Grading Every Key Dallas Mavericks Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break

Conor VolpeCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2014

Grading Every Key Dallas Mavericks Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break

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    So far so good with the Monta Ellis experiment, but how are the rest of the Mavericks doing?
    So far so good with the Monta Ellis experiment, but how are the rest of the Mavericks doing?Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    It is that time of the NBA season again—when the All-Star break provides a chance for the basketball world to catch its collective breath.

    Now may be the time for players and coaches to grab some rest and squeeze some quality family time in for the first time in months, but for us, this is the time to grade.

    Based on preseason expectations, we'll go through each key Dallas Maverick and give him a grade. Statistics will be the main criteria for grades, but we will incorporate those intangibles that don't show up in the box scores too.

    With all the turnover in the offseason, it was a bit cloudy as to how good this Mavericks team would be and how well the new pieces would mesh with the old.

    Now that we have half a season under our belts, we can start to decide whether this is an island of misfit toys or a cohesive basketball team.

    Let the grading begin for the 32-22 Dallas Mavericks.

Devin Harris: D+

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Stats: 18.8 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 3.8 APG, 42.5 FG%, 34.6% 3P

    Devin Harris has only played 12 games this year due to injury. He is averaging close to career lows in almost every statistical category. He is a bench player.

    But he's also sort of good.

    In seven of his 12 games in Dallas, he has managed to put up either double-digit points or five-plus assists. And if you take away his first three games where he was getting reacclimated to the basketball, he is averaging more than 10 points and almost five assists per game.

    Now, ruling out the early games is kind of like cheating, but that helps to illustrate just how valuable Harris has been over the recent stretch.

    Outside of Vince Carter, the Mavs don't have a viable offensive option coming off the bench. This has forced head coach Rick Carlisle to play Nowitzki much more with the subs than most stars.

    But Harris' play might allow Carlisle to buy more time for Nowitzki with the starters, and on this team every little bit counts.

    Despite all this, the fact of the matter is that Harris missed most of the season and sat out the last game before the All-Star break with knee and ankle injuries. He needs to be on the floor if he wants to really contribute to this Dallas team.

Brandan Wright: D+

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Stats: 15.3 MPG, 6.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 67.8% FG

    Ever since coming back from shoulder injury that cost him 24 games, Brandan Wright has been an up-and-down player. One night he'll put up double-digit points, grab a bunch of rebounds and block a shot or two, and then the next night you don't even remember that he was on the floor.

    Unfortunately, that disappearing act is part of his DNA. Last year he did the same thing, going boom or bust depending on the night. 

    What the Mavericks need is consistent play out of him—especially this season, where they have a chance at a playoff spot with a jumbled-up frontcourt.

    If it wasn't for Wright's efficiency, his first half might have been a total loss.

    His player efficiency rating is 11th in the NBA on ESPN's Hollinger stats, thanks in large part to his fantastic shooting percentage. So all is not lost in his case.

    Nonetheless, his inconsistency and missed games make Wright's first half a glaring disappointment. 

Shane Larkin: C-

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Stats: 11.9 MPG, 3.3 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 38.7 FG%, 31.4 3P%

    Shane Larkin's season has been marred by things mostly out of his control. His broken ankle in the summer league shelved him until mid-November. And now with Devin Harris taking the role of Jose Calderon's backup, minutes are few and far between for the first-rounder.

    So when he was sent to the D-League to get more playing time, nobody was surprised. What was a little more surprising was when he was called back up after only one game, which shows that he has a place on the NBA roster.

    The bottom line for him this season is he's not what the Mavericks need, at least not yet. 

    He's an attacking guard who needs to learn the NBA game, which his ankle injury did not help with. The Mavericks would rather not deal with growing pains right now, as shown by their preference to play the veteran Harris over Larkin.

    In the long run, the Mavs seem to be high on him. Team owner Mark Cuban called Larkin the "ninth best player in the draft," and he has definitely shown his potential in games like the one against Phoenix on January 17, when he put up 18 points and five assists.

    But right now the Mavericks have their eyes on the playoffs, and for that they want an old hand rather than a jittery rookie.

    Larkin's stats are underwhelming, but given the obstacles he overcame and the minimal expectations coming into the year, he's doing fine. But that doesn't mean there won't be more trips to Frisco in the second half of the season.

Vince Carter: C-

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Stats: 24.1 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 40.8 FG%, 36.1 3P%

    Vince Carter had a tremendous 2012-2013 campaign. He scored more than 13 points per game to go along with four boards and shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc. For a bench scorer in his mid-30s, that's impressive.

    But unfortunately, his success from last year's season hasn't rolled into this one. The biggest improvement in Carter's game last year was his efficiency, which has dropped off significantly this year.

    His overall field-goal percentage has dropped by close to three points, and his three-point percentage has decreased by 4.5 percent. Those are not good signs coming from a jump-shooter.

    Despite his shooting decline, Carter still provides a valuable punch off the bench. He can attack in a variety of ways, from post-ups to drives, and contributing 11 points per game coming off the pine is nothing to shake a stick at.

    Some drop-off from last year was to be expected from a guy nearing his 40s, so nobody is losing their cool about Carter's issues. But they are still issues nonetheless.

    What really counts is that he knows how to play in Dallas' system and can take advantage of his opportunities while on the floor. If he can improve his shooting, it's icing on the cake.

Jose Calderon: C+

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Stats: 31.3 MPG, 11.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 44.8 FG%, 44.5 3P%

    To put it simply, Jose Calderon is doing Jose Calderon things.

    The Mavs signed him this summer to be a sharpshooter, and he's shooting 44.5 percent from deep. He was supposed to be the veteran point guard who can run the offense, and under his leadership the offense is eighth in the league in scoring. He was supposed to distribute, and he is averaging almost five assists per game.

    He was also supposed to be a guy who was bad at defense, and unfortunately that hasn't changed. According to 82games.com, Dallas' defense is 6.4 points better per 100 possessions when he is off the floor.

    But Dallas knew that when it brought Calderon in. He was never meant to be a stopper or even a plus defender. Though his defense isn't the best, it's not the worst either. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but given how essential Calderon is to the offense, the team can stomach his mediocre defense.

    Given all this, he still gets a C-plus because he meets the expectations instead of exceeding them.

    That being said, his assist numbers have fallen off a bit. But his hockey-assist numbers must be great. The Mavs have fantastic ball movement, so often what could be an assist for Calderon ends up being a pass to an assist. 

    Instead of being a dynamic playmaker, Calderon has settled into the role of a steady hand. He's piling up those hockey assists while posting the second-highest assist-to-turnover ratio in the league, just behind Chris Paul

    The Mavericks wanted what was so obviously missing last year. They needed a point guard who was an efficient shooter and solid distributor who knew how to run an offense. So far this season, Calderon has done exactly that.

Samuel Dalembert: C+

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Stats: 20 MPG, 6.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 0.4 APG, 1.1 BPG, 57.6 FG%

    Samuel Dalembert was signed this summer with the hope that he could do a decent Tyson Chandler impersonation. If he could be a good defensive-minded center next to a defensively inept Dirk Nowitzki and gobble up some rebounds, he would be just what the Mavericks need.

    And he has done what the Mavericks have asked. Well, sort of.

    Yes, Dalembert's defense has been good. 82games.com shows that the defense is 3.5 points per 100 possessions worse when he leaves the floor.

    Yes, he's cleaning the glass well. His rebounding rate per 36 minutes is 11.3, almost on his career average.

    And yes, he passes the eye test. The Mavericks look good when Dalembert can man the middle on defense.

    But he simply isn't playing enough.

    Now the reason for his lack of minutes is uncertain. Whether it's because Rick Carlisle doesn't want to overuse him or Dalembert is lower in the rotation is hard to tell.

    Regardless, he's playing about 75 percent of the minutes he should be playing, especially when you consider that the Mavericks are 11-4 when Dalembert plays 24 minutes or more, per Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News.

    Whatever the reason for the minutes problem, it needs to be addressed going forward. Dalembert is one of the Mavs' most impactful players. When he stays on the floor, it does wonders for the team.

    Hopefully he can find his way out there, because the Mavericks are going to need his defensive presence down the stretch.

Jae Crowder: B-

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Stats: 18 MPG, 5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.9 SPG, 42.7 FG%, 31.7 3P%

    Though his statistics may seem underwhelming, Crowder is the quintessential player whose stats don't reveal the true value of his contributions.

    He has a great motor and never shies away from a defensive assignment. He's the first guy to dive on a loose ball, and he's an aggressive rebounder. If you can live with a couple of out-of-control drives per game, he's a great energy bench guy.

    And there are stats to back him up. 82games.com shows that the Mavericks are 5.3 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor, which is second highest on the team behind Dirk.

    That's not too shabby for a guy who's putting up five points per game.

    His statistics are almost exactly the same from a year ago, yet his net effect while on the court has increased by eight points.

    He's simply doing the right things for a winning team, and if the Mavericks want to make the playoffs, they need Crowder to continue his winning ways.

Shawn Marion: B

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Stats: 31.5 MPG, 10.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 46.5 FG%, 36.8 3P%

    While Nowitzki and Monta Ellis make the offense go, Shawn Marion holds the defense together. He not only guards the opponent's best player every night, but he causes more than his fair share of turnovers and is also the team's leading rebounder. 

    And he's 35. 

    Now that's not to say that his offensive numbers are great too. His points, rebounds and blocks have all declined since last year, which is a bit frightening. But Marion is also shooting close to a career best from deep, and his turnover rate is the lowest it has ever been. So don't get too worried about him.

    Put it all together, and you have a guy who knows his role. He plays within the flow of the offense, but really he's the only stopper on the team. He is invaluable to a team that needs every ounce of defense it can find.

    Even with Marion being the defensive hero, the Mavs are in the bottom third of the league in points allowed per game.

    Essentially the Mavs need him more than ever, and he is performing defensively like the wiz they need him to be.

DeJuan Blair: B

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    Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    Stats: 18.6 MPG, 7.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.9 SPG, 55.2 FG%

    DeJuan Blair is living proof that you don't need ACLs to rebound the basketball.

    He is the team's fourth leading rebounder and is averaging 11 rebounds per 36 minutes. Those are solid numbers considering the Mavs got him off the scrapheap. 

    Blair signed a one-year deal with Dallas for roughly $950,000. Usually those signings wind up being end-of-the-bench guys who make minimal contributions.

    And considering his statistics had been in steady decline in San Antonio, nobody expected much from him. 

    But when Brandan Wright went down with a shoulder injury and with Samuel Dalembert playing limited minutes, Blair has filled in admirably. His rebounding and shooting numbers jumped back up to the peak of his San Antonio days, and all of a sudden the Mavericks had a bona fide player.

    And given the Mavs are third worst in the NBA at 40.1 rebounds per game, Blair's specialized skill set is especially useful for this team.

    He might not be the sexiest player in the world, but he's a valuable guy for this Dallas team.

Monta Ellis: B+

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Stats: 36.3 MPG, 19.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 5.7 APG, 46.3 FG%, 31.4 3P%

    I once was lost, but now I am found.

    The Milwaukee chucker is no more or at least is almost gone. Having been rescued from the toxic Bucks situation, Monta Ellis seems to have been resurrected.

    Since last season, he is shooting nearly five percent better from the floor and three percent better from deep while still scoring 19 points per game. Yet this year he's taking two fewer shots and getting to the line more often.

    The guy who was once the epitome of a bad shot-taker is now a lynchpin in one of the NBA's best offenses. It seems like night and day when watching him play now compared to the past. Where once he took horrendous shot after horrendous shot, he now probes the defense and finds weak spots. He plays within the system and consistently creates offense.

    Ellis went from a pariah to the second-best player on the league's fourth-most efficient offense.

    And maybe just as important as his offensive renaissance is his energy. While he is not a stellar defender, he can bring the hustle. He flies around the court, trying to disrupt offenses, and he's collecting almost two steals per game because of that.

    Now of course having him run around all the time can be taxing for team defense, but this aging team could always use some young legs—if you can even call a 28-year-old Ellis young.

    All that being said, he has cooled off as of late and has been inconsistent. He is still prone to off nights like the 5-of-16 performance for 14 points against Memphis a week ago, and he hasn't totally shed his bad shooting habits. But he is definitely making strides.

    In the end, he is very close to averaging 20 points, six assists and two steals per game. The only other guy in the league doing that right now is John Wall.

    Welcome to Monta Ellis 2.0.

Dirk Nowitzki: A-

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Stats: 32.2 MPG, 21.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.8 APG, 49.2 FG%, 41.2 3P%, 91 FT%

    Somehow, someway, Dirk Nowitzki is still doing it.

    Just a year after it looked like his career was quickly ending, Dirk is putting on a show. In many ways, he is having his most impressive season ever. 

    At the ripe age of 35, he is exactly .008 field-goal percentage points away from shooting 50/40/90 for the first half. The last time he did that for a full season was his MVP year in 2006-07.

    He is currently 12th in the league in scoring, and he moves up to eighth when adjusting for points per 48 minutes. His assist numbers are the best they have been since his glory days, his free-throw attempts are up, and he's second on the team in minutes per game.

    Let me remind you, he's 35. Oh and last year he looked washed up.

    Let's put statistics aside for a second: Nowitzki is also essentially Dallas' entire offense. He may not be the guy with the ball in his hands, but make no mistake—he's still the guy that opposing defenses center their game plans on.

    Still, not everything about Dirk is pretty. Watching him play defense can cause a cringe or two, and he can't secure rebounds like he used to.

    But in the end, Nowitzki is still Dallas' best player. 82games.com shows us that the Mavericks are seven points better per 100 possessions when he is on the floor. Whether he is old or not, those results speak for themselves.