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Dallas Mavericks Preview - Showboating

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dal.gifDallas Mavericks - Showboating

Last Year's Record: 67-15
Key Losses: Austin Croshere, Greg Buckner, Kevin Willis, Pops Mensah-Bonsu
Key Additions: Eddie Jones, Trenton Hassell, Brandon Bass, Nick Fazekas

1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?

In terms of blockbuster deals there really weren't any, as GM Donnie Nelson and Coach Avery Johnson decided instead to just tweak a roster that won 67 games in 2006-07. Eddie Jones was signed in addition to Brandon Bass, who played well in Summer League. Right before the start of training camp the Mavs acquired Trenton Hassell from the Timberwolves in exchange for Greg Buckner. Some coaching changes were made as well, with Paul Westphal being brought in to replace Del Harris as Avery Johnson's top assistant, and Johnson's former backcourt partner Mario Elie was also hired as an assistant coach.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

Good team chemistry, jumpshooting, and defense. Avery Johnson's focus on defensive basketball has allowed Dallas to become a top 10 team on both sides of the ball, and their consistency makes them a threat night in and night out. They are a team with many weapons on offense, from reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki on down to Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Devin Harris, and perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jerry Stackhouse. All of them are capable of putting in 20 points on any given night, making it very hard for opponents to shut everyone down.

They also have great depth on the bench, with new additions Jones and Hassell joining a good mix of established vets (Stackhouse, Devean George and Erick Dampier) and promising youngsters (Maurice Ager, Jose Juan Barea, Brandon Bass and Nick Fazekas). This surplus of talented bench players makes them very versatile and allows them to match up with almost anyone.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

In terms of statistics, you could say the biggest weakness is in the offensive post. Dallas finished 28th last season in points in the paint and will drastically need to improve that number when the jumpshot isn't falling. The other main problem is simply the lack of leadership on the roster. As the disastrous series with Golden State proved, Dallas has no one to go to when things fall apart. Dirk Nowitzki is a fantastic player but he doesn't always motivate others.

Passing is another area of weakness. The Mavs were one of only seven teams to average fewer than 20 assists last season, and only two of those teams (Dallas and Orlando) made the playoffs. Of the main rotation players, no one possesses exceptional passing skills, but they can get away with it by having a number of players that are excellent one-on-one, with Nowitzki perhaps being the toughest player to guard one-on-one in the entire NBA. Expect the Mavs to be in the bottom half of the league in assists yet again, but don't expect it to keep them from winning games.

Coaching may also be an issue, as Dallas was clearly out-coached by both Miami in the 2006 Finals and Golden State in 2007. It's not necessarily that Avery is a bad coachâ€"he just currently lacks the ability to make big changes from game to game. Hopefully the addition of Paul Westphal and Mario Elie will help spice up the overall game plan and give Avery Johnson some different viewpoints to strategize with.

4. What are the goals for the team?

One word: championship. Dallas no longer is looking for individual accolades, for in their last seven years (all 50-win seasons) they have received such honors as Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, and MVP. The only thing missing is the Larry O'Brien trophy, and another loss at any point in the playoffs would be a disappointment.

5. What does each player need to do to improve?

Dirk Nowitzki - Become a better leader and clutch player. He'll never be the post player or defender we'd like him to be, but Dallas needs to know they can rely on him.

Josh Howard - Stay consistent from half to half. Josh was fantastic generally in the first half of games last season, but always managed to disappear in the fourth quarter. He also needs to focus more on attacking the basket rather than shooting jumpers.

Devin Harris - Average more than 10 points and 3 assists a game. He has been given the full-time starting point guard spot, and he will need to develop more confidence running the offense and distributing the ball. Devin's defense is already among the best in the league so clearly that's not an issue. But if I were to nitpick, he needs to pick better spots to try to take charges, as he often got into foul trouble early in games because of this.

Jason Terry - Become a better on-the-ball defender. Terry's jumper will inevitably be there but I don't want to see a repeat of last year's playoffs when he was burned by Baron Davis on every other play.

Erick Dampier - Stay healthy and avoid turnovers. Damp will typically try to score when he is given the ball, but he still frequently drops passes and isn't always aggressive enough with his moves. He may not even be ready for the start of the season as he is recovering from a significant shoulder injury.

DeSagana Diop - Play better than in Summer League. I've heard of “playing down to your opponent,” but Diop looked like the 12th man on a D-League roster against a bunch of undrafted players trying to make it in the league. We don't need offense from his as much as rebounding and shot-blocking. It doesn't look like he'll ever be a threat on offense, but it would be nice if he could hit that 10-12 foot jump shot consistently and also improve his free throw shooting so teams are forced to guard him.

Jerry Stackhouse - Health is always an issue with his knees, but really a good goal would be to have a field goal percentage around 44%. If he's going to see less time on the court, we can't have as many games where he goes 2-9 from the floor.

Devean George - Be the leader Dallas thinks he is. Devean has 3 championship rings to speak of, yet he faded fast at the end of last season. Part of that was due to injury, but he still needs to be an aggressive hustle player off the bench.

Trenton Hassell - Come in and be the defensive stopper that his reputation says he is. Once he adjusts to the system, he will be in charge of guarding the other team's top offensive player. He's also got to hit mid-range shots when open.

Eddie Jones - Play some solid minutes off the bench and contribute when called on. It's harder to adequately judge how Eddie will fit into the system but I'd expect him to be able to score on a consistent basis. It's possible he could become the starting shooting guard to address the issue of Dallas' undersized backcourt combo of Harris and Terry, so consistency is a must with him.

DJ Mbenga - Mbenga, more than anything, needs to get some time on the floor. In his three seasons in the league it's really been hard to tell what kind of skills DJ has due to injuries and limited court time. He's getting too old to keep around unless he shows improvement. With Dampier likely sidelined to start the season, he could get his chance very soon.

Jose Juan Barea - Barea needs minutes in a way similar to Mbenga, though he has a significant bit more time to develop. Plus, after watching him score and be a floor leader in Summer League we know what he is capable of. He mainly just needs to work on his on-the-ball defense.

Maurice Ager - Please score the ball and look like you're giving it your all out there. Ager has yet to prove himself worthy of a first-round selection. He spent a lot of time last season in Avery Johnson's dog house, therefore he will need to prove himself in camp to avoid being relegated to the end of the bench yet again.

Nick Fazekas - It's his rookie season, so I don't think too much will be expected of Fazekas to contribute immediately. However, he needs to show better footwork and aggressiveness than he did in Summer League. He was a decent shooter in college, but he must prove that he can knock down shots in the much more fast paced NBA game.

Brandon Bass - If Bass is to get any playing time he'll have to prove he's strong enough to go against larger defenders. He couldn't get playing time in New Orleans, but he must have done something to impress Avery Johnson in earning a contract. He is expected to be Dirk's primary backup at power forward.

Projected team record: 60-22. Dallas is still a dominant team and will show it on the court. However, I wouldn't expect them to be as strong in the regular season as they involve some younger players while keeping guys rested for the postseason. I'd expect them to go further in the playoffs, at least to the Western Conference Finals.