What We Learned About Dallas Mavericks During Season's First Half

Maxwell Ogden@MaxwellOgdenCorrespondent IIIJanuary 21, 2014

What We Learned About Dallas Mavericks During Season's First Half

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    The 2013-14 NBA regular season has reached its halfway mark. As the second half of this year's campaign rolls around, the Dallas Mavericks are firmly in the postseason picture at 25-18 overall, which includes going 14-7 at home and 11-11 on the road.

    The question is, what have we learned about the Mavericks during the season's first half?

    Like every other team, the Mavericks have provided excitement and a number of head-scratching moments. There have been signs of a postseason future and reason to proceed with caution when labeling Dallas as a true title contender.

    Here's everything that Dallas has shown us through the first half of the season.

Offense Is Elite

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    Don Ryan/Associated Press

    For all that may be wrong about the Dallas Mavericks defense, just as much is right about the offense. The new talent is developing chemistry, and the familiar faces are starring again.

    It all starts with Dallas' willingness to make the extra pass.

    Call me old school, but I firmly believe that the most significant aspect of sustainable offensive production is ball movement. Pullup shots are sexy, but they aren't nearly as efficient as catch-and-shoot attempts.

    Fortunately for Dallas, it has built an elite offense by creating a roster that's flush with playmakers.

    The Mavericks own the No. 7 scoring offense in the NBA at 104.0 points scored per game. That production has come in an effective manner with Dallas ranking No. 5 in assists per game, No. 4 in field-goal percentage and No. 6 in three-point field-goal percentage.

    According to NBA.com, the Mavericks are fourth in the NBA with an effective field-goal percentage of 52.2.

    Jose Calderon is shooting 45.5 percent from beyond the arc and is dishing out 4.7 dimes per game. Furthermore, Dirk Nowitzki is hitting threes at a clip of 40.5 percent, and Monta Ellis is averaging a team-high 5.9 assists.

    When the three best offensive players on a team are playing at an efficient level, offenses tend to thrive.

    Nowitzki leads the team at 21.2 points per game on a slash line of .481/.405/.905. Ellis is right behind him at 20.0 points on 46.0 percent shooting from the field.

    With its stars shining and its role players moving the basketball, the Mavericks offense can compete with the best.

Tyson Chandler Is Still Sorely Missed

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    When the Dallas Mavericks won the 2011 NBA championship, the key to team success was a blend of stifling interior defense and three-point marksmanship. Dallas has done quality work in replacing its shooters, but the defense has suffered.

    Halfway through the 2013-14 regular season, it's become perfectly clear that the Mavericks miss Tyson Chandler.

    Three years later.

    The Mavericks attempted to find an adequate replacement in Samuel Dalembert, but he's been nothing short of underwhelming. Dalembert is allowing opponents to shoot 52.1 percent when he meets them at the rim, per NBA.com.

    This has forced Dallas to constantly alter its starting lineup in hopes of finding something that works. Nothing has.

    DeJuan Blair is undersized at 6'7", and Brandan Wright is allowing opponents to shoot 55.1 percent when he defends the rim, per NBA.com. With such alternatives, the Mavericks have been unable to find the proper defensive anchor.

    In turn, NBA.com reports that the Mavericks are allowing 43.6 points in the paint per game. That's 23rd in the league.

    Plain and simple, Chandler is sorely missed in Dallas. Still.

Dirk Still Has It

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Entering the 2013-14 regular season, the most common question about the Dallas Mavericks was in reference to the potential decline of Dirk Nowitzki. He was hindered by injuries in 2012-13, and at 35, his window of opportunity to win another title is closing.

    Forty-three games in, Dirk's making one thing clear: He still has it.

    Nowitzki is averaging 21.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.0 steal in 32.2 minutes per game. Most impressively, he's doing all of this while shooting 48.1 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from three-point range and 90.5 percent from the free-throw line.

    Not only is that extremely efficient, but it's downright elite.

    Nowitzki is No. 7 in the NBA with a player efficiency rating of 23.57, per John Hollinger of ESPN. He's also No. 12 in Estimated Wins Added and has a true shooting percentage of .587, per Hollinger.

    Dirk's greatest success has come as a result of the Mavericks' willingness to move the ball. In fact, 7.5 of his 16.0 field-goal attempts per game are coming in catch-and-shoot situations, per NBA.com.

    Nowitzki is shooting 47.7 percent on catch-and-shoot field-goal attempts and 40.1 percent on catch-and-shoot three-point field-goal attempts, per NBA.com.

    Among qualified players—at least 30 games played and 4.0 pullup attempts per contest—Dirk is also No. 5 in the NBA in pullup field-goal percentage at 43.1, per NBA.com.

    What this all adds up to is a very clear reality: Dirk can score, and there's nothing that opposing defenses can do to stop him.

    What else is new?

Dallas Lacks Depth

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    According to HoopsStats.com, the Dallas Mavericks led the NBA in second-unit scoring during the 2012-13 regular season. Dallas' bench ripped off an astonishing 41.5 points per game, placed second in rebounding and was second in defensive efficiency.

    In 2013-14, it's become perfectly clear that Dallas lacks the depth it previously possessed.

    Dallas is 13th in second-unit scoring at 32.6 points per game, per HoopsStats.com. That's a full 8.9 points lower than its number in the previous season.

    The return of Devin Harris helps at point guard and should bring greater chemistry to the second unit. Vince Carter's recent improvement on offense should offer aid as well, but there's only so much to be encouraged by off the bench.

    Carter is up to 11.4 points per game, but he is shooting 40.7 percent from the floor. Brandan Wright has added 9.5 points on 66.4 percent shooting, and DeJuan Blair is at 7.8, but the key to a successful second-unit offense is a quality perimeter.

    Outside of Carter, there isn't a trustworthy scorer—and it's unclear whether or not Carter can be referred to as one. Harris is a career 31.8 percent shooter from three-point range, and Jae Crowder has displayed more flashes than he has consistency.

    The starting lineup accounts for 68.7 percent of the scoring at 71.4 out of 104.0 points per game. The tandem of Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki are responsible for 39.6 percent of the total points per game at 41.2.

    Depth is an issue in Dallas.

Not Yet a Championship Contender

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Dallas Mavericks are a very strong basketball team, but they're not yet a championship contender. The offense will continue to flourish, and the defense should improve by some measure.

    As I've previously written, Dallas need to make a move at the 2014 NBA trade deadline on Feb. 20 if it wants to be strong enough to compete for a championship.

    The most likely options are embattled centers such as Omer Asik of the Houston Rockets and Larry Sanders of the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Bill Ingram of Basketball Insiders reports the rumor that Dallas made an offer for Asik. Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio relays that Sanders is possibly the most available player in the NBA.

    With Dallas' interior woes, adding a defensive specialist down low would be a major step in the right direction.

    The truth of the matter is, a trade for a star rim protector may not be enough for Dallas to win it all in 2013-14. Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki are big-game performers. Jose Calderon, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion help to form a very strong supporting cast.

    With a record of 25-18 after 43 games, it's even easier to be optimistic about the short-term and long-term future of the Dallas Mavericks. When you weigh the records of 14-7 at home and 11-11 on the road, there's even more reason to be encouraged.

    Unfortunately, Dallas is a less promising 14-14 against the Western Conference. Until that number improves, there's little reason to believe that the Mavs can make a run through the playoffs.

    Much could change between now and April, but at as it presently stands, Dallas' current roster isn't built to win a title.