DALLAS — It was the birth of a new dynamic duo in the NBA this season in Dallas as the Mavericks paired 12-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki with new addition Monta Ellis.
Looking to add a potent scorer on the perimeter to assist Nowitzki at the offensive end of the floor, the Mavericks’ front office inked Ellis to a multi-year contract last summer during free agency. The two then quickly formed one of the most lethal scoring tandems in the league, highlighted by the Mavs’ come-from-behind 123-120 home win over Houston on Nov. 20 when Ellis posted a season-high 37 points on 13-of-18 shooting and Nowitzki added 35 points on 13-of-20 from the field.
“If me and Dirk are going like that, you know, the other teams have a problem,” Ellis said after the Mavs overcame an 18-point deficit in the third quarter to capture the win. “And not just because we’re going like that, but because that means they’re going to pay so much attention to us that it opens it up for Vince [Carter], Jose [Calderon], Shawn [Marion] and guys like that.”
“Look, they’re both stars in this league,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle added in regard to his 1-2 scoring punch. “In big games and big moments your stars have got to be stars, and they were. You know, we had a good balance of them playing off of each other and them getting other people involved. And they’ve got to do a lot of work at both ends, ’cause teams are trying to attack them. It’s a lot of work, but we’ve done some good things and we’ve got to keep riding the wave here.”
However, in an era where superstars are aligning across the league, do the Mavs need the emergence of a third go-to scorer to get them back to a championship level?
With Nowitzki and Ellis shouldering most of the offensive burden, the Mavericks returned to the playoffs for a 13th time in the last 14 seasons following a 49-33 campaign. Perhaps more importantly, the Mavs also relied on their depth as five scorers averaged in double figures during the regular season.
Led by Nowitzki, who averaged a team-best 21.7 points per game this season, and Ellis’ 19.0 points an outing, the Mavs saw a drop-off to Carter’s 11.9 points off the bench. But the shared scoring responsibilities didn’t seem to slow down the Mavs’ offense at all. And after ranking eighth in the league while putting up 104.8 points a game as a team, the Mavericks more than made up for not having a third go-to scorer.
“We have a lot of scoring on this team and a lot of guys who can do a lot of things,” Carter foreshadowed heading into the season. “With the amount of scorers we have and the guys that can do a lot of things, we believe in each other. I think everybody has bought in from the beginning on sharing the ball, and you’re starting to see that. That mentality in the very beginning of the season is going to carry us through the rest of the year.”
That was certainly the case.
Pushing the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, the Mavericks continued to rely on Nowitzki and Ellis while adding additional scoring down the roster. But, with the Spurs’ Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili eventually having their way, the Mavs would find themselves on the losing end of a competitive series.
Still, the Mavericks believe that they’re built for success as they attempt to take another step forward next season, looking to continue to rely on their depth as they pursue a second championship in franchise history.
“I think we’ve got a team that knows how to play basketball,” Calderon confidently said. “There’s other teams that just rely on good players, but I think we can be a really good basketball team. And when we play as a team, it’s going to be easier to get to where we want to be.”