Five on Five

2013-14 outlook: Dallas Mavericks

AP Photo/LM Otero

Dirk Nowitzki won't be flying solo again this season. But will the help be enough for a playoff run?

What's in store for the Dallas Mavericks? Our panel of five looks back at the offseason moves (and non-moves) and forward to what lies ahead in the 2013-14 NBA season.

1. What grade would you give the Mavericks' offseason?

Fred Katz, ClipperBlog: C-. The Mavs went from winning a world championship only a few years ago to sending Jose Calderon as their main recruiter for Samuel Dalembert. That's quite a drop-off. Waiting for Dwight Howard didn't work and signing Monta Ellis to a $25 million deal probably won't help.

Brett Koremenos, HoopSpeak: D+. There didn't seem to be much of a plan with Dallas' approach to this offseason. Calderon is an unheralded offensive force and fits perfectly into the plan to try and make one last run with an aging Nowitzki. But his arrival won't have nearly the impact it could because the Mavs didn't bring in any true wings to cover his weaknesses.

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: C-, but it's complicated. Their grand plan of stripping down the roster from the 2011 title team to create cap space to sign a "big fish" in free agency was a failure. But the Mavs did a good job of recovering from the gut punch of Chris Paul staying in L.A. and Howard heading to Houston.

Marc Stein, C. Can't go any higher because the home-run swing for Dwight Howard whiffed. But the fallback moves, to me, aren't nearly as disastrous as advertised in some corners. Monta Ellis is already clicking offensively with Dirk Nowitzki and they signed one of my all-time faves (Jose Calderon) along with some interesting bargains (Wayne Ellington, DeJuan Blair and Gal Mekel) to at least ensure that Dirk Nowitzki has a playoff team around him.

Tom Sunnergren, Hoop76: C. In a vacuum, the Mavericks had a fine summer. Canny signings like DeJuan Blair, Devin Harris, Calderon and Dalembert are precisely the kind smart contenders make to build their benches and reinforce weaknesses. Except the Mavericks aren't contenders. And so a team that could have been jockeying for ping-pong balls in a stacked lottery mired itself in purgatory. Nice.

2. What's the biggest question facing the Mavericks in 2013-14?

Katz: What is the plan here? The Mavs missed out on Howard and Williams. Now what? They might not know. Dallas tried the stopgap move last offseason (signing a few veterans to one-year deals), but now it looks like a team trying to ride out the Dirk Nowitzki Era a few years too long.

Koremenos: Can Rick Carlisle organize this misshapen roster into something coherent? The roster is chock-full of players who need the ball in their hands. That and an underwhelming collection of big men will make the task of finding productive five-man units quite challenging.

MacMahon: Can they stop anybody? The Mavs are going to be able to put up plenty of points with Nowitzki doing his thing, Ellis attacking the basket and Calderon orchestrating and drilling open 3-pointers, but all of those guys have well-chronicled defensive flaws. Coach Rick Carlisle is hammering a commitment to defense, and the Mavs are counting on Dalembert, a stopgap at center, to clean up some messes.

Stein: Can they be passable enough defensively to win games in an ultra-competitive conference when Monta, Dirk and Calderon are all on the floor together a lot? Put another way: Can the Mavericks' offense be sufficiently superlative to offset their defensive deficiencies? Tall order.

Sunnergren: The productivity of the old guys. In Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Nowitzki, the Mavs are weirdly reliant on a trio of erstwhile stars on the wrong side of 35(!) who, despite admirable efforts to fend off Father Time, each posted win shares per 48 minutes below their career averages last season. Nowitzki's decrease in win shares six of the past seven seasons is particularly worrisome.

3. Who's the Mavericks' most intriguing player?

Katz: Ellis. Of the 664 players in history who have taken more than 300 3-pointers in a season, Monta's 28.7 3-point percentage last season ranked 657th. He was in the bottom seventh percentile in true shooting percentage for players who have taken more than 17 shots a game in the 3-point era. Ellis has to find a way to bring a modicum of efficiency to Dallas.

Koremenos: Calderon. Toronto never seemed to be a great spot for him, but he finally has a top-notch coach and offensive counterpart in Dallas. His game may look ordinary, but all those simple, smart passes, accurate jumpers and turnover-free possessions make him one of the most underrated offensive players in the game.

MacMahon: Ellis. This seems to be an odd fit to a model of inefficiency joining a franchise that has been at the forefront of the NBA's analytics revolutions. Ellis bristles at the subject, but he knows he jacked up way too many low-percentage jumpers in Milwaukee. The Mavs hope he won't be put in that position much while playing with a pass-first point guard and the sweetest-shooting 7-footer ever.

Stein: I would actually say it's still Dirk -- as I did with Tim Duncan in the Spurs' 5-on-5 -- because it's fascinating to me how these Texas legends are going to handle their twilight years. But I suspect Monta is the prime nominee here. And I get it. Guys generally don't change when they've been in the league as long as Ellis, yet Dallas is banking on him to change his approach and make winning the priority above all else. Another tall order. The early signs, though, are promising. I get the feeling Monta is sick of hearing how he has the highest career scoring average of any player to never reach the All-Star Game. He knows winning is the only thing that can change his rep. And he seems prepared to embrace that reality ... so far.

Sunnergren: Calderon. A sieve defensively, the veteran is one of the most efficient offensive players in basketball -- at any position. Calderon finished second, first and second in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio the past three seasons and led all point guards with a .616 true shooting percentage in 2012-13. On the biggest stage of his career, he'll get his (overdue) due.

4. What's one bold prediction about the Mavericks?

Katz: The Mavericks will not win more than 30 games. Who is going to play defense? Is Dalembert supposed to clean up all the scraps? All of them? That's a lot of pressure with two turnstile starting guards in Calderon and Ellis and a less-mobile-by-the-year Nowitzki playing the 4. Shawn Marion, it's your turn to step up.

Koremenos: They completely implode. This team seems to be designed to secure one of the West's final playoff spots to give Nowitzki one last good run. But even Carlisle might not be able to get these players to complement each other.

MacMahon: Ellis will set a new career high for assists after averaging 6.0 last season. The Mavs don't plan to play him much at point guard, but he'll run a ton of pick-and-pops with Nowitzki. He's a willing passer who will feed open shooters and finishers like Brandan Wright after getting into the paint and drawing the defense.

Stein: This preseason baptism in the "deep end," as Rick Carlisle keeps describing it, is going to pay big down-the-line dividends for Mekel. He was only ever supposed to be Dallas' third point guard in Year 1. Yet here's Mekel starting game after game because of all the Mavs' injuries (Calderon, Harris, Shane Larkin) in the backcourt. Mekel's getting minutes and reps he was never supposed to be getting this soon. And it's going to make him an NBA player faster than anticipated.

Sunnergren: Wright will break out. With Dalembert and maybe Blair the only bodies between him and the floor, the bet here is that the analytic darling convinces Carlisle he can hold his own in the post, earns expanded minutes and produces close enough to his 2012-13 PER of 21.03. By season's end, the nerds won't be the only ones paying attention.

5. Prediction time: How far will the Mavericks go this season?

Katz: The Mavericks' past couple of seasons have been the basketball equivalent of Forrest Gump's run: They keep going forward without any plan. How far will the Mavs take this? Because they're running in the wrong direction.

Koremenos: Just miss the playoffs. There's a chance that Nowitzki and Carlisle have one more 45-plus-win season in them, but this team probably lands around 40 wins and misses out on the postseason.

MacMahon: This looks like a team good enough to win 45-48 games and fight for one of the Western Conference's last couple of playoff spots. If the Mavs accomplish their mission of making some playoff noise, it'd be a major surprise.

Stein: I remain stupefied when asked to explain how last season's Mavericks went 41-41 despite Dirk missing nearly 30 games. I don't think they'll quite win 50 this season, but there's no denying that the 2013-14 roster is stronger than the group that just went .500. So I see Dallas returning to the playoffs and finishing with 47-48 wins assuming Nowitzki stays reasonably healthy. It really doesn't add up to more than a lower playoff seed and a likely first-round exit, but they'll flirt with the 50-win mark that was the norm for more than a decade.

Sunnergren: They'll sneak into the postseason. Though Dallas' apparent quest to be the oldest and most average team in basketball has raised some eyebrows, the core of Marion, Carter, Nowitzki, Calderon, Wright and Ellis should do just enough to earn it the playoff spot the Lakers will abdicate. Put the Mavs down for 44 wins, the 8-seed and a quick exit at the hands of another team from Texas.

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