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The definitive Dallas Mavericks starters tournament: part 3

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It’s been chalk so far in the opening round, in our continued quest to determine the Mavericks’ best starting unit in the Dirk era. Who are the last four to make the elite eight?

Mavericks v SuperSonics Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Today we wrap up the first round of our very important, totally official Dallas Mavericks starters tournament. If this is your first time reading this series, check out how we got here:

Part 1

Part 2

Thanks to Mavs Moneyball’s Dan Const (@danspeak_) for our handy tournament bracket:

Be sure to make your voice heard and vote at the end of each head-to-head. Now...on to the match-ups!

#5 vs #12

#12 13-14 (49-33, .598):

  • Jose Calderon
  • Monta Ellis
  • Shawn Marion
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Samuel Dalembert

SAM: Another makeshift lineup that Rick Carlisle squeezed every ounce out of enters the tournament as the twelfth seed. This group led one of the better offensive teams in the league as they had a sharp-shooting point guard in Calderon, a dynamic combo guard in Ellis and of course Dirk, who still made an all-star team at 35 years old.

These five led the charge in taking the eventual 2013-14 champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Could they take another championship squad to the brink of elimination? They actually match up well individually. They have the defensive stopper in Marion, and potent two-man game in Ellis and Dirk. If they pushed the pace and ran the floor with shooters like Dirk and Calderon, they could put themselves in a position to steal this game. However the defensive presence of Kidd and Chandler would loom, putting the 13-14 group's strengths in serious jeopardy.

#5 10-11 (57-25, .695):

  • Jason Kidd
  • DeShawn Stevenson
  • Caron Butler
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Tyson Chandler

JORDAN: I haven’t been tracking this every time, but I think we can label this the AARP game. This was the era of Mavericks basketball where the effects of rarely using the draft, making moves for players in their prime, and Carlisle’s appreciation for savvy vets converged. The 2010-11 starters were a perfect embodiment of smart team basketball. But they were also old, relatively speaking, coming in at an average age just over 31. And that 2013-14 group? Older. By a full year (32.4 years old).

For inquiring minds, Butler barely edged out Marion and Roddy B for the fifth starting spot (29, 27, and 26 starts respectively). So perhaps we’re trading out a little defense for a little offense. Yes Marion would be an eventual x-factor for this starting unit in the playoffs, but Butler holds a lot of value for this crew as second leading scorer with 15 points per game. Much of this team’s success as a top ten offense revolved around prime Dirk Nowitzki. But that top ten defense? The work of Tyson Chandler manning the paint and being a vocal leader can never be overstated. And my gut says he’d be the MVP of this game. Tyson Chandler’s ability, leadership, and experience that season is what has this front office still pursuing a franchise level center.

WINNER: 2010-11 Mavs

Poll

Who do you have advancing?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    2013-14 Mavs
    (8 votes)
  • 96%
    2010-11 Mavs
    (214 votes)
222 votes total Vote Now
Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

#6 vs #11

#11 14-15 (50-32, .610):

  • Rajon Rondo
  • Monta Ellis
  • Chandler Parsons
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Tyson Chandler

JORDAN: I’ll be honest, I did a double take when I looked at their record. But that’s because my memory of this season comes down to one playoff series - which meant two things: Parsons can’t stay healthy, and Rajon Rondo is from the devil and is trying to destroy the franchise.

But 2014-15 is a tale of two seasons. Pre-Rondo, a team that featured Jameer Nelson and (two of my favorites) Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright, the Mavs were 19-8. They started the season hot with a high powered offense. With Rondo, the team was a respectable if unspectacular 31-24. But the thing is, the team offense was still there (5th best offensive rating in the league, 3rd in points per game). And with this being a regular season simulation, I’m going to assume two things: Parsons IS healthy, and Rondo MIGHT be from the devil and is trying to destroy the franchise. The 14-15 squad would have advantages at small forward and center, and would need to rely on Parsons exploiting Griffin to open up offense across the floor. The biggest question is whether Ellis and Rondo could do enough at both ends. It’s asking a lot, but their output could make this a contest.

#6 01-02 (57-25, .695):

  • Steve Nash
  • Michael Finley
  • Adrian Griffin
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Juwan Howard

SAM: The 01-02 starters were a lot of fun. Finley and Nash were both hitting the prime of their careers, and this was officially Dirk’s coming out party. He made the all-star team and averaged 28 points and 13 rebounds in the playoffs. As a group, they led the best offense in the league, notching top-five honors in almost every offensive category.

This would probably be the most exciting of the first-round matchups. Jordan, I’ll give you small forward and center. Parsons and Chandler were two fantastic players when healthy. But man, were the big three something else. Finley and Dirk both averaged 21 and 23 points respectively. Nash averaged 18 points and eight assists while shooting 45 percent from three. This version of Rondo was not as good of a defender as his reputation made him out to be. Couple that with 36-year-old Dirk and Ellis trying to guard 23-year-old Dirk and Finley, and it’s hard to imagine the 14-15 group outscoring the 01-02 group. Don’t get me wrong, this would be close as both teams are similar, but the 01-02 group was better offensively across the board.

WINNER: 2001-02 Mavs

Poll

Who do you have advancing?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    2014-15 Mavs
    (20 votes)
  • 89%
    2001-02 Mavs
    (173 votes)
193 votes total Vote Now

#7 vs #10

#10 08-09 (50-32, .610):

  • Jason Kidd
  • Antoine Wright
  • Josh Howard
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Erick Dampier

JORDAN: Rick Carlisle’s first season in Dallas was in a hard fought competitive western conference - it took 48 wins just to make the playoffs (50 wins would have given the Mavs the 4th seed in the eastern conference). And this unit is a perfect example of why the “no sixth man” rule was important to emphasize as we laid out this tournament. JET was a de facto starter for the Mavericks off the bench.

But for this exercise, these are the five we have. Jason Kidd was in the true floor general stage of his career - playing on-court QB at a high level. Dampier, was Dampier. And Antoine Wright (who came to Dallas in the Kidd trade) provided little in terms of offensive wing support. All of this is to say the scoring load would be heavily placed upon Josh Howard and Dirk Nowitzki. Both of these guys were playing at a very high level. But would it be enough to battle the 2009-10 additions of Marion and Butler? Not likely.

#7 09-10 (55-27, .671):

  • Jason Kidd
  • Caron Butler
  • Shawn Marion
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Erick Dampier

SAM: Acquiring Shawn Marion and Caron Butler was huge for this group. Marion gave the team a Swiss Army Knife defender, while Butler proved to be a legitimate scorer capable of creating for himself. Getting a full offseason with Kidd was also a huge boost to the group as a whole. This team wasn’t dominant at anything, but good at many things.

If the 08-09 group is relying on Howard to carry a big portion of the scoring load, then they’ve already got problems, Jordan. Marion was entering the part of his career where his talent and IQ were meshing at the right time. Dirk was comparable both years, but he was an all-around more efficient player in 09-10. Playing a full season with Kidd definitely has something to do with that. With a lockdown defender in Marion and a group that gelled and added another scoring threat, they appear to be a little too much for the 08-09 five.

WINNER: 2009-10 Mavs

Poll

Who do you have advancing?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    2008-09 Mavs
    (13 votes)
  • 92%
    2009-10 Mavs
    (160 votes)
173 votes total Vote Now

#8 vs #9

#9 03-04 (52-30, .634):

  • Steve Nash
  • Michael Finley
  • Josh Howard
  • Antoine Walker
  • Dirk Nowitzki

JORDAN: Another Don Nelson Mavericks season, another top rated offense (first in offensive rating and points per game). Once again, we need not worry ourselves with defense. This team that had a revolving door for the fifth starting spot - Josh Howard receiving the spot logging the team’s fifth most starts at 29.

But the core of Nash, Finley, Walker and Dirk was a fun, offensively lethal group. And though Howard is a rookie, that’s a pretty stout five. This was close to the end of Dirk’s first big three: Nash’s final season in Dallas, and Finley on the back end of his prime. You trade out the center spot for a starting five that shoots 35-percent from three, and everyone is a threat to score. Without a traditional center it might seem counterintuitive, but where the 03-04 unit would overpower the 2000-01 group: rebounding. Particularly on the offensive end, where they led the league in offensive boards (14.3 per game). The 00-01 team was near the bottom in rebounding on both ends. And when you can’t rebound, how do you stop a 03-04 squad that’s fast in transition and has shooters across the floor? I’ve got the ninth seed moving on.

#8 00-01 (53-29, .646):

  • Steve Nash
  • Howard Eisley
  • Michael Finley
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Shawn Bradley

SAM: Here’s another Mavericks starting five that boasted two 20+ scorers in Finley and Dirk. They were another offensively talented group, and an actually mediocre defensive squad. If nothing else, this team was loveable as Dirk made his first all-star appearance, and the team won its first playoff series in a long time.

But the more I think about this, the more I tend to agree with you, Jordan. I think the biggest weak spot is Bradley. He’s not good enough anywhere to justify having a big man on the floor. Pair that with him trying to guard a rising superstar in Dirk (!!!) on defense and Dirk might hang 50 on him. The 01-02 group got to the free throw line at a slightly better rate, so they’d need to slow it down a tad, and keep the 03-04 group from revving their engine, so to speak. But it would be difficult to hide Bradley anywhere, and that is something that can’t be overlooked.

WINNER: 2003-04 Mavs

Nowitzki, Nash and Finley celebrate Photo by: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Poll

Who do you have advancing?

This poll is closed

  • 91%
    2003-04 Mavs
    (146 votes)
  • 8%
    2000-01 Mavs
    (14 votes)
160 votes total Vote Now

Outside of the coin toss upset in our 8 vs 9 match-up, all the favored teams move ahead to our elite eight. But I have a hunch this is where it could get interesting. Be sure to check in at Mavs Moneyball next week, as we try to tackle the eight best starting fives in the Dirk era!