Mavs Donuts: The Experiment. And The Ring.
DONUT 1: While taking stock of your Dallas Mavericks' place amongst title contenders in the NBA, Zach Lowe of SI.com recently called the Mavs ''the biggest mystery in the league.''
The record is good. But the mystery lingers.
At nearly the quarter mark of the season, who are these Mavericks? How did they get here? And where are they going? Some of these can't be fully answered currently because we are in the midst of an unprecedented journey with these Mavs: they are the rare champion whose roster was drastically altered by the change of rules and a change in direction from the front office.
But we can try.
DONUT 2: How Did We Get Here? This storyline has been well-examined here at DallasBasketball.com, but allow me the briefest of rehashings. ...
The rules of the game changed. Big spendeing (historically, the Dallas front office's fastball) would be punished far more harshly than previously. Simultaneously, Dallas had a significant portion of its roster hitting free agency, most of which had just played themselves into a well-deserved raise. Had they followed standard operating procedure for defending champions, Dallas would have re-signed as many of their own free agents as possible and let it ride with the current roster as long as possible in pursuit of more championships.
If it didn't work? Who would blame them? TY and that gang "earned the chance'' to defend their title, right? And earned that money, too.
DONUT 3: Instead, the Triangle of Trust bailed out one year early.
We have little doubt that last season's roster retained would have been highly successful this year after getting over 11x50-sized championship hangover. But a) the Mavs look pretty smart at center right now with Big Wood and The Ianimal. Mahinmi and Haywood give us a terrific one-two punch at the center position,'' Carlisle says. Ans b) Had they kept TY, is that a guaranteed champ? And what about two to three years from now?
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DONUT 5: So can we accept that there were no guarantees with the other direction?
And then factor this in, of course, as this is the largest point of all: On the horizon too, are two very big fish that are about to be free agents, and with a few tweaks (and a great deal of good fortune) Dallas can land them both.
It's called the "3D Blueprint.'' It's a very real thing.
And that's where the organization is at. In pursuit of the rarely-congruent goals of championship defense and financial flexibility in a coming SuperTeam Era, out went Chandler, Butler and JJB and in comes Odom, Carter and West. All on financially-friendly deals, all theoretically capable of playing at a high level.
DONUT 6: That only answers the question of where the organization is at. Still unanswered, one-quarter into this season, is "What is it that has been created?'' That's the big question, and it's the Big Experiment. Can a roster that is destined to be scattered at season's end compete for a title now after most of the roster just won their first?
DONUT 7: Who are these Mavs?
With a unique mix of too old and too young, a little too lax and a little too crazy, and a whole lot of players who play multiple positions, these Mavs are truly a "mystery.''
That's even more applicable now during the "Dirk-Out Workout.'' The roster age is a seesaw, as aside from Delonte West, everyone on the Mavs roster either has four or less years of NBA experience or more than 10. They are led by the oldest starting guard ever to win a title, and by historical standards of age, should have been put out to pasture years ago. They also boast a high-quality, highly-versatile front court in Dirk, Marion and Odom, but only Marion is excelling. They have four seven-footers on the roster, a clear corner of that market, and maybe that can work for them.
DONUT 8: Sidebar: Follow the Timberwolves at Mavs game tonight on Twitter with the Mavs Twitterverse!
DONUT 9: OK, back to our thesis paper:
The numbers paint an even odder picture.
Somehow, after losing two of their top three defenders from last year and the guy that drew the second-most charges in the league (JJB), the defense has gotten better. Part of that is the lockout's effect on offenses, as shooting percentage and total points per game are significantly down from last year while pace has remained nearly the same. However, the Mavs are top-five in nearly every defensive category that matters, and that doesn't happen by a system-wide trend alone.
Even more bonkers is how bad Dallas is on the other end of the floor. Dallas is bottom-third in the league in points per game and three-point shooting. They are now merely an average shooting team from the floor. Further, they have fallen to the middle of the pack in assists, the category in which they were second in the league last season.
Did you ever think you would live long enough to see the Mavs try and survive while their offense was propped up by the defense?
We know this offense pivots about the efficiency and dominance of Dirk. Thus far, he hasn't been the player we saw outshine Kobe, Durant, and Miami's Big 2.5. As a one-superstar team, Dallas is built on Dirk being the best player on the floor, when he's not, everyone else's looks get tougher.
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DONUT 11: So ...Where Are They Going?
Given the roster turnover and the compressed schedule, the Mavericks' identity has yet to crystalize. As we saw last year, the magic formula will include some combination of Dirk, offensive cohesion and a situationally-excellent defense at minimum. Oh, and a fair bit of luck, as nobody wins a title without it.
More mystery: The Mavs generally will go as far as Dirk's brilliance takes them. So ... when is Dirk going to be brilliant again? While it's historically safe to expect great things from him, if he is not operating at his best, Dallas will add another level of mystery to how it can possibly succeed.
To do that, those around him must compliment his strengths while mitigating his weaknesses. Is there someone on this roster who has the ability to make such a season-altering impact?
What if this team will also go as far as Lamar Odom allows it to go?
Odom is a singular talent that can do things few other in the league can. As the third or fourth best player on a team, his contributions can pave the way to a championship. He possesses a rare combination of length, passing ability and a shooters touch that have made him a tantalizing talent his entire career. His talent level is on par with the departed Chandler, though in different areas, and his potential represents the best hope Dallas has of repeating. Further, he is the only one on this roster who has the experience of successfully defending a championship.
Thus far, he has been frustratingly inconsistent and the Mavericks have amassed an 11-7 record largely by beating teams they are supposed to while struggling against teams with winnings records (OKC and Utah are the only teams with winning records Dallas has beaten). LO's play has mirrored the Mavs as a whole: talented enough to consistently beat lesser opponents, but without the chemistry to yet best the more cohesive contenders.
And let's just come out and say it: We fear that LO's funk is the result of him becoming aware of the 3D Blueprint. That he feels "unwanted'' again. And that in the end, getting his head screwed on straight will be Rick Carlisle's greatest -- and most potentially rewarding -- challenge during his four years here.
DONUT 12: This team is on pace to finish with the 50-win percentage-equivalent at 61 percent. What Dallas lacks is a chemistry of sorts. No, not a "the-guys-don't-get-along'' chemistry. Rather, it's something to be fixed to increase the assist numbers, to find LO's fit, to formulate a rotation and to make Dirk the hub of the wheel ... all from a roster full of probable short-timers being asked to come together as one to capture glory before being scattered in pursuit of bigger and better.
Well, there is a ring on the finger. And there is an ongoing experiment in search of another.
Greg Frederick is our DB.com Mavs Suite Night winner … Thanks to Signs Etc and Make It Graphic for making it happen!