Power Ranking Every Key Dallas Mavericks Player Before Season's End
Now with close to a full season under our belts, we have a pretty good idea of this Mavericks team. Dirk has an unlikely second fiddle, but after that, asking to rank each player seems like splitting hairs.
They all bring different things to the table and have all made valuable contributions. Jose Calderon has solidified the point guard position, but is he more valuable than Samuel Dalembert's paint protection? That's a tough call.
And that's precisely where we come in. These power rankings examine the top 10 Mavs to date, taking into account their production over the year but putting more weight on recent contributions. After all, although this team is 43-30, a playoff spot in the Western Conference is far from guaranteed. So anyone that is trending in the right direction down the stretch is key.
Without further ado, let's get this thing started.
10. Jae Crowder
If there's one thing Jae Crowder has plenty of, it's hustle.
For better or worse, he is always moving. Sometimes it's too fast for his own good, and sometimes he's simply out of control. But he brings that every night, and for the fourth oldest team in the NBA, having a guy like that brings value.
82games.com shows that the Mavs are actually 2.4 points better per 100 possessions when Crowder is on the floor. So it seems that his energy can have positive effects.
Looking a little deeper, though, might bring that metric into question. For almost all of Crowder's five-man units with the largest differential, Dirk Nowitzki is on the floor. The very same Nowitzki who makes Dallas 8.6 points better per 100 possessions.
So it seems probable that Crowder's metric success has more to do with Nowitzki than Crowder. Darn.
And as of late, he hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire. He has been frequenting the D-League in parts of March, and in his last 10 games, he's been averaging 5.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 13 minutes. Nothing too crazy.
All that being said, he still contributes. Head coach Rick Carlisle said Crowder was in the D-League just so he could get some consistent minutes, and the coach complimented his activity and shot-making ability.
Crowder has put together a fine season, but that's about it. He can be frustrating one moment and enjoyable the next. As long as he brings the hustle, he will have a place in the rotation and on this list.
9. DeJuan Blair
DeJuan Blair rebounds. Period. Outside of that, he doesn't offer a ton.
He is averaging 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, and for an end-of-the-bench guy, that's pretty good. But his per-36-minute averages also show you some glaring weaknesses. His 0.6 blocks per 36 minutes show that he can't protect the rim, and his 2.1 assists per 36 minutes aren't wowing anyone.
But to be fair, he can score a bit. He averages 14.6 points per 36 minutes, which is better than guys like Jose Calderon and Shawn Marion. So it's not all bad.
That being said, he's not a big contributor to this team. In his last 10 games, he's not even getting 10 minutes per contest. Those are clearly reserve minutes.
Over the course of the year, he has been a nice fill-in. Dalembert isn't getting any younger, and there are nights when playing him for 25 minutes isn't feasible. That's where Blair comes in for his 10-15 minutes; he gobbles up some rebounds and holds serve. That's his role, and he has done it well.
But that's about the limit of his contribution. He's a limited player as most 6'7" post players are, and Carlisle plays him as such. Blair is ranked above Crowder simply because he makes less boneheaded mistakes, but the gap between the two is small.
8. Vince Carter
Does anyone else feel that Vince Carter has been underwhelming this year?
Yes, he is 37, so some slippage is expected. But his statistical drop-offs have been a little alarming.
His overall field-goal shooting has dropped off nearly 3 percent, and his three-point percentage is down almost 2 percent. These don't seem like big drop-offs, but these kinds of things are the difference between a great bench scorer and a decent one.
And that's what Carter is right now: a wily vet who can get some buckets and hit from deep. That kind of guy has value, but he's just not as valuable as last season.
And when you consider his averages over the last 10 games (noticing a trend?), his value takes an even bigger hit. His shooting percentage is down another 3 percent, from 40.7 percent to 37.6 percent. That's not an encouraging sign for an aging shooter coming down the stretch.
Actually, this disturbing trend goes far beyond just the past 10 games. In December, Carter shot 44 percent. In January, it was 42.3 percent. Come February, his shooting dropped to 40.7 percent; in March, it's at 40.3 percent.
It might just be a slump, but it's more likely old age. And that's not exactly an easy fix.
This isn't to say Carter is washed up. Not yet. He still has a lot to offer this squad. But the Mavs can't rely on him as much as they would like, so he takes a hit in these rankings compared to other regular players.
7. Brandan Wright
If I told you someone on the Mavs was the 11th-most efficient player in the NBA, according to John Hollinger's player efficiency rating rankings, would you name Brandan Wright?
And when you look at Wright's stat line, it makes some sense. He's shooting an absurd 66.8 percent from the field and averaging nine points, 4.2 boards and one block in just over 18 minutes per game. He also refuses to turn the ball over, averaging less than one turnover per game.
OK, I'm starting to see it.
Essentially, Wright is a smart player. He knows his role and plays it well. He gets 18-20 minutes per game, uses his length to bother shots and feeds off cuts to the bucket.
With his efficiency being so high, it's curious that he isn't seeing a bigger increase in minutes. In an interview with Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News, Rick Carlisle addressed this topic: "Gaudy field goal percentage stats don’t necessarily translate to blocking out well. And that’s where I’ve got to reconcile the whole offensive efficiency vs. our challenges defensively."
That's exactly why Wright is only seventh on this list. He's a limited player. He only weighs 210 pounds and doesn't have the strength to play full time. He can block shots because of his length and positioning, but he gets physically bullied too often.
He is having a great season and has shown more consistency as of late. But his limitations cap his potential on this list, so seven is where he stays.
6. Devin Harris
It's a little strange that someone averaging 8.3 points per game could be so important to a club that is making a playoff push, but Devin Harris is that guy.
He has been a surprise contributor off the bench for this Mavs team. He missed the first month-and-a-half of the season due to a toe injury and was an unknown commodity when he finally rejoined the team.
It turns out he's just what the Mavs need.
Harris plays fast—at least fast for this team. Outside of Monta Ellis (whom we'll get to later), Harris is the team's most aggressive offensive player. He is always looking for a seam and a way to get to the rim. While he takes his jumpers, he wants to attack first.
And that's something this team needs. With jump shooters like Vince Carter and Jose Calderon, however you want to classify Dirk and more complementary players like Shawn Marion and Brandan Wright, the Mavs lack aggression.
And best of all, Harris' play has proven, tangible results. Despite him getting a lot of run with the second unit, the Mavericks are 3.7 points better per 100 possessions with Harris on the floor. That's impressive.
But before we launch a total Harris lovefest, we have to address his shooting.
He's shooting 39.9 percent from the floor. That's not good. Sometimes being aggressive can get out of hand, and that might be what's happening here. But it's more likely that he's still adjusting after missing so much time with that foot injury. In his last 10, games his shooting is up to 43.2 percent, so if the whole adjustment period hypothesis is correct, look for him to build on that.
All in all, Harris is the best guy coming off the bench for the Mavs moving forward. In March he's averaging 12.5 points and 4.8 assists in 27.4 minutes, which are significantly above his season averages. It's safe to say that he has earned his playing time and this high ranking.
5. Samuel Dalembert
Yes, Samuel Dalembert is aging and injury-prone. Yes, Carlisle limits his minutes for various reasons. And yes, he seems to be in the twilight of his career.
But when he's right, he does something nobody else on this team can do. And something essential for a playoff push: rim protection.
He is no Roy Hibbert, but he does his best Hibbert impersonation for Dallas. He adds an element to the defense that nobody else on the roster can. When he's on the floor, the Mavs allow 3.5 points less per 100 possessions, and he also blocks nearly 5 percent of opponents' two-point shots.
But to be clear, his blocks aren't his main contribution. His ability to put his 6'11" frame in between the opponent and the rim is his skill. He might not block the shot, but he'll increase its degree of difficulty.
Dalembert obviously contributes in other areas. He takes some of the rebounding burden off Dirk by grabbing 11.6 boards per 36 minutes, and he shoots 56.2 percent from the floor. He's a solid center.
When he plays, that is.
He is only playing 20.2 minutes per game. For the Mavs to take advantage of his defensive talents, he needs to play more. And for this list, it doesn't really matter if that's because of a coaching decision or an injury concern. The bottom line is that he isn't on the court.
So as important as his rim protection is, Dalembert stays at No. 5—albeit not too far ahead of a surging Devin Harris.
4. Jose Calderon
Jose Calderon is fourth in the league with 3.87 assists per turnover. And that's all you need to know.
Well, not really, but it tells you a lot. That number tells you Calderon is sure-handed and makes smart passes, which are two huge keys to this highly efficient Mavs offense. It also tells you he's unselfish and a pass-first point guard, which are integral to an offense centered on Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki.
Add Calderon's deadly shooting (45.5 percent from deep) to his passing skills and ability to run this offense, and you have the perfect guy for Rick Carlisle's system. He picks his spots to attack, but mostly he's there to make sure the offense runs smoothly.
Granted, having a guy whose main job is to make the offense run smoothly doesn't seem like that big of a deal. It seems like almost anyone should be able to do that.
Let's briefly go back to last season. Darren Collison, a much more physically gifted player than Calderon, was brought in to play point. He couldn't grasp his role or the offense, and the Mavs ended up missing the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
Dallas did not want to make that mistake again. Enter Jose Calderon.
But he has a glaring deficiency: He's simply a poor defender. He stands out on the court as a guy who tries but just doesn't seem to have it.
So if he's mostly a one-way player, why is he this highly ranked?
The Mavs have outscored teams this year, plain and simple. They allow 102.3 points per game but have the third most efficient offense in the game. And Calderon's clear contributions to this offense outweigh his defensive ineptness.
He's similar to Dalembert in that each provides something nobody else on the roster can. And he's ranked above Dalembert not because Calderon's steady hand is more important than rim protection, but because he plays 10 more minutes per game. Over the course of a season, that adds up.
3. Shawn Marion
He might be 35, but Shawn Marion has a huge role to play for this Mavericks team.
Dallas has precisely one good perimeter defender, and it's not Monta Ellis.
Honestly, calling Marion a good perimeter defender doesn't do him justice. He guards everyone from Blake Griffin to James Harden. He might not hold them to single digits, but he limits the damage. And that's much more than anyone else on the roster could do.
He helps out in other ways too. He averages 6.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game and is shooting 48 percent from the field. He's even hitting threes at a 34.3 percent clip. How he does that with his shooting motion I will never know, but at this point it's better not to question it.
And as far as intangibles go, Marion is a stud. He never complains, does the dirty work and plays unselfishly. He's just a great teammate.
Oh, and he's also tough.
I know, it's always a weird thing to say about a basketball player. But whatever you want to call it, Marion won't back down from a fight. He demonstrated that against the Clippers when he confronted LA's tough guy Matt Barnes.
That characteristic—that willingness to get in someone's face—is yet another thing only Marion has on this team. He will stand up for Dirk and Calderon. That's just another element he adds to this team.
Deciding between Marion and Calderon was like splitting hairs, but Marion's little confrontation against the Clippers reminded me that Dallas needs his edge in this playoff push. It's a close call, but Marion takes the No. 3 ranking.
2. Monta Ellis
Call Monta Ellis the new Jason Terry. Both players came to Dallas after falling out of public favor at their last stops. And both Ellis and Terry found that playing with Dirk Nowitzki is a great way to revitalize a career.
The reasons for his turnaround are many, and Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry wrote a great piece recently on Ellis' season thus far. His analysis focuses on Dallas' winning culture—something Ellis hadn't experienced in his NBA career—and how it has changed the way he plays the game.
Whatever the cause, Ellis' transformation from a low-percentage chucker to a useful offensive weapon has done more than reduce the number of headaches that Mavs fans get. He has helped Dirk just as Dirk has helped Ellis.
A lot of things went wrong in the 2012-13 campaign. But along with the lack of a real point guard was the gaping hole where a reliable No. 2 scorer should have been. Dirk thrived with Terry by his side, and OJ Mayo simply couldn't fill that void.
To the surprise of many, Ellis has done everything Mayo couldn't.
Ellis runs a great pick-and-roll with Nowitzki. He sees the floor well, anticipating the help and making smart passes. And most of all, he takes a lot of the pressure to create shots off Dirk. This allows Dirk to pick his spots—something every 35-year-old outside of Kobe needs.
And, of course, playing with Dirk has opened up driving lanes for Ellis. He has more room to operate, probe and attack defenses. Playing with Dirk simply makes the game easier.
Again, credit goes to Ellis for his success. He is averaging 19 points per game while shooting 45.6 percent, up 4 percent from 2012-13. He figured out how to play with Dirk, while last year's team struggled to mesh in that way.
As of late, he has been right on his season averages, and Dallas needs that consistency from him down the stretch. Throwing up a dud would be deadly at this point, but he has shown that he can be a reliable guy thus far.
It's weird to say, but the Mavs would probably be treading water in the Western Conference without Ellis this season. That kind of an impact places him at the No. 2 spot.
1. Dirk Nowitzki
You knew it was coming.
Of course Dirk is atop this list. Everything on this team starts and stops with him, and why shouldn't it? The guy is hovering around 50/40/90 shooting numbers while putting up 21.4 points and 6.1 boards per game.
All of this at 35 years old. That's the NBA equivalent of a senior citizen.
But hey, no matter. He obviously didn't care that Charles Barkley thought he was washed up or that 2012-13 was the worst statistical season of his career. Nope, he managed to put all that behind him and have one of his best offensive seasons in his mid-30s.
If that's not some sign of greatness, I don't know what is.
Unfortunately it's not all roses. Dirk has been in a bit of a shooting slump lately, shooting 43.9 percent in his last 10 games. That's not awful, but it's unlike the shooter we have come to know and love.
Then, of course, we have to address the defense and rebounding. Dirk has never been confused with a defensive wizard, especially not in his later years. His rebounding numbers have steadily declined, something the team has had to adjust for.
But when it comes down to it, Nowitzki is the team. In his blog entry this summer, Cuban cited Dirk as the one of the main reasons for Dallas' incredible culture. Nowitzki is the living legend of the Mavericks franchise, and he's not ready to ride off into the sunset just yet.
His game was never predicated on athleticism, and so it has served him well as age has started to set in. He's still an offensive maestro, getting to his spots and unleashing his quirky arsenal of fadeaways and pump fakes. And his ability to still consistently knock down jumpers has opened the lane for his teammates, namely Monta Ellis.
Dirk is the team's best player, hands down. No minor shooting slump will knock him down these rankings, and you can bet he'll turn it up a notch for the playoff push. It could be his last go at it while he has still the mojo. It's just tough to tell how many years he has left at this level.
I, for one, am just enjoying the ride. I encourage you to enjoy it as well.
All statistics, unless otherwise noted, are from Basketball-Reference.com.