It may not be a group that can contend for a title right now, but the Mavericks aren't in as bad a shape as their detractors think.
Just compare them to last season's squad. Dirk missed 29 games and Mike James started 23 times at the point. For almost half the season, O.J. Mayo was Dallas' most important player. And even with all that, Rick Carlisle somehow managed to lead them to a .500 record.
Now, they've significantly upgraded their starting lineup and added depth at key points. They're set up to surprise some people. And I can think of 15 specific ways they will.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
Battling injuries throughout the 2012-13 campaign, Dirk Nowitzki posted a scoring average of 17.3—under 20 for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. He appeared in just 53 games and averaged 31.3 minutes.
Having their best player limited to such an extent was a big part of why the Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Nowitzki is fully healthy this season and ready to bounce back.
There's no way to know that for sure because at 35, he is getting up there, and he's never had to put together a bounce-back campaign before.
An underrated trait of Dirk's is his durability. Prior to the injury-plagued 2012-13, he averaged over 75 games a season. So in a way, 2013-14 will be unprecedented.
But bouncing back is largely contingent on individual drive, and Dirk proved during the playoffs in 2011 that there aren't many guys who have more.
That might not mean he'll instantly be a 25-a-night player again. With all the offensive talent on this team, he won't need to be. But he'll be the undisputed leader and likely the top scorer this season. He'll also command the attention of opposing defenses, opening things up for Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and the rest of the Mavs.
Mark Cuban is never content to just run in the middle of the pack. He's shown for years that he's willing to spend whatever it takes to contend. And if he doesn't feel like this group is doing that, he may put pressure on management to make a move.
And while I do think the Mavericks got a lot better this offseason, they're still not legitimate title contenders. That means one of their trade chips could be on the block by February.
The two who have the best chance to get dealt are Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, due to the fact that they're both on expiring contracts.
It would be hard to say goodbye to either one, but Dallas has unexpectedly cut important players loose in the past—Tyson Chandler, anyone?
If I had to guess, I'd say Marion. This last year of his deal is worth $9.3 million, making it a much larger trade chip than Carter's.
Quick, who led the NBA in three-point percentage last year? Korver? Novak? Nope, it was Jose Calderon—who hit 46.1 percent of his threes with the Pistons and Raptors. In 28 games for Detroit, that number was 52.
And with the Mavericks this year, Calderon could get even more open looks. We've already seen Monta Ellis playing a lot of point guard this preseason, and according to the Dallas Morning News, Rick Carlisle plans to continue that trend into the regular season:
Sometimes, we’ll do stuff where Monta is on the move, he’ll catch and he’ll be a playmaker. In that case, Jose will be a spot up guy. Jose shot 45 or 46 percent from three last year. He might have led the league. As a spot up guy, he’s lethal.
Yes, Rick, he did lead the league. And I cannot wait to see how lethal he can be as a spot-up guy.
It might be hard to believe, but once upon a time, Monta Ellis was a very efficient scorer. Back in the 2007-08 season, Ellis averaged over 15 field-goal attempts a game and converted 53.1 percent of them.
And even though he hit just 23.1 percent of his three-point attempts, he still posted a true shooting percentage of 58. The efficiency was a product of Ellis basically taking threes out of his game.
And while playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Jose Calderon this season, he once again has little need to chuck it up from deep.
The attention opposing defenses will have to pay to those two on the perimeter will open up driving lines for the ultra-explosive Ellis. I see him finally getting back to the efficient scorer he was in Golden State.
One area in which Ellis might actually be slightly underrated is playmaking. He's averaged six assists over the last two seasons and 5.7 over the last four.
And as I said earlier, Carlisle plans to use him as a point guard. In that role and on this team, he'll have plenty of options.
Nowitzki, Calderon and Carter all hit over 40 percent from three-point range last year, and Ellis will be on the floor with all three of them for plenty of possessions.
When defense collapse on him in the paint, he'll have possibly the best kick-out options with which he's ever played.
Samuel Dalembert has averaged a double-double just once in his career (back in 2007-08). But he's done so on a per-36-minute basis in all but two of his 11 NBA seasons.
And he's not slowing down. 2012-13 was his only campaign in Milwaukee, and Dalembert averaged 14.7 points, 13 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes and posted a career-high player efficiency rating of 18.6.
The reason he's only averaged a double-double once in his career isn't for lack of ability, but rather lack of opportunity.
He should finally have one in Dallas.
The Mavericks have been missing a defensive presence inside since they let Tyson Chandler walk after the 2011 championship run. Dalembert is going to be called upon to fill that gaping hole.
I'm not predicting he'll average a double-double as he steps into the role, but he'll at least come near that kind of production.
In an April, 2013 story in the Star-Telegram, Dwain Price discussed the subject of Shawn Marion's eventual retirement. Marion was quoted, saying,
I can’t play basketball forever. I’ve got to have a little life. It’s been a great run so far and when it comes at an end, it’s going to come to an end sooner than later.
He also talked about how he came to Dallas with the intention of taking the team over the top and helping them win a championship. And that's exactly what he did.
Now, Marion is entering the last season of his contract and may head for that "little life" he talked about. His game is predicated on athleticism, and that's starting to decline as Marion enters his late-30s.
If he does walk away, he'll do so as one of the most underrated players to ever lace 'em up in my opinion. He's in the top 100 in NBA history for points, rebounds, steals and blocks.
Vince Carter is actually a year older than Marion, but I see him signing one last NBA contract before he calls it a career.
Because of his three-point shooting ability, Carter can be a specialist for the Mavericks or some other contender who needs someone to space the floor.
For his career, Carter's percentage from downtown is 37.6, but he took a lot of tough shots as a younger player. Last season, he finished at 40.6 percent.
I think we're going to see a uniquely motivated Dirk Nowitzki this year. Plenty are counting the Mavericks out and saying Dirk's over the hill.
Or if you prefer, watch Dirk this year. As a result of playing with two great playmakers in Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, Nowitzki's going to get a lot more open looks than he's used to.
That will lead to higher percentages—possibly even another shot at the 50/40/90 club. Nowitzki's been there before. In 2006-07, he shot 50.2 percent from the field, 41.6 percent from three-point range and 90.4 percent from the free-throw line.
To match those numbers at 35 would be unprecedented—literally, it's never happened before. But Dirk might be in just the right situation to make some more history.
The title of this slideshow did call for boldness—and now you're really seeing it.
But this may not be as much of a stretch as it seems. Last season, Jose Calderon was less than one percent off from joining the 50/40/90 club. He hit 46.1 percent of his threes, 90 percent of his free throws and 49.1 percent of his field-goal attempts.
The opportunities he'll get for spot-up looks while playing off Monta Ellis could be just what he needs to nudge that last number up a bit.
If Calderon and Nowitzki both reach the goal, it would be the first time in league history that a pair of teammates did so in the same year.
When everyone is healthy, the Mavericks are going to have a very strong bench. That would merely be a continuation from last season.
According to HoopsStats.com, Dallas led the league in bench scoring last season with an average of 41.5 points. And they've brought back some key members of that unit like Vince Carter and Brandan Wright while adding Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington and DeJuan Blair.
They should all get plenty of minutes playing behind a starting lineup with four players over the age of 32. Opportunities to score will come with those minutes.
Rick Carlisle may be a defensive-minded coach, but his general manager hasn't hooked him up with too many defensive-minded players.
The starting lineup has Dalembert and Marion, but it also features Calderon, Ellis and Nowitzki, three guys who struggle on that end for different reasons.
Calderon and Nowitzki have a hard time staying in front of the younger, quicker players at their positions, while Ellis is simply too small for a lot of the league's off-guards.
Because they're experienced, smart and well-coached, Dallas won't be the worst defensive team in the NBA. But there are going to be plenty of nights when they give up a lot of points.
The Mavericks are both talented and balanced on offense. And though they may lose some games due to struggles on the other end, they'll put enough points to be competitive just about every night.
Last season, they finished eighth in the league in both points per game and field-goal percentage and sixth in three-point percentage.
And there are a lot reasons to think they'll actually be better offensively: a healthy Nowitzki, the clear upgrade at point with Calderon, the explosiveness of Ellis—you get the picture.
Like I said in the introduction, it was impressive the Mavs were even able to hit .500 last year. That's a record of 41-41, and I think this team is clearly nine wins better than the 2012-13 squad.
Ellis may have been slightly less efficient as a shooter than Mayo last season, but he was still more productive—averaging more points and assists and posting a higher player efficiency rating.
Calderon and Dalembert are both essentially replacing revolving doors at point guard and center.
I'm well aware of the upgrades several other Western Conference teams made, but I don't think enough people are giving Dallas the credit it deserves for this offseason.
It's going to be tough, but I think Dallas makes it back to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.
They likely won't be higher than a seventh or eighth seed, and the chances of them winning a series are slim, but I've already learned my lesson on counting Dirk Nowitzki out.
During the Mavericks' championship run in 2011, I did so several times during their first-round series against the Blazers.
Dirk and Rick Carlisle could certainly surprise us all again.