After a 4-3 start to the season without Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks have managed to run damage control through the first week-and-a-half of the season.
As such, it's time to look at grading each player on the roster through seven games of the 2012-13 season. Among the surprises are O.J. Mayo and Chris Kaman, while Elton Brand has struggled a bit.
Heading into Monday night's game with the Minnesota Timberwolves, team play and sharing the ball have been stalwarts of this group so far. Rick Carlisle has the squad believing it can beat anyone in the league. The loss to the Charlotte Bobcats was really the lone dark spot in what's been a successful start to the season.
All 15 players have been graded through seven games. The list does not include Eddy Curry, who played just two games before being cut in favor of Troy Murphy.
Missing time in both the preseason and the regular season with ankle problems, Rodrigue Beaubois can't stay healthy long enough to make an impact.
He's played in four games so far and been the primary reserve at the point guard position. Despite playing good defense and showing a better understanding of the pick-and-roll than in years past, he's also struggled from the three-point line, shooting just 29 percent after the three-pointer had been the strong point of his game for the first three years of his career.
It's clear Dallas likes the potential of the young guard. He's on thin ice, though, and has a limited opportunity to prove he deserves to be re-signed next year. If he can continue to improve and take pressure off Darren Collison to play 40 minutes a game, then it's been a successful year for the guard from Guadeloupe.
It's clear after six games why the Mavericks envisioned Elton Brand in a reserve role. He's averaging just 6.8 points on 36 percent shooting, and he looks out of place with the starting five.
Brand is still an above-average post defender. He averages a steal, a block and six rebounds per game, so there's plenty of reason to think he'll turn it around on the offensive end. I don't think that will happen until he returns to a reserve role, so Dirk Nowitzki's return can't come soon enough for the former No. 1 overall pick.
Dallas needs to continue to utilize Brand as an enforcer in the paint and in situations around the free-throw line on offense. His time will come as a key component.
No doubt Vince Carter has proven he is a valuable contributor. He's back to his early 2011-12 form, hitting threes with regularity and being one of the closers while Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion are out.
But his shot selection needs to be better, and I don't agree with his role on the second unit. Carter is nothing more than a spot-up shooter and occasional dribble-drive guy at this point in his career. The sooner he learns that, the more effective this offense will be.
Still, he plays a valuable role for this team as a leader and as the only real guy with long-time experience. He gets a passing grade because he's been so hot early on, but if he's taking this many shots when Marion and Nowitzki come back, Dallas is in trouble.
The uber-quick guard has been one of the biggest bright spots so far, but he's been inconsistent the past couple of games after a quick start. If not for a poor game in Charlotte, he'd likely get an A-plus.
As it is, Collison has quickly made fans forget about Jason Kidd—a tall task to accomplish after the feats of the 2011 title team. Collison's quickness and pick-and-roll savvy make him a fan favorite after seven games, and he's quickly becoming a candidate to stick around far after his contract expires at the end of this season.
The rookie quickly earned a rotation spot after a great preseason performance, and he earned coach Rick Carlisle's praise for being a quick learner and always going 100 miles per hour.
Now that Marion is out with a knee injury, Jae Crowder has had to step into the starting lineup while helping to replace the production the Matrix left behind. He's done an admirable job so far, averaging 7.6 points in the last five games.
He's still picking up the speed of the game and figuring out his role in this offense. His shooting percentage has dipped after a quick start, but looking seven games into the season and seeing his production where it is now would have been a big deal through the looking glass.
The rookie from Oregon State has seen action in only four games, and he hasn't done enough to warrant more time in the lineup.
Jared Cunningham had a brief chance for backup PG minutes when Rodrigue Beaubois went down, but it looks like we'll be waiting on him to emerge for the foreseeable future.
The Sarge, as he's come to be known around Dallas parts, has done quite well in limited minutes. Dallas thought enough of the youngster to let Eddy Curry go, and he's played in five out of seven games.
A six-point, nine-rebound effort against the Raptors is Bernard James' highlight so far, but as a 27-year-old, he needs to get acclimated quickly to preserve his NBA career. I think Dallas will continue to use James more and more in an Ian Mahinmi-type role as the season progresses.
With Chris Kaman still injury-prone, he's a good bet to see some time later on this season—even if it means Kaman is resting some down the stretch.
The crafty veteran has seen a spike in playing time over the past two games, but that coincides with a two-game losing streak. Dahntay Jones has only made two shots all season, which is unacceptable for a guy expected to be a three-point shooting threat.
His defense could come into play in a DeShawn Stevenson-type role as the year progresses, but for right now, his role will return to a limited one once Shawn Marion comes back from injury.
If he can start to hit open shots, he might push for playing time behind O.J. Mayo, but two shots made in seven games isn't enough to warrant extended time.
With the team trying to trade him in the preseason, you wouldn't blame Dominique Jones for having a poor attitude toward the season, especially the way athletes are after troubles appear (see: Lamar Odom).
When Beaubois went down with an ankle injury, Jones picked up the slack, taking over the primary guard minutes behind Darren Collison. Jones did quite well in that role as a distributor and facilitator, but still has trouble shooting the ball effectively.
He'll never be a role player unless he develops a jumper. Dallas seems content on giving up on his development, making him a free agent after the season is over. It's likely he's auditioning for new teams, so everything the Mavs get out of him is a plus right now.
Shooting a whopping 70 percent from the field through four games, Chris Kaman has done everything this team expected after signing him to a one-year, $8 million contract in the offseason.
His rebounding numbers aren't great and the injury concerns are always there, but he's a solid performer at center and one of the best in the league on offense when things are going his way.
The dynamic between him and Dirk Nowitzki will be interesting upon Nowitzki's return from knee surgery. But so far, so good for the Mavs and Kaman, who has already been anointed the best offensive center in team history.
Marion was the team's leading rebounder before the time of his injury, showing that he was up to the call with Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman absent to start the season.
The Matrix is still the best defender on the team, still important to any hopes the Mavs have at contending later on in the season, and a big reason why they got off to a 4-1 start this year.
When he returns at full strength and the starting lineup gets some consistency, the Matrix will settle in for his 12 points and eight rebounds every night—something he's done with extreme consistency in his time in Dallas.
What more could Dallas ask of a No. 1 scorer? Someone not named Dirk is putting in 20 points per game, and O.J. Mayo has been good from all over the floor this year, not just as a spot-up shooter.
His 61-percent shooting clip from the three-point line is just ridiculous, while the rest of his offensive repertoire has been on display when teams close him out from deep.
He's easily been the best player on the team this season, and it's clear Mayo has something to prove after riding the pine in Memphis more than he thought he should be.
As the new undisputed No. 2 option once Nowitzki returns, Mayo will have even more room to operate on the offensive end.
Dirk Nowitzki is expected back some time in December after his knee surgery to clear up some lingering issues that bothered him during the preseason.
How long will it take Nowitzki to get back on track once he re-enters the lineup? Will there be any lingering effects? Time will tell.
Troy Murphy has been quite good so far for Dallas, filling the role of floor-stretching power forward quite nicely in a reserve role. His play has given fans reason to think that even when Nowitzki is back, he'll have a reduced role on the team.
If the Lakers would have gotten this kind of production last season from Murphy, he'd likely still be on the team. However, it's clear coach Rick Carlisle's offensive strategies play more into the hands of the three-point shooting big, and he's knocked down several big shots so far.
The defense is suspect, as usual, but Murphy is filling a role right now, and that's all you can ask from your 13th man on the roster.
If this guy isn't in the running for the NBA's Most Improved Player award, then the trophy shouldn't be in existence. Brandan Wright is averaging 11 points and five boards right now in just 23 minutes per game, while still blocking shots and playing above the rim with the same regularity that made him a Carlisle favorite in 2011-12.
He's developing a nice chemistry with the starting guards and is one of the first guys off the bench no matter the situation with foul trouble. Wright is a matchup problem for older, slower guys, and he's a potentially dangerous weapon if he can continue to stretch the floor.
It will be interesting to see what role he has against the West's elite. He's bulked up after an offseason program, but will have to take on Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins very soon. As of right now, Wright is one of the most exciting pieces on a new-look team.