John Hollinger's yearly preseason player breakdowns usually herald the start of a new season. And so it should be with the introduction of the Dallas Mavericks player profiles.
But no. The interminable lockout will delay the season at best, cancel it at worst.
Clearly, our esteemed 5-on-5 panel is champing at the bit to see a bit of the champs back on the court. In the meantime, refreshed by Hollinger's outlook, they'll give us an idea of what to expect from Dirk Nowitzki and Co. if, and when, the games resume.
1. For which Mavs player is the 2011-12 season most important?
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: A year ago, the Mavericks put their young, likable, lightning-quick guard Rodrigue Beaubois on billboards and dubbed him a superstar in the making. It didn't happen. Now he's coming off a second foot surgery, and the Mavs need to plan for the future with their aging backcourt, so Beaubois must regain his game -- breakneck penetrations -- and his confidence.
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki's stock has never been higher and likely never will be again. Experts said his No. 5 placement in #NBArank cheated him. Some even consider him a top-10 player of all time. If Nowitzki never wins another title, that type of respect will vanish -- and this next season will be his best chance to win one.
Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: The young guys. Winning another title is the short-term goal, but the future is getting closer and closer in Dallas. By virtue of their games, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry are likely to experience steeper age-related decline than Nowitzki. If the Mavericks hope to squeeze more out of the Nowitzki era, they have to develop players like Rodrigue Beaubois, Corey Brewer and Dominique Jones.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Rodrigue Beaubois. Although Beaubois had a few legitimate breakout games during his rookie campaign, he can't get mileage off those performances forever. Injuries and inconsistent play significantly limited Beaubois' court time last season and made plenty of people reconsider his potential. He needs to tap back into those rookie year flashes, lest he start to lose favor with fans and the Mavs organization.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Beaubois. I've been as close to the front of the Roddy B. bandwagon as anyone, but this is the season -- if we have one -- that his grace period runs out. The pressure's off now that the Mavs have made their championship breakthrough. So it's time to deliver. Injuries have certainly been a factor in slowing Beaubois down, but patience has pretty much been exhausted waiting on the tantalizing promise witnessed late in the San Antonio series in 2010, when Beaubois zoomed all over the floor to score 16 points in 21 minutes as a rookie in Game 6.
2. Who is the most intriguing player on the Mavs' roster?
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: Corey Brewer is perhaps the lankiest, most athletic small forward with untapped potential in the league. Brewer spent most of his brief time in Dallas on the bench and working relentlessly on his catch-and-shoot game behind the scenes with coach Rick Carlisle. The Mavs badly need youth and athleticism on the wing and Brewer can be invaluable, particularly if Caron Butler leaves.
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Jason Kidd. Kidd has repeatedly altered his game in the last few years as his athleticism has waned. Will his body hold up enough to allow him to play the way he did last season? If not, can he adjust yet again?
Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: Rodrigue Beaubois. His injury and subsequent inability to unseat anyone ahead of him in the rotation made last season a big step backward. That said, Beaubois has elite quickness and scoring ability. He's the one Maverick who seems to have barely scratched the surface of his potential.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Corey Brewer. I had my doubts about Brewer based on his time in Minnesota, but he took to his role in Dallas splendidly in his limited minutes last season. It's hard to deny Brewer's impact, which is both impressive and obvious; he's seemingly in every passing lane, and his energy on the court is infectious. I'm interested to see how Rick Carlisle utilizes Brewer this season, especially with a competitive wing rotation.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: I'm guessing you prefer that I look beyond the stately trio of Nowitzki, Chandler and Kidd ... so let's call it a coin flip between Beaubois and Rudy Fernandez. Two athletic Europeans who've both left us wanting more. Dallas needs a breakthrough from at least one of them to give an old group some much-needed new life.
3. What's the most surprising take in Hollinger's Mavs profiles?
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: John seems a bit down on Caron Butler, but until his Jan. 1 injury, Butler and Shawn Marion paired nicely as a small forward combo with differing skills. Forget stats -- Butler emerged as an excellent first- and third-quarter scorer, while Marion, for defense and rebounding, finished off games. It kept the 30-something players' minutes down and both accepted their roles.
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: How many extreme tendencies the Mavericks had -- Jason Kidd's many 3-point attempts and at-rim avoidance, Shawn Marion eliminating 3-pointers from his game, J.J. Barea making unassisted shots at the rim, DeShawn Stevenson shooting mostly 3-pointers, Brian Cardinal shooting only assisted 3-pointers, etc. Rick Carlisle does a great job of going to his players' strengths.
Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: That Rudy Fernandez is not a very good shooter. The numbers back up Hollinger's take -- Fernandez has made only 34.1 percent of his 3-pointers over the past two seasons. The surprise was getting a reminder of how often our assessments of a player's skills are inaccurate because of a focus on reputation or small statistical samples that miss current trends.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Honestly, there's not a lot to be shocked by here. The Mavs are who they are, and their cast of steady vets won the title last season based on their consistency. Factor in some small regressions here and there for age, etc., and Hollinger's projections look right on the money. Still, for this question's sake: Seeing J.J. Barea eclipse Jason Kidd in PER is a bit startling, even if that very thing happened last season, too.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: The Professor hit on something that folks rarely talk about, but it was an undeniable key to the most impactful season of Tyson Chandler's career: Chandler cut down on turnovers. Combine that with an improved face-up jumper and a more reliable free throw touch, and you can understand why the 7-footer credited with changing the defensive culture in Dallas was also a much better offensive center than the Mavs are accustomed to.
4. Based on Hollinger's profiles, what do the Mavs need most?
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: This is easy and definitive -- re-sign center Tyson Chandler and again feed off his emotion and defense. He was the key addition a year ago, hands-down. He fired up a traditionally low-key locker room and forced accountability on defense, and the results proved it. Losing Chandler would be utterly deflating.
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: A spending-friendly collective bargaining agreement. The Mavericks are at least two-deep with quality at every position, but that has come at a significant cost. A more punitive luxury tax might limit Dallas' biggest advantage: owner Mark Cuban's willingness to spend.
Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: To re-sign Tyson Chandler. Hollinger projects him as the only Maverick other than Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki to have an above-average PER next season. Chandler pushed Dallas' defense to elite status last season and was a much more competent offensive player than Brendan Haywood. Without Chandler, the Mavericks are vulnerable at both ends of the floor.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Tyson Chandler to return in free agency. This has a way of popping up in every Mavs-related column or 5-on-5, and for good reason; while Brendan Haywood is a pretty decent replacement, Chandler is just a step above in terms of his defense, production and efficiency. Dallas needs Chandler to return not only to keep his fantastic contributions as a starter, but also to preserve center depth with Haywood as a reserve.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Comprehensive and addictive as all this data is, I think what the Mavs would really appreciate is for Professor Hollinger to devise some sort of formula that, in the far more restrictive financial landscape we all anticipate when the lockout finally ends, enables them to re-sign Chandler and maintain sufficient financial flexibility to be able to eventually acquire a younger elite scorer. To keep the championship window propped open for its 33-year-old face of the franchise, Dallas needs a young perimeter gun who can gradually let Dirk become more of a co-No. 1 option as he gets older. Which obviously isn't so easy to pull off.
5. Would a shortened season help or hurt the Mavs?
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: Long or short, it really doesn't matter. We saw Jason Kidd get burned out a couple of times last season, and a week off rejuvenated him for a spectacular postseason. A shortened season means fewer games, sure, but more games in a tighter time frame, more draining back-to-backs. Rick Carlisle will have a deep team and will balance it all out.
Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Help. The past 10 NBA champions have averaged 56 wins in the season following their title. Once accustomed to winning, champs play hard to keep that feeling. But that's a heavy burden for an aging team in an 82-game season and could have tired the Mavericks ahead of the playoffs.
Ian Levy, The Two Man Game: On its face, the idea of fewer games would seem to be a bonus for the legs of an aging team. However, the spine of their hyperefficient offense is synergy of movement, spacing and timing. It takes practice and repetition to put those things in place and execute them. Fewer games may mean less time to put the pieces together.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Theoretically, it should help. Dallas is a finished product, ready to roll out with more or less the same core, barring a free-agent disaster. The Mavs don't need to worry about incorporating new players in a lockout season with reduced practice time, or seeing along the development of prominent prospects. They just rely on Dirk Nowitzki's silky release, a defense co-anchored by Chandler and Kidd, and stable across-the-board contributions. Plus, any measure that can reduce the likelihood of an injury to Tyson Chandler -- or Jason Kidd, given his age -- has a significant payoff.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Can see it helping marginally. The 82-game grind is the last thing that a veteran team like Dallas looks forward to, but stuffing 50 or 60 games into a compressed schedule has its own downside for an older team. The bigger boost to the Mavs' chances for repeating is the continuity they already have and the distinct possibility that their rivals might not be eager to rush into big roster changes until getting a full handle on the implications of spending money under those strict new rules.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Marc Stein writes for ESPN.com. Jeff Caplan covers the Dallas Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. Dan Feldman, Ian Levy and Rob Mahoney contribute to the TrueHoop Network.
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