Based on those conversations, here are some consensus opinions I've found (and these are simply opinions). Some fall directly in line with what one would expect, while others may offer a small amount of surprise.
Here's a collection of NBA talent evaluators' thoughts, meshed with mine, at the one-third mark of the 23-5 Mavs' season:
1. Doubt in the team is real.
Some may have noticed the three teams listed by Dwayne Wade after a near loss to Washington ;ast Saturday night, when he compared the Heat's winning execution down the stretch to what "the other leading teams'' are able to do. In order, he referenced the Celtics, Lakers and Spurs.
No mention of the Mavericks … despite the fact that they hold the third best record in the NBA and had already beaten the Heat once at that time. (And then, beat Miami again 48 hours after Wade's assessment.)
This wasn't likely a submission to the limits of the allotted time, or an accidental omission (though that is possible). Rather, it falls in line with an "I'll believe it when I see it" philosophy many of the professional basketball minds I've spoken with in regards to the Mavs.
Meaning, when the current success is duplicated in the playoffs, their belief will follow … but not before.
2. The defense looks very strong … for stretches.
Invariably, the answers given to me for the "why'' question above find their way down two paths:
History and defense.
As of last Sunday, with 26 games in the books, the Mavs were fifth in the league in both points allowed per game and opponents' field-goal percentage, and sixth in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) … and have held steady in these areas for the duration of the season.
Still, questions remain over the team's ability to build upon, or sustain, this level of defensive play.
Again, much of this reasoning explained to me came on the basis of past results in combination with inconsistent performances over the course of entire games this season. The defense dominates portions of games, but rarely seems to dominate from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
Fair or not, those questions linger in the minds of those NBA scouting types I've spoken with.
Beyond the personnel, and recent history, one strength of the Dallas defense also remains somewhat of an uncertainty in their eyes:
How effective can the zone be as its exposure grows, particularly once the playoffs arrive?
Due to the relative rarity of its implementation, many teams do not focus on attacking a zone during their regular-season practices, making it all the more difficult to face. However, were a team to find itself matched up with the Mavs for a playoff series, they would undoubtedly devout extra time towards studying and defeating the Dallas zone.
Of course, in my eyes, this does leave some wiggle room. Knowing how to attack a defense doesn't necessarily grant the ability to do so effectively.
3. Doubt in Dirk is not real.
We've all noticed the lack of attention Dirk Nowitzki receives in the national media. It's also hard to deny his continued neglect in the popularity contest that is the NBA All-Star voting by the fans.
For the most part, I've gathered that this neglect is born in and housed solely in fans and in some branches of the media. Among those that must oppose him, and those comprising their organizations, the level of respect for what Dirk is capable of on the court is high.
He isn't gathering time on highlight reels with high-flying dunks, and isn't leaving players on their asses with incredible crossovers. Thus, he is often kept from the sightline of many fans when he is left off of clip-based TV shows.
Where it matters most, though, doubt in The UberMan does not exist.
4. JJ Barea fills a need none others appear capable of or willing to.
Given his stature and his propensity to pound the air out of the ball, JJ Barea can be an easy target at times … especially when he's shooting 3-pointers at his current success rate. We've all chronicled his weaknesses and shuttered at the thought of a Jason Terry/Barea defensive combo.
The weaknesses are real, but so are the strengths he brings to the table.
How it's been expressed to me: Unlike what any other Dallas player has done in the recent past, Barea continues to consistently attack the rim. This ability, and the unfailing desire to employ it, is a trait opposing teams are aware of, and respect as a positive contribution to this roster.
Within that opinion is no statement or response to the debate over his usage, or the level of reliance placed upon him. There is only the expression of a simple fact: Barea does something this team needs, and he's the only one to consistently do so.
This skill is useful. It fills a need. And, it's a must for this roster.
Of course, therein exists a problem with his production thus far this season. If he continues to fail to convert his open 3-point attempts, defenses will begin to sag off of him and take away those chances to get inside. In order to continue to do what he does best, he must find his form from distance.
5. No one knows what to expect from Roddy B, but the hype isn't only a local phenomenon.
Roddy Beaubois is no longer an anonymous foreign player hiding beneath the radar of opponents. He has been recognized as a special talent loaded with potential. When you speak his name to members of visiting organizations, there is no quizzical raise of the eyebrow, and no questioning stare.
Instead, those I've spoken to are keenly aware of his abilities, and of the dramatic impact he could make on this team. Yet, he remains somewhat of an enigma.
Speaking of potential, you've heard the story relayed by Nancy Lieberman to Fish with the point being, "Potential means you ain't done shit."
This is true. How Roddy B will fit on this roster and in the current rotation is a bit of a mystery. We've seen flashes of what he can do, and found ourselves drooling over the possibilities. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, he hasn't done enough to trust with certainty what he will bring once healthy.
Just as fans dream of the possibilities resting in the talent Roddy B carries, opposing teams either fear or at the least recognize it as a factor that could determine just how far this team can go … and could play a significant role in how much it will differ from those in the past. They see it, but just like the rest of us, they don't yet know precisely what it will become.
The threat he brings is real in their minds, but it's yet to be accepted as certainty.
In the end, the State of the Mavs in the eyes of other NBA talent-evaluators likely rests in the general vicinity of where you'd expect. Regardless of the change over in the roster, the haunts of the past will not be discarded by a strong start, or even another strong regular season. This team will define itself in the playoffs, and will either be more of the same … or something brand new.
Here's to hoping for a little of both.