ranked teams, so a lot could come down to the schedule and injuries. How are the Mavericks looking on those fronts moving forward?
Kirk gave us a rundown of the February schedule: it's overall a mix of bottom-tier and elite teams over 12 games, with the All-Star break thrown in there. The month will see the Mavs play eight games at home and four on the road, but the kicker is three sets of back-to-back games and typically one day of rest between games. Dallas has two of those games under their belt already, with an expected win over Minnesota and a disappointing but unsurprising loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, the second half of the season is tougher than the first half. Dallas lucked into only a handful of games against top-tier opponents this winter, but they'll have to make up for that over the next few months. This is an area in which the team has struggled so far, going just 2-11 against potential playoff opponents. Improving that record going forward will require continued offensive adjustments to Rajon Rondo's presence as well as good health.
So how is the team's health right now? That depends on Rondo. Everyone is anxiously awaiting news on a possible surgery after he suffered an orbital fracture of his left eye and a nasal fracture from a knee to the face from teammate Richard Jefferson during the Jan. 31 game against the Magic. He's expected to miss at least two more games.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, it's hard to get out from under the news that Rondo won't play for several games. That may seem a bit panicky - after all, what's three games in the big picture? Well, this is the Western Conference and our current Mavs line-up hasn't exactly gelled yet. As we head further into the playoffs climb, every game matters. Rondo being out puts a lot of pressure on Devin Harris and will possibly require a lot from either Barea and Felton, our other two pure point guard options, and possibly require calling up Ricky Ledo from the D-League (#unleashtheLedo) or signing someone to a 10-day contract.
Awesome Stuff You May Have Missed
Wondering what shenanigans you've missed off-court this season? No worries, we'll hit you with some highlights:
Dirk meets 5-year-old Dirk: Adorable.
Mark Cuban finalized the Rondo trade at Stephen Colbert's farewell party: Basically the most Mark Cuban thing that could possibly happen.
Chandler Parsons mistaken for Dirk at Starbucks: Classic case of mistaken tall guy identity or a dig at Parsons' shooting game...you decide.
Chandler Parsons Twitter Q&As: Chandler Parsons' Twitter game is on point.. Seriously, go follow him.
Chandler & Chandler - Mavericks Justice video: Guys, they're not REALLY lawyers.
"Have it All" - Yes this is a version of "Let it Go" re-written to be about Monta. You didn't even know you needed this in your life, did you?
Mark Cuban's Rolling Stone interview: A must-read for Mavs fans.
Run DMC video: Watch Dirk, Monta and Chandler rap poorly.
Chandler Parsons' "Nicholas Sparks Book Club" sketch on Jimmy Kimmel: You don't have to watch the video (but you should watch the video) because we recapped it in GIFs. You're welcome.
Mavs vs. Rockets GIF war on Twitter: Mavs vs. Rockets battle for the hearts and minds of Twitter.