Mavnalysis: The $39-Mil Mavs Beat Detroit
Let's note the obvious: the Dallas Mavericks entered Saturday in a state of disarray. After Wednesday's 101-78 loss, the team was on a three-game losing streak, with two of those losses by more than 20 points. But more disconcerting is the fact that it's hard to find a team "strength" for them to build on.
Big man rotation? What was expected to be a strength has been anything but. Kaman has scored consistently but hasn't been very good on defense, Brand, with Saturday marking a rare exception, has struggled on both ends of the floor, and youngsters Wright and James have struggled to play well enough to merit regular minutes. Veteran Troy Murphy, added to bolster the group with shooting and rebounding, has been proficient at neither and has now been waived.
Rebounding? Horrendous. Overall the team sits 29th in rebounding, and is awful at both offensive rebounding (29th) and defensive board work (26th).
Defense? Terrible. Near the bottom of the league (25th) in defensive efficiency.
Offense? So-so, at 15th.
Turnovers? So-so, at 15th.
Assists? So-so, at 13th.
Point guard play and floor generalship? It's been so ragged that the team is adding 38-year-old Derek Fisher as a veteran stopgap to try to help.
Given all of that, some of what happened in Saturday's 92-77 victory at the AAC over the Pistons is a surprise, including Brand scoring 17 points in 28 minutes and Darren Collison coming off the bench (in support of Fisher-as-starter) for eight assists. Thumbs up to DC for reacting positively to a situation with which he is unhappy. Thumbs up to Brand for getting in a groove that also featured four blocks and 12 rebounds.
And, given the unsettled nature of things, maybe another big surprise is that the Mavs have been able to fashion an 8-9 record with such mediocre production. ("Mediocre'' with the exception of O.J. Mayo, who scored 27 here - 24 in the second half.)
So why is this team performing so poorly ... or, certainly, so inconsistently? I'd suggest it's because, in a league where the vast majority of teams field $60-70 million rosters, the Mavs have been competing so far this season with less than a $39 million set of players. In other words, based on the value reflected in the contracts, they're almost always out-talented by a wide margin. For example, the Bulls - even without injured star Rose - had almost $60M worth of talent at their disposal in their blowout win over Dallas on Wednesday evening against the Mavs' $39M crew.
Of course that disparity doesn't doom the Mavs to necessarily lose each game; the Pistons' talent doesn't necessarily override Dallas', especially when somebody like Brand plays like he's capable.
"This was vintage Brand,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "Elton's effort was enormous.''
Brand is an example of a player who can play better than his Dallas salary would suggest, coaches can find ways to wring better production out of less talent, and the whole can somehow be more than the sum of its parts. And the 8-9 record, for a $39M-of-talent team playing in a $60-70M team world, would certainly suggest these guys are finding ways to win more than maybe they should. But the $60-70M teams have players who can also play better than expected, so while we hope for wins, we have to be realistic about the hand that's been dealt here.
Is there any realistic hope for something better? Sure. At some point, the Mavs expect to have the infusion of $21M worth of added talent in the form of Dirk. He'll fill the gaping hole at PF (so huge that at times, the Mavs have resorted to using Vince Carter at the position). He'll help with the rebounding. He'll make them more effective in the offensive half-court, in closing games, and his ability to score will allow them to play a more defensive-oriented lineup at other positions. He'll force defenses to focus on him, making it easier for the others to score.
While he's only one player, the ripple effect will make a tremendous difference.
But for now? It might not be pretty. With half the talent cost-wise, there will be plenty of nights of David against Goliath. (Next example is the next game, Wednesday at the Clippers. And the Mavericks play six of their next seven on the road.) We can, and should, demand focus and excellence, but let's recognize the uphill battle for what it is.
This team desperately needs not a Derek (two points on 1-of-8 shooting and three assists), but rather a Dirk, to get well soon ... so at least David is armed with his slingshot.
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