The Mavericks have 11 key players, and No. 11 Monta Ellis is one of the top two. How do they all grade out so far?
Two months into the campaign with a 16-12 record, Dallas sits in seventh place in the Western Conference. Dallas has handled its lesser competition, going 9-4 against teams below .500, so the Mavericks will be looking for better results against the NBA's best during the 2014 portion of the season.
After the offseason signings of shooting guard Monta Ellis and point guard Jose Calderon, questions arose about how the duo would fit with longtime Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki.
Though Calderon has struggled, Ellis and Nowitzki have carried the Mavs on a nightly basis, leading the team to victories over the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and upstart Portland Trail Blazers.
So, if Dallas can get more out of its role players, the Mavericks will punch their ticket to the playoffs, because they have put themselves in a good position as 2013 comes to a close.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, stats taken from Basketball-Reference. Accurate as of Dec. 25, 2013.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.8 blocks, 29.0 PER
It's only been five games, but Brandan Wright is an important part of this team moving forward.
The sixth-year center missed the Mavs' first 23 games due to a shoulder injury, but he showed no rust during his season debut. Wright netted 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting and grabbed six rebounds in 19 minutes.
Without Wright, Dallas' lack of interior depth was exposed at times, but he will help the Mavericks stay competitive against the best of the West as the season progresses.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 3.5 points, 0.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 6.6 PER
Shane Larkin was sidelined for the first 10 games of the season, and the rookie point guard is slowly working his way into the rotation. Larkin's ankle injury forced him to miss NBA summer league action, so he is still learning the professional ranks.
The University of Miami product has not dazzled on the offensive end, reaching double digits just once in 15 games to date. But Larkin is a factor on defense in his limited minutes, snatching at least two steals in five contests.
According to NBA.com, the Mavericks' team defensive rating improves by nearly 10 points with Larkin on the floor.
Calderon and Ellis are not exactly lockdown guards, so Larkin coming off the bench and providing defensive pressure has helped lift Dallas' backcourt weakness.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 3.1 points, 1.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.0 blocks, 6.2 PER
Immediately thrown into the second-string point guard role, rookie Gal Mekel was given plenty of action early on.
Basically, Mekel's effectiveness alternated between a very solid game to very little impact. He sandwiched 11-point, six-assist and nine-point, six-assist outings between three combined contests of two points and six assists.
Since Larkin's return, though, Mekel has played sparingly, including a five-game stretch where he saw the floor for just 11 minutes.
Overall, Mekel has been strictly average while providing depth at the point.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 12.7 PER
If he ever appeared on ESPN's Monday Night Football, Jae Crowder would almost certainly be chosen as a "Gruden Grinder."
Crowder is not a flashy player, but the second-year small forward disrupts opponents defensively and avoids big mistakes on the offensive end. Of course, Crowder underwent an 0-of-11 three-point slump, so Dallas needs him to avoid those stretches of cold shooting.
According to NBA.com, Crowder's defensive presence accounts for a ridiculous 14.9-point improvement in the Mavericks' defensive rating.
Essentially, Crowder has been a mini-Shawn Marion, but he needs to be more consistent from outside during 2014.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, 17.6 PER
At this point of the season, DeJuan Blair has played his way to being the biggest surprise success in Dallas.
Blair left the rival San Antonio Spurs to join the Mavericks, and he had been a noteworthy performer every night until hitting a recent cold streak.
Though the 6'7" center is undersized for his position, Blair has provided a physical presence near the rim, making easy shots and grabbing rebounds. To date, Blair has connected on 61.2 percent of shots within five feet of the basket, per NBA.com.
Blair does not block many shots, but his quickness allows him to snag a steal or two. Most importantly, the University of Pittsburgh product has picked up the slack of a fellow frontcourt mate and grabbed a starting role for eight straight games.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.2 blocks, 16.4 PER
Samuel Dalembert was signed during the offseason to help boost the Mavericks' interior play. Save for Wright and his five appearances, Dalembert leads the team, shooting 55.5 percent from the field.
However, the 12th-year pro's all-around game has been frustratingly inconsistent. Dalembert goes from a near double-double one night to barely tallying four points and four rebounds the next.
In fact, Dalembert's production issues caused head coach Rick Carlisle to drop him out of the starting lineup in favor of Blair. Plus, Wright has played well immediately upon return from injury, so he is already demanding more minutes.
Due to both of these factors, Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News notes Dalembert's future role is in flux.
On the bright side for the Mavericks, though Dalembert has not played great basketball, they are overcoming his lack of consistency. But if Dalembert cannot find his stride, Dallas will not be much better than a 45-win team that is searching for another big.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 10.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, 14.1 PER
Vince Carter contributes offensively each game, averaging his 10.7-point mark while netting at least six points in 25 of 27 games to date.
However, it's the efficiency that is a concern for the 36-year-old swingman. Carter has shot below 40.0 percent in 14 of 27 games and, consequently, is shooting a career-low 40.1 percent.
Additionally, Carter has been a part of a very unimpressive defensive unit with a rating of 106.4, per NBA.com.
Carter is still Dallas' best weapon off the bench, but the 16-year pro may be showing signs of true regression and not just stuck in an early-season slump.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.8 blocks, 14.1 PER
Until he proves otherwise, Shawn Marion can do everything pretty well.
A team leader, the big-bodied Marion is often tasked with guarding the opponent's best player. Plus, he isn't afraid to criticize the Mavs' weak-at-times collective defensive effort, via Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News.
Ironically enough, Dallas' defensive rating improves 11.2 points when Marion is off the court. However, the 15-year pro has grabbed at least two steals in 11 contests.
Marion has reached double-digit scoring in 19 of 28 games, and a major reason is, as Townsend notes, Carlisle instructed Marion to attempt more three-pointers. Marion has responded, shooting 31.8 percent from behind the arc—his best mark since 2007-08.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.1 blocks, 16.4 PER
Hidden behind Ellis and Nowitzki, Jose Calderon is quietly putting together one of the better seasons of his career.
Though his points-per-game mark is nearly the highest of his career, the more important stat is a career-low 1.3 turnovers per outing.
What's more, Calderon's usage rate, per ESPN.com's Hollinger Stats Index, is a mere 15.8 and is tied for the eighth-lowest among 72 qualifiers at point guard. Ellis and Nowitzki have not relied on Calderon's facilitating for open shots, so he is basically roaming the arc, looking for open shots.
And as he did in 2012-13 when he led the league with a 46.1 three-point percentage, Calderon is connecting on a ton of triples. This season, the ninth-year pro is knocking down the triple at a 48.4 percent clip.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 18.6 PER
Entering the season, Monta Ellis provided the biggest unknown—will he fight Nowitzki for shots or will Ellis play like an actual teammate?
Fast-forward two months, and Bleacher Report's Howard Beck says Ellis is thriving in Dallas, citing a chance to evolve his game with the Mavericks.
Ellis is shooting 46.3 percent from the field—a 4.7 percent increase from the 2012-13 campaign—and his 5.8 assists per game is just shy of his career-high mark.
Dallas is still hoping for some more defense from the shooter, but then again, that's not why Ellis was signed.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks, 23.8 PER
Let's be serious, Dirk Nowitzki still has "it."
His field-goal percentage has hovered around 50.0 percent this season, and he is also shooting a career-high 92.1 percent from the free-throw line. Add that to his 39.6 mark from distance, and Dirk is continuing his efficient shooting.
Nowitzki works well with both Calderon and Ellis on offense, often utilizing the pick-and-roll to create open shots. According to NBA.com, Dallas' new starting backcourt has combined to dish 81 assists to Dirk, while the 7-footer has accounted for 31 to either guard.
Dirk can carry the team when necessary, but as 2013 winds down, Nowitzki is content to share the scoring responsibilities with someone else. Dallas was not able to do that during 2012-13, and the Mavs missed the postseason.
But this Mavericks roster is better prepared for a late-season run into the playoffs, and Dirk must continue to be the key player carrying Dallas in 2014.