Bill Streicher – USA Today Sports
Over the off-season, NBA fans everywhere caught the worst thing imaginable: pessimism. Yes I know, please hold back your cringes, you haven’t let me finish. Pessimism towards who? Why, none other than our Dallas Mavericks. You already know the reason. After being snubbed by he-who-shall-not-be-named, we were left out of options at the center position when the sneaky Phoenix Suns snatched Tyson Chandler from under our noses. However, as the young dawn with fingertips of rose lit up the world, we had a new hope, one that has been confirmed thus far through the young NBA season in the form of a 6-4 record.
When we first traded for Rajon Rondo and Tyson Chandler, we focused on those two as the centerpieces of the trade, while Dwight Powell and Raymond Felton were added as consolation gifts. Who would’ve thought those two would turn into some of our most valuable players? Both have been godsends in this young season. Felton has kept the ship upright while both Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams have been recovering from nagging injuries. Felton is averaging 9.5 points per game on 42% shooting. However, his contribution has shown less through his statistics and more through his game awareness. On this pick-and-roll against Houston, Zaza sets a solid screen and Raymond comes around it. As he does, he sees Rockets center Clint Capela step up. At this point, Felton has three options. He can either (1) pass it to Zaza, who would probably be picked up by Capela, (2)pass it cross-court to Justin Anderson, who would be picked up by Montrezl Harrell, or (3) take it to the hole. He uses the hesitation to force Capela to come up, then turns on the jets to finish at the rack.
On this play against the Suns, Felton shows another example of his intellectual prowess. He dribbles up on an out-of-position Eric Bledsoe. Knowing that Bledsoe is more athletic, he uses a spin move to take advantage Bledsoe’s position. When Alex Len drifts over, Felton dishes a dime over to Powell who puts it away for the slam. Speaking of Powell, he’s proven himself to be an important piece of our team. In 21 minutes, Powell is averaging near double-double numbers, posting 11 points and eight rebounds per game.
Though these two have done wonders for our team, this isn’t the Felton and Powell show. Other bench players like Charlie Villanueva, J.J. Barea and Devin Harris have stepped up. All three are averaging over seven points a game, and J.J. is also dishing five assists each night off the bench. Our bench is the one thing that separates us from teams like the Clippers and the Bulls. The Clippers are great when Chris Paul is on the floor, but without him, they have went 2-2, and they only won those two games because of the play of Blake Griffin. When we beat the Rockets, we did so without Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki. Our bench has been our savior, and if they keep up this level of play, things are looking up for us.
It sometimes seems that Rick Carlisle never gets enough credit for his efforts. Over half of the roster consists of new players. Roster turnovers like that have been common for the Mavericks since their 2011 title victory. Yet Carlisle still seems to make it work. As a team, the Mavs are twelfth in the NBA in assists per game. Think about that for a moment. A rebuilt roster coming together and dishing out assists at an above-average rate. That is all because of Carlisle. Not only that, our defense has looked surprisingly strong, ranking fourteenth in the NBA. Even with the loss of Tyson, our defense has kept improving, another testament to Carlisle’s chemistry skills.
No longer will you think of a Georgian as Atlanta-born Derrick Favors. A true Georgian is taking the NBA by storm right now, and his name is Zaza Pachulia. After we acquired him in a trade with the Bucks for a second round pick (which leaves us without a pick for this upcoming draft, I’m kind of miffed about that), many Mavs fans had low expectations. He is having his best year in his twelfth NBA season. He is averaging a double-double, doing so in five games this year. He is ninth in the NBA in rebounding and has been hitting shots and drawing fouls at tremendous rates. Obviously, it is easy for Zaza to get open when Dirk is scoring around 18 points per game on 53% shooting from midrange and 50% from deep. He has also put up his highest rebounding average since 2009, averaging 7.2 boards per game.
Even though this season is young, our 6-4 record has a lot more behind it than it seems. The contribution from the bench, the phenomenal team chemistry and the strong performances from vested veterans have all given us a reason to believe in Dallas this year. And that hope I discussed earlier? That hope is the ability to win by playing solid, team basketball, because as we know, playing solid was all it took in 2011.
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