Inconsistency, fatigue and uncertainty have marked a disappointing start of the 2011-2012 season for the reigning champion Dallas Mavericks. Standing at a dismal 3-5 through two weeks, it seems as if the erratic Dallas Cowboys have plagued their basketball counterparts. It’s impossible to predict which Mavericks will show up: the one that trounced Oklahoma City by 13 to give the Thunder their first loss of the season, or the one that collapsed to lowly Minnesota and lost by 17 points.
Despite the unpredictability of this revamped squad, a few things are clear from the Mavericks’ unusual start on their quest for a repeat.
However, centers Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi have been a pleasantly efficient surprise. Haywood has a sense of defensive vigor that Mavs fans have not seen from him before. Without Chandler, Dallas is averaging only 0.3 fewer blocks per game. Haywood’s work on the offensive boards has also been a bright spot for the Mavericks, as he averages 2.9 offensive rebounds in 20.4 minutes a game.
Backup center Mahinmi has stepped up to his role as well, even showing flashes of offensive potential that surpass Chandler’s abilities. Mahinmi has the ability to create his own shots and finish with a soft touch, whereas Chandler consistently relied on offensive boards or had others facilitate an open dunk for him. So far, Mahinmi has doubled his scoring average to 7.5 points on 70% shooting in less than 20 minutes a game. His best game was a 19-point output against the Raptors on 6-for-6 shooting.
Both centers have offered their strongest efforts in filling the Chandler void. By combining for 12.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game, they suggest that the center position is not the reason why the Mavericks have started off so slowly.
Along with the departure of Tyson Chandler, the loss of point guard J.J. Barea to Minnesota in free agency also left Mavericks fans unsettled in the offseason. The absence of his speed and resiliency, however, has been replaced with the toughness and intensity of point guard Delonte West.
Barea’s shortfall was on the defensive end, where he relied on drawing offensive fouls rather than contesting shots, which is an understandably difficult endeavor for a 6-foot guard. West, on the other hand, plays with an intense defensive style similar to former Maverick DeShawn Stevenson. That being said, his role also parallels that of Stevenson last year—West starts games, but he hardly sees much meaningful action past the first half.
West provides a boost of energy that needs to be injected into this easily fatigued Mavs squad. Hopefully he’ll continue to prove his worth in the midst of Jason Kidd’s back injury and eventually earn more respect from coach Rick Carlisle.
Despite their mediocre record, Dallas remains one of the deepest teams in the league. They rank first in the NBA in bench scoring, averaging 46 points per game. It could easily be even higher, as Jason Terry, Lamar Odom and Vince Carter all have the offensive prowess to score upwards of 15 to 18 points a game off the bench.
Unfortunately, the efforts of the bench have not resulted in victories, because the Mavericks’ starters rank last in the NBA with a 46.7-point average on 43.7% shooting. This lack of productivity translates into dismal starts, and the Mavericks consequently trail by an average of 8.5 points after the first half.
To avoid such tiring, uphill battles every game, Carlisle should insert Odom or Terry into the starting lineup and relegate Delonte West or Shawn Marion to the second unit.
Last year, the Mavericks did an excellent job taking teams out of their rhythm by alternating between an airtight man-to-man defense and a unique zone defense. A lot of the credit must be given to former assistant coach Dwane Casey, who shaped the defensive culture of the team. His reputation landed him a head coaching job in Toronto, but his departure hasn’t left the Mavericks reeling.
This year, Dallas has actually increased their steal average from 6.8 to 10.0 per game, good for second in the league. Their zone, which generally makes its appearance at least once a game, still catches teams off guard, but with a heavy revamp of the roster, it will take a while until the whole system is as effective as it was last year.
As the players grow more comfortable playing a half-court defense alongside each other, their opponents’ scoring average will dip eventually. Dallas needs to focus instead on fixing its offense, as the team currently shoots an unacceptable 41.2% from the field. Bad shooting provokes easy transition offense from their opponents, and the Mavericks allow the fourth-most fast-break points in the league.
As a rookie in 2009, Roddy Beaubois showed flashes of brilliance, including a 40-point explosion against the Golden State Warriors when he drained nine three-pointers. During that season, many Mavs fans clamored that he would be the next star of the Mavericks, calling out Coach Carlisle for limiting his time on the court and holding back his development.
A left foot injury hasn’t helped, as Beaubois was limited during the entire championship run last year. However, his return from his injury has been less than glorious, as he's averaging 3.9 points on 28.1% shooting. His athletic ability and quickness are evident, but he plays like an undersized 2. His height and agility suggest an ideal point-guard frame, but he hasn’t displayed the penetrating and passing ability of a facilitator. Instead, his playing style suggests that he wants to develop an undersized 2 game like Jason Terry's, but he hasn’t showed his ability to consistently knock down jump shots the way Jet does.
Whether you blame his underachievement on the head coach, on his injury, or on his own efforts, we're hard-pressed to put much confidence in the third-year player we once called a future star. With management looking to snag Deron Williams in free agency next year, it’s safe to say that the team shares the same sentiments.
Through the first two weeks of the season, the Mavericks have failed to display the same conviction that they showed in playoffs last year. A tough and rigorous game schedule has definitely been an obstacle, but it’s no excuse for their losses, as they are still 3-2 in the second game of back-to-backs, including their impressive win over the Thunder.
On the other hand, they looked completely lost against the San Antonio Spurs, which was also the second game of a back-to-back. Five minutes into the game, the Mavericks already trailed by 15 points, even though their bitter divisional rivals played without Manu Ginobili. Their body language hardly suggested that they even cared that they put up a mere 42 points through three quarters.
After two blowouts on their home court, the Mavs should have more fire to make up for those embarrassing losses, but such spirit is nowhere to be seen. The Mavericks look like they believe they will eventually gel in the latter end of the season like last year, but there is no room for complacency in this 66-game season. Pathetic blowouts every week will send them backward and leave Mavericks fans wondering whether they should just check out and use this season as a break before trying again next season.