ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor in chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.
Who is the most valuable player who averages fewer than 20 points per game on this team?
Gutierrez: I almost want to say that it’s DeJuan Blair, but I would be falling into the trap of not appreciating what Shawn Marion brings to the team. If it weren’t for Blair, Marion would be leading the team once again in rebounds. Nobody saw Marion’s reintroduction of his 3-point shot coming, and that certainly adds more value. Add that to his defensive disposition and you’ve got a multidimensional asset.
Taylor: DeJuan Blair has been so much better than expected. I knew the reputation as a grinder and rebounder, but it's not hyperbole to talk about him being a beast this year for the Mavs. He has four double-doubles. He's also had five other games with at least eight rebounds. He plays hard and he's relentless on the boards. He's the reason the Mavs have held their own on the boards, when I figured they'd get slaughtered much of the season.
MacMahon: I give you guys a layup and you blow it. OK, Jose Calderon can't make a layup either, but he's the easy answer. Did you see the Mavs fall apart without him in the fourth quarter Friday night in Atlanta? There's a reason Dirk Nowitzki essentially demanded that the Mavs get a proven point guard over the summer. Calderon's experience, ability to get the Mavs into their sets and the threat he presents as a perimeter shooter have immense value to the Mavs, especially when his only backups are rookies.
Why can’t the Mavs seem to buy a bucket in the clutch?
Gutierrez: They certainly bought enough of them in the game against Charlotte. Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, AKA Team Have It All, got it going on offense, but it all started on the defensive end of the floor. They’re able to operate much more efficiently on offense when they get key stops on the defensive end of the floor. If they deliver on defense, the offense will come.
Taylor: It's too early to get caught up in clutch buckets this early in the season -- as long as Rick Carlisle stops diagramming plays for Vince Carter at the end of the game. Carter used to be a superstar. Then he was a star. Now, he's a nice role player. The Mavs have two legit options at the end of games: Dirk and Monta. The ball should always wind up in their hands at the end of games because they can either score or create a much better scoring opportunity for someone else based on the attention they receive.
MacMahon: I'll agree that the sample size is too small to sound off any alarms, but the numbers are uglier than Chris Kaman's .500 beard. The Dirk/Monta show down the stretch in the win over Charlotte was an encouraging turn of events. There's no reason a squad that features one of the best NBA closers of this generation, a top-10 scorer this season and a veteran point guard shouldn't be a good crunch-time team.
Are Vince Carter’s struggles so far this season a win for Father Time or is it a matter of time before he heats up?
Gutierrez: Maybe I am naïve, but I am going to say the schedule hasn’t done Carter any favors. Turning 37 in January, the back-to-backs and lack of actual rest is wearing thin on his production. He’ll also get help when Brandan Wright and Devin Harris return. I can chalk it up to one bad month. Let’s see how things go in December as help starts to come.
Taylor: Vinsanity has been retired for three or four years, although he occasionally makes an impromptu appearance and dunks on Father Time. Vince Carter is now waging war against Father Time -- and he's not winning. He just finished a stretch where he failed to hit double figures six times in seven games. He's only scored 20 points or more twice. There were seven games between his first 20-point performance and the second one. We're now at 10 games since his last 20-point outburst. He's no longer an elite scorer. He's a quality role player, but the Mavs need another consistent scoring threat or Dirk and Monta will have to increase their scoring, which will eventually wear them down.
MacMahon: Father Time is a factor, but Carter is still a significantly better player than his numbers so far this season indicate. He needs to recognize his limitations due to his advanced age, which means exercising better discretion when it comes to shot selection, and to find other ways to contribute while he works his way out of this offensive funk. For example, his seven rebounds, three assists and solid defensive work against Charlotte made Carter a plus despite a 3-of-8 night that actually boosted his shooting percentage a tiny bit. At this point of his career, Carter is 95 percent man, 5 percent amazing, but he can still be a quality bench player at a bargain price.