Oklahoma City Thunder Stat Monkey Brief: Thunder/Mavericks (1/18/13)

Dallas fans are ecstatic that Dirk's back in the fold. But has his return actually helped?

The past two Western Conference champs meet in Dallas tonight. The Thunder bring the best record in the NBA to town. The Mavericks, though still sporting a shoddy record, have won four in a row, giving tonight’s matchup some intrigue. It is no secret that Oklahoma City’s offense is awesome and that Dallas’ defense stinks, so the key to this game will come down to the Thunder’s ability to stop the Mavs from putting up a lot of points. Here is what they should expect from Dallas’ offense.

Scoring by Committee

At first glance, the Mavs seem to be in the enviable position of having a plethora of guys who can score. Six Dallas players average more than 10 points a game and another four score more than five per contest. By comparison, Oklahoma City has only six players scoring more than five points a game and of those only four average double digits.

But the Thunder have 31 wins and the Mavs only 17. It seems that the whole scoring by committee approach has its weaknesses. Yes, Dallas averages 99.6 points per game (10th in the NBA), but the lack of a consistent scorer (sorry, O.J. Mayo) has led to some struggles.

Is Dirk’s Return Helping?

Naturally, some of the blame for the Mavs’ offensive inconsistencies can be placed on Dirk Nowitzki’s recent injury. But just how much of a difference has the star made since returning?

The altogether unsatisfying answer is that it is too soon to tell. In his first six games back, Dirk’s minutes were limited to around 20 per game. The team went 1-5 in that stretch (which included a narrow loss to the Thunder). Dirk has started the last seven games and Dallas has gone 4-3, but he is averaging 16.6 points over those games, a solid, but unspectacular number. Still, the Mavs as a team have averaged 103.1 in Dirk’s starts, compared to the 98.8 they averaged with him our or limited.

There is no question that the Thunder face a much tougher opponent in the Mavs with Dirk back in the starting lineup. Due to rust or lingering effects of the injury, he has yet to return to old form, but Dallas has played much better just having him back in the fold. Ultimately, though Oklahoma City can probably bank on scoring a lot of points, they better come prepared to play tough defense against what looks like a resurgent Mavs offense.