The first month of the NBA season can be called a success for the Dallas Mavericks. Besides a slip-up on opening night and a loss to the six-deep Warriors, the Mavericks have done everything they needed to do on the court, and their second place standing in the West is a testament to that.
Simply put, these Mavericks aren't repeating the mistakes of teams past (yet), in that, they're showing up for every game.
With the exception of the opening night loss to the Wizards, the first Spurs game, and the trip to Cleveland last weekend, the Mavs have been in a position to win every game, which is more than can be said for last year, when they required frantic, sometimes historical, comebacks to beat teams like the Timberwolves.
And throughout it all, the Mavericks have dealt with more than there fair share if injury and illness, as Josh Howard, Shawn Marion, Erick Dampier, Drew Gooden, and Quinton Ross have all missed time due to injury.
Notice how that list includes their three big free agent acqusitions, as well as their starting small forward and center.
So, how have the Mavs been pulling it off? Well, it's simple: players are evolving past their usual games, and the results can be seen in the win column.
For better or worse, the likes of Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Dirk Nowitzki, and Drew Gooden have been pigeonholed into certain types of players.
But each of these players have added new aspects to their game, and it's wreaking havoc on opposing teams, as it's tough to gameplan for weapons like the Mavs have.
Shawn Marion: From Run-and-Gunner To Low Post Threat
We all remember Shawn Marion as playing foil to Amare Stoudemire during the Suns' heyday, whether it is finishing with an athletic dunk or nailing a corner three.
But this year, with the Mavs, I've seen Shawn Marion with another dimension to his game. He's griding down low, and giving us all a glimpse of some pretty good chops down there.
He's posting players up, often players who have a significant size advantage over him, and he's doing it successfully.
The Mavericks haven't had a player with a good low post game in a long time, as Erick Dampier can barely finish dunks, and certainly doesn't have the moves to outwit anyone down low.
Marion's quickness and reach make up for his lack of size, and he's often able to spin around people to get an easy look, something that had no place in Mike D'Antoni's system.
And the numbers don't lie. Although Marion's aren't eye-popping, he's back to shooting over 50 percent, which he hasn't done since his last full season in Phoenix. He's also shooting less, making way for the real weapons like Terry and Nowitzki, giving Marion the energy to focus on his defense.
Jason Terry: From Instant Offense To Scourge of the Passing Lane
We all know Jason Terry is able and willing to adjust his game to his team's needs. Move from point guard to shooting guard? Done. Come in off the bench? Done and done.
So we know Terry can shoot the ball, it's what he's made a career of. But he's also getting a little defensive, in a good way.
Maybe he's learning from Kidd, or maybe the team's focus on defense has re-ignited his sticky hands, but Jason Terry has been downright nasty when it comes to causing turnovers in the backcourt.
Kidd has always been proficient when it comes to steals, but he lacks the horizontal speed and finishing ability that Jason Terry has.
Terry's steal numbers are the highest they've ever been on the Mavericks, and before that he was playing primarily point guard.
The Nets, whatever flaws they may have, are a fast team, but watching Jason Terry, get his hands into the passing lanes, create the steal, drive it down, and finish is something I was hoping to see from Shawn Marion, but not Terry.
After all, Terry is usually the player you put in when you're ready to cede a defensive edge for the sake of putting points on the board.
Terry has also been using his quickness to get around picks faster, and is contesting shots more.
Now, he's clearly not a defensive stopper by any means, but the fact that he's becoming less of a liability, while also shooting better than he has since the 2006-'07 season, means that Terry is an integral cog in keeping the Mavs machine up and running.
Dirk Nowitzki: From Dead-Eye Shooter To Low-Post Defender
We all know and love Dirk's game. Shoot the ball, from anywhere, at a 50 percent clip. Good, great, gotta have it.
But Dirk's also been getting a little grabby this season, and the man who was once nicknamed 'Irk' (no 'D') is starting to get a little tougher down low, and it's helping the Mavs win games they might not be able to otherwise.
Take the OT win over the Spurs a few weeks ago. We know Dirk dropped 41 points. But when Drew Gooden fouled out with 30 seconds to go, and Dampier still sidelined with an illness, who was going to take on Tim Duncan, who had scored 22 points with someone pushing him around the whole game?
Enter Dirk Nowitzki, who kept Duncan scoreless through the overtime period, instead forcing him into 0-for-3 (with no shot further than eight feet), while scoring 11 points of his own. Game, set, and match.
Like other members of the Mavericks, Dirk has toughened up defensively, and while he's no world-beater, it's a new dimension to his game, and one that clearly isn't hampering his ability to score.
Dirk is averaging more than a block and a steal per game for the first time since 2004-'05, and he's doing it in almost a minute less on the floor.
With Dampier back and healthy, Gooden not likely to foul out too many more times, Dirk's low post defense is going to help the Mavs in the long run, especially when he needs to be out on the floor against bigger lineups like the Lakers or Nuggets.
Drew Gooden: From Brick Factory To the Low-Post Player the Mavs Have Dreamed of
Close your eyes. Picture Drew Gooden, launching brick after brick from the baseline, often from as far as 15 feet. What jersey is he wearing? What is his facial hair style? There are many answers to the first question. Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings.
But the most important part about that one is what jersey he's not wearing. The glorious blue and white of the Dallas Mavericks. Because Gooden just isn't taking those shots any more.
Instead, he's a double-double, put-back, tip-in, offensive rebounding machine that possibly took over Drew Gooden's body during the course of the summer.
When Gooden started the season out with his usual knuckleheadedness (yeah, that's a word), and then Damp was taken out of commission, the Mavericks looked as if their low post was about to become a dam on the brink of exploding, overflowing with opponent points in the paint.
Instead, Gooden came out and averaged a double-double, shot something in the neighborhood of 55 percent, and provided countless momentum boosting tip-ins and offensive rebounds to help the Mavs overcome what could have been a tough stretch.
And, from the looks of his minutes off the bench since the return of Damp, his knuckleheadedness could be gone for good (I know, it's a lot to ask, but let me dream, people).
Drew Gooden is playing like the low-post player that teams (seven and counting) have wanted when they signed him.
I was at the Mavericks-Spurs game four playoff game last season, and I saw Gooden in person. He is a monster. He looks sort of skinny on TV, but in person he is a giant, and it struck me after that that he was wasting his size with these terrible jumpers.
Well, something seems to have clicked for him this season with the Mavs, because he's getting into the paint and having his way with other teams, whether it be a true center or a forward playing center, Gooden is eating them alive.
In fact, something seems to have clicked for quite a few Mavericks this season. I don't know if it's the impending guillotine of father time coming down on their careers, if Rick Carlisle took a Tony Robbins seminar over the summer, or what, but these Mavericks look poised, ready, and willing to make a serious run this season.
And they're doing it by breaking out of the molds they've been cast into over their long careers. Whether it's Terry coming up with steals, Dirk bodying up a fellow power forward or Shawn Marion backing his man down to the basket, these Mavericks are changing, and in a good way.
And with some luck, maybe their postseason fortunes will also change in a good way.