How Each Member of the Dallas Mavericks Needs to Step Up
Forty-seven games into the season, the Dallas Mavericks are staring at an uphill battle for the remainder of the year.
Dallas sits at just 20-27, disappointing to say the least for a team that had playoff aspirations this season.
The Mavericks have been plagued by injuries, a lack of team chemistry and the inability to close out games, all of which leaves them 4.5 games out of a playoff spot over halfway through the 2012-13 season.
Earlier this week, I wrote about ways the management can improve the team at the trade deadline to increase their chances at salvaging their season.
However, there are also things that each member of the team needs to do (or stop doing) to turn things around before it's too late.
Darren Collison, Rodrigue Beaubois, Mike James: Increase Assist Totals
On the surface, it doesn't seem as though the Mavericks need to do a better job sharing the basketball.
After all, they rank eighth in points per game in the NBA and 12th in assists per game. However, when you look at the total assist numbers for the Mavericks, a good majority of them are not coming from their main guards.
Darren Collison, the Mavs' primary point guard, is averaging a mundane 5.2 APG, which doesn't even put him in the top 25 in the NBA.
With players like Dirk Nowitzki, O.J. Mayo and Shawn Marion playing beside him, you would think that someone who plays over 30 minutes per game at the point guard spot would just naturally have better passing numbers.
Collison tends to be a shoot-first type of point guard, which is not the best way for the Mavs to play in the half court.
The two players competing for a backup spot, Rodrigue Beaubois and Mike James, haven't exactly wowed with their passing numbers either.
In 11 games played in Dallas, James is managing just over one assist per game, while Beaubois, whose numbers have been down across the board this season, is averaging just 1.8 APG.
Dominique Jones, Dahntay Jones, Jae Crowder: Shoot Better from the Floor
Overall, the Mavericks are one of the best shooting teams in the NBA, which explains why they rank in the top 10 in PPG.
Chris Kaman, Shawn Marion, O.J. Mayo, Dirk Nowitzki and Darren Collison all shoot a relatively high field-goal percentage for their positions, which allows the Mavs starters to be among the best in terms of percentage shooting in all of the NBA.
The Mavericks, however, struggle much more shooting from the field when they are forced to rely on their bench.
Vince Carter and Elton Brand manage to shoot over 40 percent, but key bench guys Dominique Jones, Dahntay Jones and Jae Crowder have struggled shooting this season.
Dominique Jones has not been able to land a consistent spot in the Mavericks rotation, and part of that for sure is his low shooting percentage. Jones is managing just 34 percent from the field, the second lowest on the Mavs roster.
Dahntay Jones has always been a capable player in his career, and although he has never been known to shoot a sky-high percentage, he has always been reliable, especially from long distance. Jones has had three seasons in his career in which he shot over 40 percent from three-point range, including the 2008-09 season with Denver in which he started 71 games and shot 64.7 percent from long range.
This year, however, Jones has struggled, shooting just 21.6 percent from deep and 36.4 percent overall.
Crowder still has the potential to be a quality NBA player, but he will have to improve his shooting and shot selection to do so. Crowder's minutes have dwindled as the year has gone on, and it likely has to do with Crowder not being a great jump shooter right now. He shoots just 38 percent overall and barely over 30 percent from three-point land.
Bernard James and Jared Cunningham: Keep Improving and Wait for an Opportunity
Needless to say, Bernard James and Jared Cunningham are not ready just yet to be rotation players in the NBA.
However, considering that it is still their rookie seasons, it isn't time to write off either of them yet, and they both will have the chance to prove their worth in the upcoming future.
The only thing that James and Cunningham can do at this point is wait for that opportunity to come. In the meantime, they need to ensure that they are soaking up all the knowledge they can from their coaches and teammates and putting in the effort every day to get better.
James has played more this season, largely because of his defensive ability. With Chris Kaman and Brandan Wright both struggling defensively, the Mavericks desperately need a big man who can control the paint on defense. If James can establish himself as that player for Rick Carlisle, he could see his role increase with the Mavericks this season.
Cunningham has been forced to play in a crowded backcourt this season. Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Vince Carter, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Dahntay Jones, Mike James, Derek Fisher and Chris Douglas-Robers have all been with the Mavericks this season, and all of them have been given chances before Cunningham has.
Largely, it is because Cunningham still isn't fully adjusted to the speed of the NBA game. However, when Cunningham does figure out how to make the adjustments, he still can be a capable player if given the opportunity.
Chris Kaman and Brandan Wright: Improve Rebounding
All year long, the Mavericks have been dreadful rebounding the basketball.
Dallas ranks second to last in the league in rebounding margin at minus-3.6 a game, and a large portion of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of the team's two centers, Chris Kaman and Brandan Wright.
Despite being 6'10'' and 7'0'' respectively, Wright and Kaman have never been great rebounders at the NBA level. Nevertheless, this season has been particularly poor in that aspect of their games.
Kaman is averaging just 6.2 rebounds a game, the lowest total for him since the 2003-04 season.
While Kaman is playing less minutes at 23.7 than he is used to, that number is still not acceptable for a seven-foot center.
Wright has been even less effective rebounding the ball. In 16 minutes a game, Wright manages to grab just 3.2 rebounds. Wright's struggles on the boards are a large part of the reason he has been benched at several different points this season, falling in and out of favor with Rick Carlisle.
No one is expecting either of these men to be among the league leaders in rebounds, but if the Mavericks continue to get pounded on the glass, it is going to kill their chances of moving up in the standings.
Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Elton Brand: Expand Roles
Going into the season, the Mavericks knew they were going to be relying on veterans to get the job done.
Along with Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks have been relying on three other former All-Stars to be big contributors this season: Shawn Marion, Elton Brand and Vince Carter.
Marion is a great rebounder and can still score from time to time; Carter is a sixth man who gets 12.7 PPG off the bench, while Brand plays the role of a backup power forward who plays good defense and rebounds well.
The problem is, the Mavericks just need more out of them than they have given this season. The Mavericks just don't have enough talent in their young players for those three to fall into niche roles like they have.
While no one is expecting 2002 Marion, Carter and Brand to show up, they have to take on bigger roles on this squad than they may have bargained for at their ages. Marion simply needs to be more aggressive offensively, Carter needs to stop settling for jump shots exclusively and try to drive the ball into the paint, and Brand needs to take on some more minutes and take some time at the center position.
Dallas may have been better off with these three players if it had a more talented team that didn't need to rely on them so much. However, with the way the Mavs roster plays out right now, it is imperative that they play beyond their ages for the remainder of this season and take bigger roles on the team.
O.J. Mayo: Be More Consistent
After coming over from the Grizzlies to the Mavericks this season, O.J. Mayo got off to a flaming hot start in Dallas.
Mayo was among the top 10 scorers in the entire NBA for the first month, finishing November averaging 20.9 PPG and shooting over 49 percent from the field.
It looked as though the Mavs had found their top perimeter scorer who would lead them to respectability while they awaited Dirk Nowitzki to return from injury.
Since then, it has been a steady decline in Mayo's statistics. He now averages 18 PPG, still among the tops in the league, but almost three entire points down from where he was on December 1.
Mayo is still trying to figure out how to play effectively with Dirk Nowitzki. While the two have kept up their individual performances, there hasn't been much chemistry between the two stars on the court.
Still, Mayo will have his nights where he goes off and looks like the best player on the court. Other nights he seems to disappear and blend into the background of the game without ever making a huge impact.
The Mavericks need him to be a guy they can rely on every night for 20 points. Dirk has never been able to do it on his own, and Mayo is the best perimeter scorer he has played with in years. Mayo needs to stay aggressive on offense in order to do so.
In the last month alone, there have been five games where Mayo has taken less than 10 shots, something you can't afford to have from your second-best player.
If Mayo can figure out a way to remain consistent in his scoring, it will allow him to become an All-Star-caliber player in the future.
Dirk Nowitzki: Stay Healthy
One thing that the Mavericks can simply not afford this season is to play any longer without Dirk Nowitzki.
Dirk missed the first third of the season before debuting in late September, but the combination between a team made up almost entirely of new players playing without him for two months, and Dirk's own lack of training camp, have made it a slow transition back this year.
Still, Dirk in the lineup makes the Mavs a team at the very least that is feared. Without Dirk, the Mavericks are just a selection of role players, but with Dirk in the lineup, it adds another dimension to the team.
After playing in the previous 18 games, Nowitzki was forced to sit out the previous two after injuring his hip against Portland. While the injury for Dirk is only day-to-day, it still will make Mavericks fans nervous after Nowitzki's recent problems with injuries.
Dirk needs to do everything he can this season to ensure he stays healthy for the final 35 games. Without Dirk, the Mavericks have no chance of closing any kind of gap to make the playoffs, but more importantly, an injured Nowitzki would send up red flags to any potential free agents looking to sign with Dallas this offseason.
If it means that Dirk needs to sit out a game or two at a time like he has this week, then the price is worth it for the Mavs' future. It could also mean reducing Nowitzki's minutes, as he still is clearly not 100 percent back from knee surgery.
Whatever the cost may be, it is essential that Dirk avoids major injury for the rest of this season.
The Entire Roster: Get Better Defensively
While each individual player has a way that they can step up offensively, one thing that the entire team seems to struggle with is the defensive side of the ball.
The Mavs do have some good individual defenders, but as a unit, the team is extremely poor defensively. Their lack of defensive prowess is the main reason why they currently sit seven games under .500.
Dallas is currently tied with the Bobcats for the worst defense in the NBA, giving up 102.9 PPG. Although it may seem like offense wins games in the NBA, a quick glance at the NBA defensive rankings proves otherwise.
Only the Wizards are not in playoff position among teams currently ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense in the NBA.
While the Mavericks may not get that high up this year, a better defensive effort should absolutely be expected in the second half of the season.
Dallas can do their best to try and outscore their opponents, but the fact of the matter is that giving up 103 PPG is a recipe for the lottery in 2013.