Dallas Mavericks: Why Peja Stojakovic Isn't Going to Make Them Any Better
The Mavericks have pulled off another doozy of a deal. With Peja Stojakovic in their midst, the Dallas Mavericks now boast four All-Stars, each at the peak of their careers, and ready to bring them a title.
With a young Dirk Nowitzki teaming up with a still-in-his-prime Jason Kidd, a player who can bend the laws of gravity in Shawn Marion teaming up with Peja, the Mavs are a shoo-in for the title.
Wait, what? You say it's not 2003?
Here in 2011, the acquisition of Peja by the Mavericks is only notable for the shenanigans that the NBA is choosing. After all, this will be Peja's third team this year, and it didn't sound like many other contenders were beating down his door.
So you'll pardon me if I don't start planning the victory parade. Not yet, at least.
The Good News
I'm sorry, we got off on the wrong foot. In my haste to be snarky, I didn't mention the plus sides of the deal. So let's start over.
My name is Alex, I'm a Leo and I like long walks...
Whoops, I was thinking of something else.
The deal for Peja isn't necessarily a bad thing for the Mavericks in that it didn't really cost them anything. A fourth-string center and some cash, although technically those were separate transactions.
So the Mavericks didn't give up much, and in return they get a player who, though on the downside (possibly the bottom) of his career, has a career three-point shooting percentage of 38.5 and if used properly, could still be a spot-up shooter, especially with the attention drawn by Dirk and Jason Terry.
That being said, Peja is not going to be the difference between a playoff flameout and a title, for several reasons.
He Wasn't Good Enough For A Contender
If you'll check the standings, you'll see the New Orleans Hornets are currently right in the thick of the West race, with home-court advantage in the first round not outside of the realm of possibility.
Peja has done good things for the Hornets over the past few years, and if anyone can use a dead-eye shooter to go with Chris Paul's drive-and-kick skills, he should be the one.
Except the Raptors dumped him for an unproven backup PG, and two benchwarmers.
So New Orleans wasn't willing to keep him around for a playoff chase, despite knowing that postseason success is the only thing keeping Chris Paul there.
So what do they know that we don't?
He Isn't Healthy
Peja has played in eight games this year, never topping 20 minutes, never scoring more than 17 points. His small sample size is impressive, he's shot about 48 percent from the field this season, but it's only eight games.
The Mavericks have already said he won't go with them on the upcoming three-game road tilt, and who knows when, if ever, he'll be healthy enough to play meaningful minutes.
Now, the Mavs' training staff is one of the best in the league, Dirk's relative good health and the re-emergence of Tyson Chandler are a testament to that. So maybe they can work their magic one more time and get Peja into game shape for the playoff push.
But I'm not counting on that.
He Cost Them Sasha Pavlovic
I'm aware that the phrase "it's too bad we lost Sasha Pavlovic" isn't exactly championship language. But Pavlovic had a productive stretch with the Mavs, starting at small forward, bringing some timely shooting, hustle plays and passable defense.
But the Mavs had to either sign him for the rest of the season or cut him after his second 10-day contract, and they chose the latter, preferring to keep a roster spot.
Though Pavlovic was ousted for his fellow Serb, what is there to believe Peja will be better than Sasha?
Sasha shot 43 percent from the field and 44 percent from three, which are basically Peja's numbers in 10 games as opposed to Peja's eight.
So what is there that leads us to believe Peja will be more effective? He has more miles, is older, and has already been banged up this year. Plus he's not known as a defensive stopper, and his balky knee sure won't help him guard any small forwards or talented power forwards.
He's a Poor Defensive Option
Speaking of defense, Peja is going to be a big liability at that age. Not only is he not known for his defense, but he's going to take up space from the true defensive players on the Mavericks.
If Peja is on the floor, then the Mavs can't roll out with a Marion/Dirk/Chandler lineup, which is the best on both ends of the floor. Chandler anchors the defense and hits shots in the paint, Marion guards the other team's big scorer and makes athletic plays on offense, and Dirk drops sweet raindrops from the heavens that to us mortals look like jumpers.
Adding Peja to that mix weakens the Mavs. If Peja plays the 3, Marion sits, and there's no one to guard the Kobes, Carmelos and LeBrons. If Dirk sits, then the Mavs' offense tends to stagnate. And if Chandler sits, gone is the high-probability shots and lock-down paint defense.
And if Peja is only going to play scattered, non crunch-time minutes, then he's not going to be a big part of a title chase.
He's a Poor Man's Dirk
Let's face it, anything Peja can do, Dirk can do better.
Peja is basically a spot-up shooter at this point, and while he might prove to be more consistent than Jason Terry or DeShawn Stevenson, I'm not going to hold my breath for that.
He doesn't really create his own shot, and while he's got a few inches on the Mavs' other shooters, I'm not sold on what he can do.
The Mavs need someone who can create their own shot and deflect attention from Dirk on offense, and Peja simply isn't that player anymore. If he's playing major minutes down the stretch for this Mavs team, then they are in a lot of trouble.
How About a Poor Man's Hedo Turkoglu?
In the business, we're big fans of what's called the compliment sandwich. I start the article by explaining that Peja could be a useful eighth or ninth man for the Mavs, but he won't be the difference between a title and an early summer break.
The only thing that gives me solace is the fact that the Orlando Magic, during their Finals run in 2009, were well coached and talented enough to take advantage of Hedu Turkoglu, who is a slightly uglier version of Peja.
The Magic used Hedo's skills to exploit mismatches, space the floor and score from a lot of places. Peja isn't the ballhandler Turkoglu is, but he's no slouch in that department, so the Mavs could use him in a similar way for stretches.
At 6-10, he's going to be taller than most small forwards not named Durant, and if he can regain his touch and get healthy, he will space the floor.
The attention Dirk gets, and the playmaking of Jason Kidd should give him chances to make his mark, but if he's the guy the Mavs are planning on making the difference in April/May/June, then Mavs fans can make plans for May and June.