Bloggers Talk: Dallas Mavericks

The Nets are back home, and on the verge of real history tonight, so today, Rob Mahoney, from the terrific Mavs TrueHoop site, The Two Man Game, joins us for another round of Bloggers Talk.

NAS: I need to start you off with a non-Mavs question first giving the historical nature of tonight’s match-up. With one more loss, the Nets will own the worst start to a season in NBA history. As a fan of the incoming team, do you sympathize with the Nets at all, or do you want to see the Mavs be the ones responsible for the record breaking loss?

I’m sympathetic. I don’t really care if the Mavs beat the Nets, but I do care if the Mavs lose to the Nets…if that makes any sense at all.

If Dallas wins, it’s not as if they chisel there names into the NBA record books. The Nets will be a team of historic misery, but the Mavs really have nothing to gain aside from being the team the struck last. That’s not a distinguished honor, and for all its importance this week, it’ll be forgotten in a matter of seasons, if not months or weeks. No team and no fan base should have to go through what the Nets and their followers are going through right now. That’s as plain as the look on CDR’s face, and as a fan of the game (which I consider myself first and foremost) and a fan of plenty of Nets’ players, I can’t in good conscience say that I like watching Jersey suffer. The sooner this streak is over and behind us, the better.

That said, the Mavs will have some explaining to do if they manage to lose to a team with zero wins. The Mavs have begun to show some defensive vulnerability amidst a string of injuries (Shawn Marion, Erick Dampier, Josh Howard, Quinton Ross), and losing to the Nets would pour acid directly into the wound opened last week against the Warriors. So while it doesn’t make a bit of difference to me whether or not the Mavs are the straw that breaks New Jersey’s back, I’d like to think this Dallas team is good enough to not have to worry about such things.

NAS: You recently debated whether Dirk Nowitzki is doing anything that different this season. His scoring is up, and he’s reportedly playing better defense. Is Nowitzki at the peak of his career?

Oddly enough, probably not. In the NBA, there are few things more reliable than Dirk’s jumper. You could set your watch by it, tune a piano to it, and even play tapes of it for your sleeping baby to vastly improve their basketball IQ. Yet this season, Dirk’s shot has been a bit off. Dirk’s shooting in the last few games has been closer to his usual hyper-efficient ways, but his eFG% for the season is still the lowest since his rookie year. Just about every other aspect of Dirk’s game is finely tuned at this point, but until his shooting upgrades from “just really good” to “Dirktastic,” I’m inclined to say that he’s seen better stretches. The shot will come back, and when it does, I’ll be more than willing to revisit this question.

NAS: Nets fans obviously have an interest in Jason Kidd. How has he looked this season so far, and do you think it was a mistake for the Mavs to bring him back?

Jason Kidd has looked strong this season. He’s really developing a solid chemistry with newcomers Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden, and once the Mavs are good and healthy, Kidd’s talents will be even more apparent.

I’m sure Nets fans are well aware of this, but it’s almost uncanny how Kidd can contribute in such overt ways (lobs, full court bounce passes, jumping the passing lanes for a steal) and yet have so much of his value go unnoticed. It’s the kind of things you only notice after watching him game after game. Not only does Kidd find Dirk in his favorite spots on the floor (face up at the top of the key, or posting up on the wing), but he places the pass perfectly as to not compromise Dirk’s positioning. Not only does Kidd create turnovers at a high rate, but his defense in the post is superb. For Kidd, the game isn’t measured in points and assists, but creating and maintaining the offense with a carpenter’s precision, and defending with a philosophy that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. He may not have the same lateral speed, but Jason Kidd is still Jason Kidd.

It’s easy to turn back the clock to that franchise-altering (for both the Mavs and the Nets) trade, but coming up with a concrete answer is a bit more difficult. Devin Harris is an undeniable talent, but who’s to say that his set of skills are better for these Mavs than Kidd’s are? And really, the team would be drastically different: Rodrigue Beaubois probably wouldn’t be a Mav, Shawn Marion, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas, Kris Humphries, and Quinton Ross could be elsewhere, or maybe the entire roster would have been shaken up by now. There’s been a coaching change for both squads, and a million shifts between then and now. I appreciate what Devin brings to the table just as I appreciate what Jason does, and although the Mavs have yet to bring home a championship (which was the expressed intent of the trade), I don’t think the trade was necessarily a mistake. I was against the move at the time, but the way Kidd runs an offense must have a calming effect.

Also, it’s worth noting that if the Mavs had found more success with Devin Harris at the point, Avery Johnson would probably still be the head coach. Johnson’s style was radically different from that of Lawrence Frank, and even though the Mavs would still have a young, talented point guard, Devin would essentially be shackled as long as he was a part of Avery’s system. That’s pretty much the paradox of Devin Harris’ time in Dallas, and personally I think it’s unlikely that he would ever match his current scoring success had he stayed with the Mavs.

So in short, no, I don’t think bringing Kidd back was a mistake. But about those two first round picks included in the deal…

NAS: There wasn’t a ton of buzz surrounding the Mavs headed into this season, yet they’re back near the top of the Western Conference again. Is their 12-5 start a surprise to you, or were pundits just sleeping on the Mavs?

I’m a bit surprised at how quickly the Mavs have beefed up their defense, but the overall effectiveness of this team isn’t all that surprising to me. Shawn Marion was the headline grabber in the offseason, and he’s been a crucial part of the Mavs’ new defensive schemes. Drew Gooden has been a great addition to the Mavs’ center rotation, and though he lacks the burl and defensive ability of Erick Dampier, he’s a difference make on the glass and the scoreboard. Rookie Rodrigue Beaubois has given the Mavs a sorely needed boost in the absence of Josh Howard. Plus, the contributions of Quinton Ross, Kris Humphries, and Tim Thomas (yeah, that Tim Thomas) have been notable. That’s a bonafide group of role players that grant Rick Carlisle all kinds of rotation options. Once everyone is healthy, this Mavs team will be scary versatile with its ability to manipulate match-ups to negate and exploit their opponents.

But take a look at those new additions. That’s a lot of moving parts for Rick Carlisle to incorporate, and aside from a hiccup in the season opener against the Wizards, this has looked like the beginnings of a legitimate contender. The Mavs still have plenty to improve on during the season, but Mavs fans have to be impressed with this team’s defense, adaptable offense, and sheer ability to close games.

It’s worth noting that even though no one had Dallas atop the Western Conference or even the Southwest Division, I did see them getting plenty of love as a trendy “sleeper”/”dark horse” pick. That’s not a bad place to be, and if the Lakers want to soak up all the glitz and glam while the Mavs go to work under cover of media nightfall, that’s just fine by me.