The Mavs’ schedule has officially been released, and with it now come hope, promise, and expectations.
Dallas will open the 2014-15 season at San Antonio on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. CST. The Spurs will be receiving their championship rings that night, and in some ways it’s fitting that the ceremony will happen before a game against the Mavericks, the team that gave the Spurs their toughest challenge on the road to the title. If Dirk Nowitzki and Co.’s hunger for another Dallas championship wasn’t already great enough, it will only grow stronger seeing the Spurs celebrate their title.
The Mavs will then play the Utah Jazz at the AAC two days later, the team’s home opener, Oct. 30 at 7:30 CST.
It’s a given that Mavs small forward Chandler Parsons will make the offense better.
That much was clear when Dallas inked the 25-year-old to a contract last month. But what’s also evident based on the team’s other signings this summer is the Mavericks intend to get better on the defensive end of the floor, as well. The acquisition of Tyson Chandler should shore up the interior defense, and probable reserves Greg Smith and Al-Farouq Aminu are also excellent defenders themselves.
The team has made a concerted effort to improve from 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency last year into the top half of the league, and Parsons could absolutely help. For all the attention his offensive game has received since Parsons signed with Dallas, he’s an accomplished defender as well.
Last season with Houston he allowed just .74 points per possession (well above league-average) when guarding pick-and-roll ball handlers, limiting shooters to 35.2 percent from the field and forcing turnovers more than 15 percent of the time, per Synergy Sports. And he faced plenty of those plays last season: Nearly 28 percent of his defensive plays last season came against pick-and-rolls. That comes a year after he allowed a similar .70 points per possession against the same play. The two Chandlers — Parsons and Tyson — will give Dallas a markedly improved defense against pick-and-rolls involving bigger players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and anyone else Parsons might guard. At 6′ 9″, Parsons has the length to guard power forwards and the quickness to defend guards. That versatility will afford Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle the freedom to sic Parsons on whichever player he chooses. In addition, his ability to force turnovers will play right into Carlisle’s defensive strategy — Dallas thrived on playing dicey D last season, playing with active hands against ball-handlers and in the passing lane.
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Who is the Mavericks all-time leader in points per game? Which Mavericks team did Hardwood Paroxysm declare the best offense in NBA history? Which Maverick leads the franchise in all-time field goal percentage?
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Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have made it their mission for the past decade to surround Dirk Nowitzki with a capable supporting cast full of players who can fit in with the system and complement Nowitzki’s own strengths. The 2011 title team was an example of their finest work, as the front office gave Rick Carlisle everything he needed to construct a perfect offensive strategy that highlighted what those players could do as opposed to what they couldn’t do.
As Nowitzki prepares to enter his age-36 season, it’s becoming even more important not only for the front office to continuously add strong complementary players, but also for Dirk to apply less stress to his body. That doesn’t necessarily mean playing fewer minutes — the Dirk we saw last season was not the low-post-banging Nowitzki of the mid-2000s, for example — but it does mean putting him in position to play off of other players more so than he did, say, five or six seasons ago.
The pieces are already in place for exactly that to happen. Monta Ellis and Devin Harris were terrific creators last season, and the additions of Chandler Parsons, Jameer Nelson, and Raymond Felton give Dallas three more facilitators, players who can create for themselves and for others — all the while allowing Nowitzki the freedom to play a less physically taxing brand of basketball. Banging in the post takes a toll on even the strongest players, as does driving the lane and taking contact. Over the course of the past half-decade we’ve seen Dirk gradually shift his game further from the basket toward the three-point line, and the results have paid off. Last season, despite playing the second-fewest minutes per game since his rookie season, he put together one of the most efficient seasons of his career.
Defense and depth were toward the top of the Mavs’ wish list heading into the summer, and the signing of Al-Farouq Aminu answers both needs.
The 23-year-old small forward is the best rebounder at his position in the NBA by percentage — over the last two seasons, Aminu has snagged more than 23 percent of the available defensive rebounds and 15.5 percent of total available rebounds while he was on the floor. Those are good-to-great numbers for big men, let alone 6′ 9″ wings. Perhaps his best game of the 2013-14 campaign came against the Mavs, as Aminu filled it up for 16 points and 20 rebounds. Chandler Parsons will start at the small forward spot, but Aminu will surely compete for backup minutes at the position with Jae Crowder and Richard Jefferson, and the lanky four-year vet might also find time at the power forward spot here and there if Dirk Nowitzki needs a breather. He has the versatility and length to defend four positions well, giving Rick Carlisle the freedom to unleash Aminu on the most dangerous perimeter player at any given time. Assuming Crowder and Devin Harris come off the bench again this season, and factoring Greg Smith into the equation, Dallas will have perhaps one of the best defensive second units in all of basketball.
His most significant contribution to the team in terms of defense could come against the pick-and-roll. Aminu has the length (a 7′ 3″ wingspan) to defend the longest and most dangerous perimeter threats in the league — guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, for example. James, especially, has shown over the years he has what it takes to be extremely dangerous in pick-and-roll situations. Aminu, however, provides Dallas with a good counter. He was the sixth-best pick-and-roll ball-handler defender in the NBA in 2012-13, allowing just .53 points per possession in those situations, allowing opponents to hit only 33.3 percent of their field goal attempts on such plays (per Synergy Sports). In addition, 27.8 percent of those possessions resulted in turnovers, as he has the ball skills and length to swipe at the ball and deflect passes. Those are crazy good numbers.
His signing might not have been the Mavs’ most heralded of the summer, but Jameer Nelson is an ideal acquisition in every sense of the word.
When clubs like Dallas look for free agents — teams that are eyeing a high position in the conference and a potentially deep playoff run — three important factors stand out more than any other: disposition, fit in the system, and cost. How those key ingredients come together in a player’s makeup determines whether or not a contending team will bother pursuing him. Nelson checks out on all three, giving Dallas yet another capable guard in its already deep stable.
Nelson isn’t a rising star like, say, Chandler Parsons. At 32 years old, he is what he is at this point. But that’s just fine. He’s a veteran player who understands his role in the system and has played on several successful teams in the past. Dwight Howard might have been the centerpiece of the Orlando Magic’s steady run during the late ’00s and early ’10s, but Nelson was one of the more proven players on the squad, flirting with a 50/40/90 during the 2008-09 season before a torn labrum sidelined him for half the season. He was an All-Star that year and hit threes at a 45.3 percent clip. His three-point percentage sank below 35 percent during each of the past two seasons for the first time since 2007 (more on that later), but much of that had to do with the supporting cast in Orlando after Howard was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers. Nelson isn’t the type of player to settle for declining percentages, however.
Now that summer league is over the Mavs will turn their attention to finalizing their roster for training camp, which is just over two months away.
While it’s still too early to really forecast who exactly will fill out the entire 20-man roster come October — Dallas could always make more moves, including signing free agents and making trades — some names from the Summer League roster are worth taking a look at.
For starters, Ricky Ledo and Gal Mekel, both of whom performed well in Las Vegas, are under contract with the club and, barring additional roster moves during the rest of the summer, will both make the 15-man roster come November. Ledo averaged a team-high 15.4 points, 3.8 boards, and 4.4 assists — tied for seventh in the LVSL. He also hit 37 percent of his three-point attempts. Mekel, meanwhile, scored 11.5 points on 53 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc, adding 4.3 rebounds and three assists versus just 1.5 turnovers. Those are the types of numbers you expect to see from second-year players in the Summer League, and both looked clearly improved from last season.
It’s often said about players drafted in the second round that they’re facing an uphill struggle just to get their professional careers off the ground. Everything is earned — a training camp invite every season, every minute of playing time, a second contract. Nothing is easy for players who essentially start their careers behind the eight ball. Whether or not it’s correct or fair is up for debate, but that’s the reality.
If there’s one player to whom all of the above applies, it’s the Mavs’ second-year wing Ricky Ledo. Drafted 43rd overall last season after spending more than a year away from competitive basketball, Ledo has taken as humble a road as a hot prospect can through one season, and his battle hasn’t stopped yet.
He played just 33 minutes for the Mavs last season, as ahead of him on the depth chart at the 2-guard spot were proven veterans like Monta Ellis and Vince Carter. As a result, he spent most of the 2013-14 season with the Texas Legends, the D-League affiliate of the Mavericks, where he scored 13.3 points per game in 39 contests and added six boards and three assists. He was assigned, recalled, then reassigned back to the D-League six times last season, an extended back-and-forth ordeal that routinely saw him take private planes to the Northeast to join the Mavs and then a commercial flight out west with his D-League teammates all in the span of 72 hours. It’s not a glamorous way for a young player to earn his stripes in pro ball, but in Frisco Ledo got exactly what he needed: minutes on the floor.
The Mavs’ acquisition of Chandler Parsons on a three-year deal answers nearly every hole the team had left to fill at this point in the off-season.
Dallas had two key needs following the Tyson Chandler trade, and another opened up once former Mav Vince Carter signed with the Memphis Grizzlies, and Parsons fulfills all three. The Mavs were chasing a wing player who could shoot. Yep, Parsons, check. Dallas needed youth. Well, Parsons is only 25. Finally, Carter left behind a playmaking void after signing with Memphis, but Parsons solves that problem, too. Any way you slice it, the Parsons deal is a great move for both parties. The Mavs identified their man early on in free agency, and they got him. Here’s what the forward will bring with him.