It’s 62 games into the season, they boast a 40-22 record that looks pretty stout, and yet what do we REALLY know about these Dallas Mavericks and their playoff chances? The answer would seem to be: Not a whole lot.
The Mavericks had hoped that by making their big move early by acquiring Rajon Rondo in mid-December, they would have some answers by now. But when Rondo broke his orbital socket in Orlando on January 31, it set the stage for a very unsettling February. Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler have both missed time because of injuries, and Monta Ellis, who hasn’t missed any significant time besides the LA Clippers game when he was injured four minutes in, hasn’t been his normal explosive self.
Indeed, the Mavericks starting five (credit to Bryan Gutierrez of the Mavs Outsider Report for this) have only played a grand total of 28 minutes together since February 1. Figuring that those five are going to be playing anywhere from 32-35 minutes (and in Ellis’ case maybe 38-40) when the playoffs start, the Mavericks are behind in developing the cohesion that it would appear they need to make the long run they have in mind.
The bench has had its moments, especially their 51 point night against the Rockets, but too often it has been a hit and miss affair with maybe one or two guys playing well – but rarely all five playing well on the same night.
So what’s missing? Many have slotted Rondo as the scapegoat for the drop-off in offense since the trade, and while clearly there are issues that need smoothing out, the offense has struggled when he hasn’t played (broken face, suspension or otherwise). The addition of Amar’e Stoudemire shows real promise, but his inability to play back to back games really hurt the Mavericks when Chandler sat out in Atlanta. You’d like to have him battling Marreese Speights in Oakland on Friday night in a battle of scoring bigs off the bench, but it’s again it’s unclear if he’ll play (fortunately there aren’t any back to backs in the post season). Parsons has been streaky, but ultimately solid. The same can be said for Devin Harris coming off the bench. Yet in the end, after all that, it comes down to two players- Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis.
The way Dirk played in November, averaging 19.4 points on 49.6 percent shooting and 37.2 percent from three point range, there was nothing to suggest that he would ultimately have a year unlike any since his second year in the NBA. However, since then, he’s averaged 17 points on 44.8 percent shooting and 33.6 percent from three point land, decidedly pedestrian by his standards. Father time, it appears has had Dirk spend more time on the perimeter; indeed his average distance per shot of 16.8 feet (thank you Basketball-Reference.com) is the longest of his career. Shooting more jumpers results in taking fewer free throws. Given that Dirk is a nearly 89 percent free throw shooter, he’s giving up some points by shooting just 3.8 free throws per game.
Monta Ellis has shown us he can be an elite finisher in tight games (a tremendous skill to have at any time and especially in the playoffs). But what happens when there isn’t crunch time? Ellis, if you don’t count the four minutes he played against the Clippers before leaving with his injured hip, averaged just 16.2 points in February (he’s averaging 19.4 for the season). He shot just 39 percent from the floor and 27 percent from deep.
The struggles of Dirk and Ellis are not so much an issue of Rondo or the other guards knowing where to get them the ball, but rather, in many cases, simply missing open shots and layups from pet spots on the floor. Shots that the Mavericks are counting on them to make. The Mavericks defense has been good enough lately, and indeed, at times, the defense has been stellar. But it is the offense that needs to perk up. If it does, with Dirk and Monta playing at an accustomed level, then we’ll know exactly what the Mavericks have – a team that just might be good enough to do some serious damage in April and May.