Breaking Down the 2014-2015 Dallas Mavericks

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Over the past few seasons, the Dallas Mavericks have taken a unique approach to team building as outlined by Mark Cuban on his blog. Other teams often tank and try to rebuild through acquiring young talent, but the presence of superstar Dirk Nowitzki has prevented the Mavs from using this strategy.

They are attempting to exploit a market inefficiency of sorts; collecting talented veteran misfits with the hope of revitalizing them in their system with Dirk at the center.

The Mavs had a down year in 2012-2013, going .500 and missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. Dirk missed 29 games and the team never quite gelled, leading to a disappointing finish. However, last season the team showed progress, winning 49 games and getting back into the playoff picture.

With their strategy yielding mixed results (Cuban admits as much), the jury is still out on the Mavs approach to surrounding Dirk with quality players as he enters the next stage of his career. Dirk just turned 36 over the summer, and the Mavs are running out of time to get back into title contention.

Dallas made a lot of interesting offseason moves and the team is definitely going to have a new look next season. With that said, let’s take a closer look at what the Mavs did last season, who they’re replacing and who they’re replacing them with to get an idea of what to expect next season.

While the Mavs were the last team into the Western Conference playoffs last season, they were definitely better than a traditional 8-seed. Much has been made about the disparity in talent between the conferences, but had the Mavericks been in the East last season their record would have landed them a 3-seed.

The Mavs relied heavily on their offense last season, ranking 3rd in offensive efficiency scoring 109 points per 100 possessions. The Mavs ranked 4th in Effective Field Goal% at 52.65%, shooting efficiently all over the floor. That started in the restricted area, where the team was very efficient, ranking 5th in the NBA at 63.7%.

The Mavs were also a very efficient spot up shooting team, ranking 2nd in spot up efficiency at 1.06 PPP per Synergy. They were also 1st in transition efficiency and 4th in roll man efficiency.

Their overall efficiency starts with Dirk, who was extremely productive last season despite taking very few shots in the restricted area. Dirk’s efficiency starts with his post ups, where he ranked 14th in the league at an insane 1.04 PPP per Synergy Sports.

Post ups accounted for 34.8% of Dirk’s plays finished via field goal attempt, turnover, or free throws. He shot 49.3% and drew fouls on 10% of these plays. Dirk can post up anywhere on the floor and makes an incredible amount of tough shots.

Dirk relies on his jumper and size more than anything for his production, which is part of the reason why he has aged so well to this point. Despite the fact that he just turned 36, I don’t expect too much regression from Dirk this season barring injury.

Dirk is also a very dynamic pick and roll player, ranking 17th in efficiency as a roll man (1.18 PPP). Whether Dirk was involved directly in the pick and roll or not, his presence certainly opened up the floor for lead guard Monta Ellis to operate.

Ellis signed a 3-year 25 million dollar deal with a player option before last season, and many people-including myself-were skeptical of Ellis’ potential as a contributor due to his inconsistent track record and mostly negative reputation. However, last season Ellis was an effective cog in Dallas’ offense, overachieving even the highest expectations for his performance.

Monta Ellis finished 894 plays as a pick and roll handler last season, accounting for 44% of the Mavericks’ total pick and roll offense from the handler. This made up 47.3% of Ellis’ personal offense, and he scored .86 PPP on these plays, good for 44th in the league per Synergy.

Ellis was a high usage player out of the pick and roll but he still managed pretty reasonable efficiency serving as the Mavs primary ball handler. He also posted the highest assist ratio of his career. Coming into his second year in Rick Carlisle’s offense, Ellis is poised for another solid season.

Although Ellis and Dirk were a great pick and pop combo last season, adding a pick and roll partner like Tyson Chandler into the mix will add an interesting new dynamic to their offense.

Samuel Dalembert was a decent pick and roll player last season, but Chandler is one of the premier roll men in the entire league. Last season for the Knicks Chandler scored 1.23 PPP as a roll man, ranking him 9th in the NBA per Synergy.

In fact, Chandler has ranked in the top-20 in efficiency as a roll man dating back to his days in Dallas during the 2010-2011 season. That season he ranked 2nd in efficiency at 1.39 PPP. Chandler is an expert at diving to the rim and opening up the floor for other players to operate. He’s not a main offensive cog, but he plays a role and he plays it well.

Next season the Mavs will have a dominant pick and roll duo at center between Chandler and Brandan Wright. Wright also finished in the top-10 in roll man efficiency last season (1.32 PPP, 2nd in the league), and finished at a ridiculous 79% clip in the restricted area. The Mavs will get plenty of production from their centers this season.

At 31, Chandler is not the player he was a few years ago, but he will definitely be an upgrade over what the Mavs have had since he left. Not only will he give the Mavs a good pick and roll option on offense, he will be a huge defensive upgrade as well.

Last season the Mavs struggled on the defensive end, allowing 105.9 points per 100 possessions, 22nd in the league. The Mavs allowed the 3rd highest FG% in the restricted area at 63.9%, and were a disaster on the defensive glass, ranking 25th in DReb% at just 72.7%.

Tyson Chandler is still an impact player on the defensive end, and he will help the Mavs shore up their defense. He’s a good pick and roll defender, and he can really protect the rim. Last season for the Knicks, Chandler allowed opponents to shoot just 51.5% at the rim per SportVU data on NBA.com. Last season Dalembert allowed 59.2% while playing limited minutes. Chandler will clearly be a huge upgrade when it comes to protecting the rim.

Although Chandler does a good job of protecting the rim, he’s also a really good defensive rebounder, a combo that is sometimes hard to come by. Last season Chandler posted a DReb% of 26.4, ranking toward the top of the league.

The bottom line is that if Chandler can stay healthy, the Mavs will improve in terms of both rim protection and rebounding, and their defense will be a lot better as a result.

After five solid years and one NBA championship with the Mavericks, former starting small forward Shawn Marion is leaving for greener pastures, signing a one-year veterans minimum deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although Marion was good for the Mavs, they will clearly be upgrading next season after inking 25-year-old Chandler Parsons to a 3-year deal earlier this summer.

Parsons is a great get for Dallas, and he brings an interesting skill set to the table. First of all, he’s a more threatening shooter than Marion. Last season Parsons attempted more than twice as many threes per game as Marion (4.7 vs. 2.1) and made slightly more of them (36.7% vs. 35.8%). While Marion was a decent shooter, Parsons will be a much better overall floor spacer and spot up shooter around the Mavs’ other players. This will mean more room to operate in both the pick and roll and on Nowitzki post ups.

Even if defenders don’t give Parsons quite enough room to get his shot off, he’s got one of the nastiest pump fakes in the league in his arsenal, which allows him to create off the dribble in tight situations.

Parsons is solid in transition and finished 59.8% of his attempts in the restricted area. He’s also got a developing pick and roll game (16.1% of his offense, .79 PPP per synergy) and can create for his teammates, averaging 5.1 Assists/48.

By replacing Marion with Parsons, the Mavs are getting a better shooter and a more skilled overall player, while avoiding the inevitable regression of an older player (Parsons is 11 years younger than Marion). The one drawback of the switch is that Parsons probably isn’t a stretch 4 yet (only a 13% DReb% last season), but they went out and got a player that might be able to fill that role in Al-Farouq Aminu.

Aminu is definitely one of the most underrated pickups of this offseason, as his role will completely change with the Mavs. Last season, Aminu spent most of his time as a small forward playing alongside two traditional big men with limited shooting range. This was a nightmare for both the Pelicans and Aminu because he simply can’t shoot at all, and playing him in these lineups cramped their spacing and hurt their offense.

Next season, Aminu will have a chance to play on a team with much more shooting, and with a coach who will know how to use him. Aminu is solid in transition and has potential as a roll man, but where he will help the Mavs right away is on defense, where he will give them a little bit of versatility as he is capable of playing both forward positions.

As a small ball 4, he will give the Mavs an interesting look. Per NBA Wowy, last season the quartet of Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion played 607 minutes together (a pretty significant amount), and got outscored pretty badly. Their defense in those lineups would have ranked last in the league, giving up plenty of points at the rim and rebounding extremely poorly, grabbing just 71.9% of the defensive rebounds, which would have ranked 28th in the league.

This season, if they replace Marion with Aminu in those lineups, my guess is they’ll see much better defensive results for a few reasons.

First, Aminu is a much better defensive rebounder than Marion (21.3% vs. 16.9% last season) and in small ball lineups, Aminu’s percentages will increase. Next, Aminu is much more athletic than Marion, especially with Marion getting older. Aminu is just 23 years old, and his freakish athleticism is a big part of what landed him in the lottery in the first place. Lastly, Aminu is definitely big enough to step into this role. Listed at 6’9″ with a huge 7’3″ wingspan, Aminu could realistically defend most power forwards, especially since he’ll be coming off the bench and Carlisle can exploit matchups however he sees fit. This also means he has way more potential as a shot blocker and help defender. In addition, having Tyson anchor these units will be helpful.

Between Parsons and Aminu Dallas will not only be able to replace Marion’s production, they will be much better in both big and small lineups with their new young players.

It’s also worth mentioning that Jae Crowder was a sneaky dominant defender last year, and any time they find themselves in a matchup against a dominant wing he will definitely be on the floor. Dallas will have a ton of versatility on the wings this season, and they have a lot of talented young players that still have room for development.

The only real question mark for the Mavs heading into next season is their point guard play. Right now it looks like they will have a three headed monster including Devin Harris, and a couple of new faces in Raymond Felton and Jameer Nelson. Jose Calderon was very good for the team offensively last season, but giving him up to bring in Tyson Chandler was probably a good bet, especially considering Ellis’ emergence as a dominant pick and roll guard.

If the Mavs can get solid production from one of these guys they have to be happy, but I think all three have potential to contribute. In fact, this trio actually has an interesting blend of skills, as they all play different roles on the court. Nelson is a shooter, Felton is a penetrator, and Harris is by far the best of the three defensively. This will allow them to mix and match if necessary depending on the matchups.

In terms of the newcomers, I think we’ll have to wait and see what happens. They were both in pretty bad situations last season and as a result neither played very well. I mean, if you’re on a lottery team in the East, things clearly could be going better. Orlando simply wasn’t trying to win, and the fact that the Knicks were actually trying to win says a lot about that situation.

I think that both players could be salvageable in Rick Carlisle’s system, but I think that Nelson could be particularly useful due to his experience and shooting ability. Playing with this group of players will generate a lot more open looks for him than he’s experienced in recent seasons, and he could end up having a solid year. Felton is a little bit more of a question mark, but running the pick and pop with Dirk can have a definite positive impact on any player’s career so for now I’m optimistic about the situation. This is definitely something to keep tabs on going forward.

The Mavs do need another power forward to fill out the roster after voiding Rashard Lewis’ contract, but it’s possible they may end up signing him after his surgery anyway, which I think would be a solid addition. Lewis obviously isn’t the player he once was, but he can still stretch the floor. This is extremely important as was made clear by his role on the Heat in last year’s playoffs.

The success of every team ultimately comes down to injuries and unpredictable circumstances, but from the information available right now, it seems like people are severely underrating the Mavs. As long as Dirk stays healthy they will make the playoffs, but if the players around him perform well and they can generally avoid major injuries, I think this is at least a 50 win team with a ceiling between 56-58 wins if everything breaks right.

This year’s Mavs team will be much deeper and much more versatile than last year’s. As I have already noted, they have a versatile trio of point guards that will allow them to match up with any team while also giving them the opportunity to mix and match with different lineups.

On the wing they have Parsons, Jae Crowder, Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson, giving them a good balance between shooting (Parsons, Jefferson), defense (Crowder, Aminu) rebounding (Aminu) and athleticism (Parsons, Aminu, Crowder).

The Mavs aren’t quite as deep up front but between Nowitzki, Chandler and Wright they will have a good mix of offense and defense, especially since Nowitzki can space the floor as a full time power forward.

Basically, the Mavs have a lot of options, and with a coach like Rick Carlisle, this is a team that can really take advantage.

With Dirk taking almost a 15 million dollar pay cut this offseason, the team had the flexibility to add the pieces they needed while keeping their core (and their superstar) intact. In my opinion, Dirk’s pay cut was the final piece of the puzzle, giving the Mavericks a good shot at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs next season, and with that, a seat at the table in the title conversation.

Obviously it’s early, but heading into the playoffs next season, the Mavs may be a part of a completely different conversation than they were last year. Right now the Mavs are following an entirely new and unique blueprint for short term team building, and at this point, it seems like it’s working.

*All stats per NBA.com unless otherwise noted

Follow me on Twitter @The_Reversal

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