Friday Mavs Donuts: The 1/6th Mark
DONUT 1: This season was never had a chance to be normal.
Not with the lockout, shortened preseason, and a grand total of TWO preseason games, only one of which Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd even played in. And now Kidd is about to miss his fourth straight game with a bad back (he won't go against the Bucks tonight but will try it for Saturday at home against the Kings.) No, this season never had that sort of chance but even so, one would think the Mavericks would have some kind of identity at the one-sixth mark of the regular season.
So ... do they?
DONUT 2: Granted, the Mavs have had a lot of roster turnover to deal with over the last few months, making the 6-5 record a bit more understandable, but should the defending champs returning most of their key pieces really have a minus-5 point differential per 100 possessions (before the Boston game)?
In short, the best way to define this team's season so far is to note the inconsistency.
In a day of such advanced statistics and sabermetrics and "Moneyball'' being up for Oscars, it's almost become a rarity that stats completely back up what you think you are seeing in a game. That's not the case so far for the 2011-2012 Dallas Mavericks. If the Mavs' play has felt a tad uncomfortable to you so far this year, then you're right. In addition to the actual play on the court, team and individual statistics veer all over the map.
DONUT 3: Let's start from the top. This awkward offseason has had a big effect on Dirk so far and his up and down shooting performances reflect that. Before a big night in Detroit, Dirk was shooting only 44 percent on the season. That percentage is brought drastically down by nights where he was 3-of-11 and 2-of-11, nearly unheard of shooting nights from The UberMan. Even though a tremendous 9-of-10 shooting night in Detroit raised Dirk's shooting percentage to 47 percent on the year, his performances have the look of a guy who is still finding comfort on the court, but is too talented not to put up numbers even in spite of himself.
DONUT 4: Think back to the first few games after Nowitzki returned from a strained knee last year and you'll find a little bit of what is currently taking place with him. He was ejected in his first game back after only 15 minutes again Memphis, mostly due to frustration. In his second game back, Dirk had a monster 32-point game which was padded a bit by going 4-for-7 from the three-point line in a bad loss to Detroit.
Statistically Dirk was back, but he didn't yet trust himself to do everything that he normally does to help the Mavs win. Dirk went on to shoot 36 percent over the next five games until he ultimately found himself for the rest of the season. During that stretch where Dirk was hurt/finding himself, many buried the Mavericks' hope for the season in which they eventually went on to win the franchise's first championship.
Additionally, mixed in that losing span last year was a game where Dirk shot 7-of-24 against the Nets, but still managed to come through in the closing seconds in New Jersey to make it 87-86 and secure the game winning basket for his reeling team. On Wednesday, Dirk only shot 11 times and struggled much of the night, but came through in the closing seconds with the game winning three-point play in Boston. This season seems to be following the same script in more than just a few ways.
DONUT 5: Follow the Mavs vs. Bucks tonight via Twitter!
DONUT 6: Remember, too, coming up later today: NBA scout Kyle Leath provides an NBA-quality Advanced Scouting report on the game, complete with details on "How The Mavs Can Beat Milwaukee.''
DONUT 7: If this season stays on the path of inconsistency, the lightning rod for criticism will be Lamar Odom.
For the former Laker, that would be nothing new as Odom wore the inconsistency crown during his time in Los Angeles. Everyone from Laker fans up to Phil Jackson would beg for more energy from Odom from night-to-night. After losses, it always seemed to be Odom who didn't leave it all on the floor when the Lakers needed it most (until it famously became Pau Gasol at the hands of Nowitzki in last year's playoffs). That kind of frustration stems from high expectations for a player of many considerable talents on the court.
So far, his first season in Dallas has been an extension of his career and has been a solid parallel of the Mavs' performance overall.
DONUT 8: Odom's currently shooting 31 percent, which is actually a massive improvement over his performance of 13 percent shooting over the first four games. His career has always been up and down, flashes of brilliance mixed with games where he seems indifferent and uncaring. Slowly -- too slowly? -- Odom is breaking through his shocking series of poor performances thus far in Dallas by displaying the all-around game he is capable of, most recently proven the other night in Detroit by filling the box score with five points, seven rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes. To Odom's credit, he started the season so close to rock bottom that it was nearly impossible for him to go anywhere but up.
That's a crafty, veteran move by Lamar. Touche.
DONUT 9: L.O. made a big 3 in the Boston game and was given praise by Rick ... praise that seemed like it was mostly about providing a hug to a guy who needs it. You read the SI.com story on Odom and you see there are reasons for Odom's funk, as discussed here. Premium stuff about Lamar's eggs and his basket and his pysche. But as Fish said on FSSW the other night: Do you pat Odom's butt? Or do you kick it?
DONUT 10: The biggest worry for Mavs fans coming into the season was on the defensive end with the losses of Tyson Chandler and the President Obama-certified crazy DeShawn Stevenson.
Initially, the worry was justified when they allowed 108 points per game in their first three contests. And since then? The Mavericks have allowed just 88.3 points per game.
Considering the Mavs are a .500 team and have already been left for dead by a few media types, I bet you didn't know their defense had been that stingy over the last eight games. The progress defensively is significant.
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DONUT 12: So let's recap, shall we?
The Mavericks have had a few glaring issues so far this season. Two of them were on the offensive end.
Dirk, as a scorer and facilitator, hasn't consistently been where it needs to be, but flashes of greatness like providing the game winning basket in Boston are beginning to give more of the normal, solid feel of control to his game.
Dallas continues to wait for Odom to find his niche day by day in this new offense. He started off at the bottom, but he's taken the beginning of this season to find his feet and slowly turn into what the Mavs need from him. (What they need from him, obviously, is to merit him being on the floor to close tight games ... so Brian Cardinal doesn't have to do it, as was the case in Boston.)
Defensively, the contributions of Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, Shawn Marion and Delonte West have quietly turned this into a statistically stout unit.
As Coach Rick Carlisle always stresses, the progression of this team is a "process.'' They've fought through struggles from their superstar, meshed new pieces on offense, endured a personnel overhaul on defense (including Monte Mathis stepping up admirably for the departed Dwane Casey). Despite those challenges, the Mavericks are just one game out of the Southwest division lead. Though it should not be shocking, this veteran team is making the proper adjustments as time goes on.
DONUT 13: The lesson? The "identity'' isn't established yet. A winning record, a chance to own first place in the division after this weekend will have to do. Yes, we are one-sixth of the way through the season ... but this Mavs season never had a chance to be "normal'' and therefore one-sixth cannot be expected to be normal, either.