Premature Southwest Division Preview: Dallas Mavericks


May 5, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle talks with guard Jason Terry (31) during the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder during game four of the 2012 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Dallas MavericksRecord: 36-30Offensive rating: 103.3 — 22ndDefensive rating: 102.3 — 8thPace: 91.4 — 12theFG%: 48.9% — 15thDefensive eFG%: 47.9% — 8th

Burning question: Will Dallas beat out New Jersey (err … Brooklyn) for Deron Williams?

Deron Williams is the consensus prize in this years free agency pool. After toiling through two seasons in hapless New Jersey, Williams probably won’t be content to re-sign with the Nets unless they make legitimate changes to their roster. While Williams was busy averaging 21 points and 8.7 rebounds to no avail — New Jersey won a mere 31% of their games since the 2010-11 season — Dallas was busy upending the favored Miami Heat in the NBA Finals and making the playoffs the subsequent year.

If you can’t tell, there is an obvious disparity between the two franchises. The Dallas Mavericks win. The New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn), well, don’t. Since the Eastern Conference isn’t as taxing, Brooklyn does have the opportunity to build an imposing juggernaut and storming through the playoffs undeterred while Dallas doesn’t exactly have that luxury. The problem is … that it’s very hard to build a successful basketball team. Coupled with poor planning — the abominable decision to trade their 2012 top-3 protected first round pick for 16 games of 11-year veteran Gerald Wallace heads that list — and a dearth of talent, Brooklyn doesn’t have much hope.

Did I mention that Deron Williams grew up in the Dallas area? No? Did I also mention that Dallas will be unloading upwards of $30 million of cap space (and possibly more)? If I was a betting man, I would pick Deron Williams to choose Dallas. If he values winning, revitalizing the career of Dirk Nowitzki and getting out of a tenuous situation, that is.

Of course, the NY Daily News reported a couple of days ago that Jason Kidd is interested in backing up Williams in Brooklyn.

“My days of playing 38 minutes are over,” said Kidd, 39, adding that he’d be okay with being a backup for     the first time in his career. “We (Williams and I) could play off each other and hopefully be successful.”

So there’s that, too.

Williams’ decision will either A) vault Dallas into a title contender again or B) instill hope into a bigger market, thus earning more national recognition. You know, no pressure.

May 3, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) rests on the bench during game three in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the American Airlines Center. The Thunder defeated the Mavericks 95-79. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Player(s) to watch: Dirk Nowitzki.

Dirk Nowitzki is in a similar boat to Kobe, KG and Duncan. Aging, yet still hugely productive, superstars at the tail end of their careers. Adding a player of Deron Williams’ caliber can alleviate the immense burden on his shoulders. For the 2011-12 season, at least, Dirk seemed mortal.

As mortal as 21.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game can be, I guess. What should alarm Mavericks fans is Dirk’s declining efficiency this season. He shot 45.7% from the field, his lowest shooting percentage since the 1998-99 season. Nowitzki also saw his rebounding and propensity to draw fouls decrease. It wasn’t his best season yet when you juxtapose his production against 90% of the league, you realize just how great Dirk is.

Dirk only scored 1.01 points per possession, ranking 43rd, compared to 1.08 last year. He only made 46% of his mid-range attempts this year. Last year that was up to 53%. Perception is what dominates our minds, leaving us susceptible to false or irrational conclusions. Dirk didn’t play as well as we are accustomed to.

But let’s just get this straight: Nowitzki is still a damn good player. He’s still capable of dominating a game. For this reason, his next season should be rather intriguing especially if Dallas improves their team this offseason.

Important statistic: Dallas’ pick-and-roll defense.

How a team manages to sustain their effectiveness defensively while losing one of the premier defensive players in the league is beyond me. But that’s exactly what happened in Dallas this season. Losing this years Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler, should have reduced their effectiveness. Only it didn’t.

Chandler’s omnipresence did improve the Knicks’ defense drastically. What makes Chandler so effective, besides his shot blocking, is that he is able to disrupt any pick-and-roll because of his length and mobility. Not many big men are capable of surviving on the perimeter against faster guards.

Losing Chandler and substituting Brendan Haywood is a huge net loss defensively. At least in theory. But, I guess, that’s why they play the games. Dallas limited the ball handler in the pick-and-roll to 0.74 PPP, ranking 4th. Ball handlers struggled tremendously against Dallas, shooting 38.2% and turning the ball over continuously. It may be a statistical anomaly or a telling sign that, irrespective to individual talents, the Mavericks can still play elite defense.