How the Dallas Mavericks Have Found Success This Season
Before this season started, not many expected much out of the Dallas Mavericks this season.
Due to injuries, age, and offseason disappointments, it appeared to be a lock they would finish with a sub-.500 record.
But through 31 games, the Mavericks are 18-13 and are poised to be in the playoff chase through the entire season.
The surprise of the NBA, the Mavs have a top-10 offense and top-15 defense, regarding efficiency. The offense rarely turns the ball over, and the defense is one of the better rebounding units in the league.
They are playing well as a whole and are stunning the Association.
How have they done it? Let's take a look.
Old Man Dirk Getting it Done
The 2014-15 season was statistically one of the worst seasons in Dirk Nowitzki's 16-year career. His field goal shooting, points, and rebounds were all the lowest numbers the seven-footer has put up since his rookie season. He showed his age, looking like he would limp off into the sunset.
With two more seasons remaining in his career, the expectation was that Dirk would be limited to around 25 minutes per game in 2015-16 to keep his legs fresh. As unlikely as it seems, the organization viewed the 37-year-old as a complementary piece while they reshaped the roster to build a bridge to their future without him.
Always an excellent shooter, Nowitzki still has his one-legged fadeaway working as well as his long-distance shot. While he has cooled off a bit lately, the seven-footer was making shots at an unreal rate over the first six weeks of the season.
Through his first 20 games, Nowitzki was flirting with the 50-40-90 club again, as he was shooting 50 percent from the field, 43.5 percent from three, and 89.6 percent from the line. What Nowitzki has accomplished so far this year has been anything but complementary.
While Matthews and Parsons have played limited minutes early on, Nowitzki has taken on the offensive scoring load.
He is averaging 17.1 points per game for the team lead. While that is not an eye-popping total, keep in mind that before this season, only four other players in NBA history have averaged at least 17.0 points per game while age 37 or older, per Basketball-Reference.com. Those players? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, and Dominique Wilkins. Not bad company to be in.
Nowitzki is also accomplishing that feat in the fewest amount of minutes of the group, as he is playing just over 30 per game.
Nowitzki has rebounded from his poor season last year, quite literally. His 8.1 rebounds per 36 minutes are the highest total he has put up in eight seasons. The extra contributions on the glass have helped Dallas become a top-10 defensive rebounding club. Nowitzki is not alone in the extra work on the glass. The biggest boost has come from an unlikely source.
Zaza, The Rebounding Machine
When Dallas traded for Zaza Pachulia, it was well known he was a last-minute add to save face after the DeAndre Jordan fiasco. Nevertheless, even as a consolation prize, Pachulia has well outperformed even the modest expectations for him this season.
A part-time starter throughout his 12-year career with Orlando, Atlanta, and Milwaukee, Pachulia has stepped right into the Mavs' starting lineup with the weight of their rebounding woes on his shoulders. Last season, the Dallas ranked 23rd with 42.3 rebounds per game.
To everyone’s surprise, Pachulia has been a force on the glass this year. Not only is the center leading the team with an average of 10.4 rebounds per game, but his 19.7 percent Rebounding Rate also obliterates his career rate of 15.8 percent. Unbelievably, Pachulia ranks eighth in the NBA in rebounds per game. In 12 seasons, the center has averaged 9.7 boards per 36 minutes. This season, he is besting those numbers while playing in fewer than 29 minutes per game.
Pachulia has not been just a one-trick pony this year. Besides the rebounding, he is averaging 10.5 points per game, a level not seen by the 12-year vet since he was a fresh-faced 22-year-old with Atlanta in 2006-07. He also has 16 double-doubles already, ranking him fifth behind only Andre Drummond, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and the aforementioned Jordan.
While he may be their best performing offseason acquisition, Pachulia was by far not the biggest name to join the Mavericks this season.
D-Will's Solid Start
Following a four-and-a-half-year stint with the Nets, the club decided to move on from Deron Williams, and rightfully so. After two seasons filled with poor play and injury, the point guard was paid a whopping $27 million not to step foot in the Barclays center again.
Once mentioned in the same breath as Chris Paul as possibly the best point guard in the NBA, Williams had became bad enough to justify the hefty buyout. With not much to lose, Dallas took a shot at resurrecting the career of the former three-time All-Star. The organization's hope was a return to the 31-year-old's hometown could work magic on his career.
Due to the way his tenure in Brooklyn ended and coach Rick Carlisle’s recent rocky history with point guards (see Rajon Rondo), many outside of Dallas reasonably believed Williams would see his NBA career fade away in North Texas. To the contrary, while the numbers aren’t tremendous, being out of the relative spotlight has allowed Williams to bounce back this season.
Through 26 games played, Williams is averaging 14.8 points, good for second on the team. His 5.8 assists in 32.7 minutes per game are both team highs as well. They're pedestrian numbers compared to his Utah days, but they are light years better than his last two seasons in Brooklyn. His play, along with Matthews, has helped solidify the Mavericks backcourt that had disappeared this offseason.
The Early Return of Iron Man
With the Mavericks' leading scorer last season, Monta Ellis, jumping ship, the Mavericks had a Texas-sized hole at shooting guard. The signing of Matthews was not only designed to be the short-term solution but also one of the franchise cornerstones for the next five years.
There was much concern over the possible timetable for the return of the former Trail Blazer, who was coming off of Achilles surgery in March. To the surprise of everyone, Matthews beat all the expectations by being in the Mavs' starting lineup from Day One.
Even with limited minutes over the first few weeks, Iron Man's mere presence on the court gave the whole squad an emotional lift. While his shot was off for the first month or so of the season, 34.7 percent field goal shooting his first 16 games, Matthews has picked it up in the month of December.
Playing nearly 35 minutes per game, Matthews is averaging 15.2 points with 3.2 three-pointers per game on over 40 percent shooting from the field and from beyond the arc -- modest numbers for someone making over $16 million this season but remarkable production from a player only nine months removed from Achilles surgery.
To an outsider, the club looks like a mish-mash collection of journeymen and has-beens. There is legitimate concern that, with the second-oldest roster in the league, Dallas will fade down the stretch.
However, we project Dallas will maintain their early success and finish 45-37 with a 97.2 percent chance of making the playoffs.
The play of Nowitzki, Pachulia, Williams, and Matthews have the Mavericks rolling. If you add in Parsons being free of minutes restrictions and an experienced master tactician in Rick Carlisle pulling the strings, it leaves no doubt that the Mavericks will find a way to make the playoffs like they have 14 out of the last 15 years.