Coach of the Week: Rick Carlisle

Some week the Mavs had, huh? Dallas was so good during the past three games, in fact, that it really isn’t fair to single out any one player. Between Monta Ellis scoring like always, Rajon Rondo hitting five treys in Boston, and Tyson Chandler grabbing 12 boards per game, the Mavs had a complete week top-to-bottom. That’s how you go 3-0.

Credit, then, goes to the entire team. For that reason, this week’s “Player” of the Week isn’t a player at all. Rick Carlisle earned it, after all. He’s been money for years, but this past week was one of his finest.

Mavs’ Week in Numbers
114.0 PPG 51.6 FG% 48.5 3PT% (led NBA) 58.0 eFG% 119.1 Offensive Rating 93.7 Defensive Rating 2.59 AST/TO Ratio

At the root of the Mavs’ success this week and in the games before since the Rondo trade is Carlisle’s ability to manage his rotation in ways that allow the team to operate at full capacity even when his better players are sitting down. Dallas used nine different five-man groups this past week, a very high number for such a small number of games, and only three had a negative net rating (the difference between points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions). One of those lineups is the one he plays at ends of blowouts, when the objective isn’t to score as much as it is to run the clock out.

2015-01-04 20_51_03-NBA.com_Stats

Above are the four best lineups used this week by net rating. Notice who’s missing in each lineup.

1. No Monta Ellis, no Chandler Parsons
2. No Dirk Nowitzki, no Rajon Rondo
3. No Tyson Chandler, no Ellis, no Parsons
4. Starting lineup

Each of those three groups ranked ahead of the Mavs’ starters. Granted, each of them played much less than the starting unit, but the point remains that the Mavs’ bench hasn’t experienced as significant a drop-off as perhaps anticipated following the Rondo trade, in which Dallas sent away two top reserves and one starter. Some of that is due to Charlie Villanueva, some due to Richard Jefferson, some due to Devin Harris, and you could go on.

Dirk and Rondo are typically the first two players off the floor for the Mavs in a normal game, an astonishing thing when taking into account Rondo is the starting point guard and Dirk is the primary floor spacer in that unit. Chandler exits not long after. Carlisle trusts his reserves, no matter who they are, and they’ve all delivered. Harris, for example, has acted as a bridge between Ellis and Rondo, two players who have needed the ball to be effective throughout their career. However, neither Rondo nor Ellis seem to have any problems with seeing the ball less than usual since that deal, and Harris has performed brilliantly defensively, especially next to Rondo. Changing their personal playing style is easier because the Mavs have been winning games, of course — Dallas has won six of eight since the deal and, most recently, five straight.

Give that credit to Carlisle. With or without starters on the floor, the Mavericks have been playing at an elite level. Since the Rondo trade on Dec. 20, Dallas ranks eighth in the NBA in offensive rating at 109.8 points per 100 possessions and seventh in defensive rating at 99.6 points per 100. For reference, nine of the last 10 NBA champions have finished top-10 in both offensive and defensive rating, and the only exception (the 2009-10 Lakers) finished 11th in offense and fourth on D. Essentially, finishing in or near the top-10 in both categories is a prerequisite for winning a championship, and Dallas has played at and maintained that level of ball for the first two weeks of the Rondo Era.

Meanwhile, Dallas remains atop the league in offensive rating at 112.7 points per 100 possessions, which would tie the ’09-’10 Phoenix Suns for the best offense since at least the 1995-96 NBA season. NBA.com’s database doesn’t go back any further than that. Basketball-Reference’s does, however, and although the site uses a slightly different method to calculate a possession, this Dallas offense would finish ninth-best in league history. All the while, the defense has climbed up to 17th in the league after dropping into the 20s before the trade. Basically, Dallas has more or less sustained a league-leading offense while improving defensively, a scary proposition for the rest of the league. And, even excluding Rondo from the equation, only three currently active Mavs were on the team last season! Non-Rondos are still getting used to each other, let alone the team’s new star point guard. Once this team figures it out, watch out.

That task — figuring it out — ultimately rests on Carlisle’s shoulders. He’s demonstrated in the past that he’s able to devise gameplans that maximize his teams’ abilities. This is the same as any other season, only this year his team’s ceiling is maybe higher than any other he’s ever coached. That’s a lot of pressure, sure, but so far who could complain about the results?

STAT OF THE WEEK58

Dirk shot 58.3 percent from the field in the win against Cleveland. Dallas is now 10-2 this season when Nowitzki hits at least 58 percent on FGs, per Basketball-Reference, and the Mavs are 193-51 all-time in such contests. Not bad.

Nowitzki is on pace to shoot 58 percent or better in 29 games this season, which would be a career-high. His current best is 27, which he accomplished in 2010-11. That year is memorable for other reasons, of course. He did it 20 times during his MVP season in 2006-07, and otherwise has done it 18 times twice and 17 times four times.

Dirk got off to a ridiculously hot start to this campaign before his percentages dipped through December. However, his overall numbers are on the upswing after hitting at least 58 percent in three of his last six outings. I suspect once he gets more used to playing with Rondo, he’ll have many more of these games, although how teams will approach Dallas defensively will have a lot to do with that. Some teams have doubled Dirk relentlessly since the Rondo deal while others have left him open pretty regularly, though obviously that isn’t by design.

It’ll be interesting to follow throughout January and beyond. It goes without saying Dallas would like to see him hit 58 percent or better. History shows Dallas would be pretty successful if that happens too much more.

Player of the Week: Rajon Rondo

Practice Report: Rick Carlisle

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle comments on Rajon Rondo's defense against Oklahoma City, how the team will need the same effort against the Wizards Tuesday and more.

It didn’t take long for Rajon Rondo to prove his worth.

The Mavericks have certainly experienced some growing pains during the early stages of Rondo’s tenure with the team, but we’ve already seen significant signs of progress. After just five games with the Mavs, Rondo already looks like he has a connection with Dirk Nowitzki, and his command of the offense makes it seem like he’s been on the team all season and then some. The best part is there’s still room for improvement.

Rondo’s Week in Numbers
15.5 PPG 8.3 APG (led team) 50.0 3PT% (tied for team lead) 1.8 SPG 2.36 AST/TO Ratio 100.1 Defensive Rating 6.7 Net Rating (led team)

Dallas has faced all sorts of unorthodox defensive approaches since the acquisition of the new point guard. San Antonio played a 2-3 zone for the entire game last weekend. Atlanta and even the Lakers showed some brief 2-3 looks as well, and generally speaking every team has packed the paint in an effort to limit the drive-happy Mavericks’ attempts at the rim.

When news broke that Tyson Chandler would miss Sunday’s Dallas/OKC tilt, there was plenty of reason to be uneasy. After all, he’s the team’s defensive backbone and his rim rolls open up opportunities for other players on the floor, most importantly Dirk. Due to Chandler’s absence, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle turned to a three-guard lineup to start the game with Chandler Parsons and Dirk at the 4 and 5, respectively. That’s also the type of unit Dallas finished the game with, though Devin Harris replaced Barea.

That turned out to be brilliant move, as Rondo and the starters launched an early offensive blitzkrieg and that same three-guard group was able to close the game strong. Nowitzki at center opened up the lane for cutters and kept driving lanes open all around the perimeter. Rondo, specifically, was able to take advantage of that late in the game, when his slow, heady cut toward the basket while Russell Westbrook turned his head toward Nowitzki led to an easy bucket.

Just a reminder: These guys have only been playing together for a week and have had limited practice time together. Sure, Westbrook turned his attention away from Rondo and toward Nowitzki, but Rondo still showed a great deal of court awareness to continue moving all the way toward the rim without drawing too much attention to himself. Dirk saw him, delivered the pass, and Rondo converted the layup to put Dallas up five. The Mavericks scored 121.0 points per 100 possessions with Rondo on the floor against Oklahoma City, an absolutely blistering rate.

Equally as important is his defensive prowess. Just this past week, Rondo did battle against Westbrook, perhaps the league’s best player over the last couple weeks, Goran Dragic, and Eric Bledsoe, and tomorrow night he’ll have another tough matchup against budding superstar John Wall. However, Rondo played excellent defense against Westbrook, especially, all game long, limiting the All-Star to 6-of-23 shooting.

Some of his best defense came late in the game, like on the play above. Playing without his usual pick-and-roll partner Chandler, there was even more pressure on Rondo to fight through ball screens and contest Westbrook’s shots. Fortunately, he’s quick enough to recover from going over a screen and long enough to contest shots if he goes underneath them, which makes him one of the more defensively imposing point guards in the league. In the play above, he went over the screen and recovered just in time to cut off Westbrook’s driving lane. Instead, OKC’s star was forced into a difficult, contested 15-footer.

Perhaps his most significant defensive play of the week also came in the Thunder game. With just over three minutes left and the Mavs up two points, Steven Adams was trying to deliver the ball to Westbrook on the left side of the floor, high above the three-point line. But Rondo, the pesky prowler that he is, was aggressively denying the pass, and it ultimately led to an OKC turnover. Nowitzki would score on the other end to put Dallas up four.

Defending like that takes a crazy amount of both physical and mental energy, not to mention cornerback-like instincts. Rondo effectively removed Westbrook from the play and it led to a bad pass. No matter how good NBA superstars are, they won’t hurt you if they can’t touch the ball. That style of defense is not something Rondo can play for 35 minutes every night, but it’s nice to see that he has the commitment and tenacity on that end of the floor to rev it up when the game calls for it.

He’s already given us about a million different reasons to be grateful for that trade. Give this thing another month or so and we’ll have even more.

STAT OF THE WEEK10+

The Mavs hit double-digit three-pointers in two games this week — against Atlanta and OKC. Dallas has now reached that plateau 14 times this season and is 12-2 in such contests, per Basketball-Reference. That means when the Mavs fail to hit at least 10 treys, they’re just 10-8. There’s no secret to their success: If their outside shot is falling, it’s gonna be tough to beat them.

Dallas is 15th in three-point percentage this season at 35.2 percent. That number figures to increase as the team grows used to playing with both Rondo and Ellis on the floor together. Carlisle’s three-guard, five-out lineup was able to generate plenty of good looks from beyond the arc, and Charlie Villanueva has brought another dimension to the offense when he’s on the floor.

The three is a huge part of the Mavs’ offense, as only Houston and Phoenix attempt more of them per game. If the past is any indication, once those shots start falling with more regularity, this offense could be unstoppable.

Player of the Week: Chandler Parsons

Inside Stuff: Cowboy Baby

Chandler Parsons is embracing the cowboy fashion as he represents the Mavericks.

Everything Chandler Parsons does is stylish, even when it comes to busting out of a slump.

Parsons worked his way through an up-and-down start to the 2014-15 season, experiencing moments when he couldn’t miss and playing games when his shot simply wasn’t falling. But this past week he burst back onto the scene, leading the Mavs in scoring and reminding us all of the type of productive player he can be when he finds his range. That’s why he’s this week’s Player of the Week.

Chandler’s Week in Numbers
25.0 PPG (led team) 58.1 FG% 56.3 3PT% (led team) 1.5 SPG 2.5/1 AST/TO Ratio 72.6 eFG% 118.8 Offensive Rating (led team)

It was very evident that Dallas missed Parsons during Saturday’s loss to Golden State. Richard Jefferson put up a 13/13 double-double in his stead, but the Mavs weren’t able to capitalize off of the spacing effect Parsons can create when his shot is falling. Even if he’s slumping, defenses still must respect his outside shot — but during the past few games, he’s been on fire to the degree that defenders are now desperately launching themselves at him, which makes his already lethal pump fake all the more dangerous.

Parsons has also found ways to create for others this season even though the Mavs rarely ever run offense through him. Generally, Monta Ellis, Jameer Nelson, or another point guard will drive the lane and then swing it to Parsons on the weakside. It’s then, once the defense has already shifted and perhaps even broken down, that he’s at his most dangerous. Most teams don’t have a small forward who can put the ball on the floor and make something happen. Many are spot-up shooters, and that’s fine. But his ball-handling ability is what makes Parsons such a dynamic threat. If you close out too hard, he’ll drive right past you. If you don’t close out at all, he’ll shoot right over you. If you contest him once he drives, he’ll dump it off to a center at the rim for a dunk. He’s a classic Swiss army knife of an offensive player; he can do a bit of everything.

Parsons is known for his passion for fashion. Last week he even found time to partner with Stance Socks to debut his own signature line. Check out the video to get a sneak peek. He designed the socks to represent who he is as a person, so, being a Florida native, they feature a tropical look with flamingos.

We must hope that his lower back issues are resolved soon, though. Dallas plays just two games between now and next Saturday, which gives every player a chance to rest his body. The Mavs play a road back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday before coming back home next weekend. Word isn’t out yet on any type of timetable for his return, but it seems like Parsons is only dealing with pain more than any type of structural damage, which increases the chances that his day-to-day status will be lifted soon. Considering how red-hot he is from the field right now, let’s all hope that’s the case. He needs to be on the floor.

STAT OF THE WEEK10

The Mavericks are 10-2 against teams with losing records (below .500) and 7-6 against teams that are .500 or better. Dallas has played fewer games against losing teams than any other Western Conference playoff team, an especially surprising stat because the Mavs have played more games than every team in the league except Orlando. More than half of the club’s games this season have been against teams with winning records. The only other playoff team in the NBA which can make the same claim is the Miami Heat.

That stat, then, is two-pronged: The Mavericks have taken care of business against teams it should beat, but it also means the schedule will even out for Dallas soon. Because the West is so deep, every playoff team in the conference will play a very high number of games against winning teams. But for teams like Portland, which has played 16 of its 24 games against losing teams, that “schedule shock,” so to speak, will be even stronger.

Rick Carlisle and every player in the locker room would tell you that 7-6 isn’t good enough against winning teams, so at this point the Mavs can’t worry about other teams’ schedules. Jameer Nelson and Tyson Chandler said recently that the Mavericks are only concerned with themselves, and that’s the way it should be as the season is still in its early stages. A lot can happen between now and April in the West standings — you’ll seriously go crazy keeping up with that stuff every day, so don’t even waste your time. Dallas is worried about Dallas, and that’s a good thing.

After the Knicks/Pistons back-to-back this week, the Mavs will play the Spurs, Hawks, and Suns consecutively. Throw in late-December home games against the now-healthy Oklahoma City Thunder and Wizards and we have ourselves a difficult schedule the rest of the month. We’ll find out soon how much that 7-6 record will change. The rest of the season is going to not only be a marathon, but one run on I-35 in August. It’s going to be brutal and taxing and crazy, but it’s also going to be a heck of a ride. Get ready.

Player of the Week: Monta Ellis

Play of the Day: Monta Ellis

Monta Ellis drills a deep 2-pointer as time expires in the fourth as the Mavericks take down the Bucks.

There’s no way Monta Ellis couldn’t be this week’s Player of the Week.

He was just unbelievable in the last four games, at times carrying the team and at times just playing his normal All-Star brand of basketball. Ellis technically hit two game-winners in two nights (the Milwaukee buzzer-beater and the three-pointer to take a 130-129 lead in Chicago), and while it’s impossible to credit just one player for any NBA win, without Ellis’s late-game heroics in both contests, there’s no telling if Dallas would have won either game.

For example, Ellis scored eight of the Mavs’ final nine points in the come-from-behind road win against the Bucks Wednesday night, and all of them came in the final 1:34 of the game. He took his game up another level in Chicago, and he’s sustained that rare combination of efficiency and volume throughout the entire week — his 32.4 usage rate in the last four games leads the team by a mile, and that number climbed to an even higher 36.8 percent in the fourth quarter, meaning more than one-third of Mavs possessions in the final frame ended either in an Ellis shot or turnover. And considering he turned it over less than two times per game during the last four, more often than not it was a shot and two points.

Monta’s Week in Numbers
28.3 PPG (led team) 50.0 FG% 1.8 SPG (led team) 32.4 usage rate (led team) One buzzer-beater and one game-winner (led the team!) 8.3 PPG in 4th Quarters (led team) 57.9 FG% in 4th Quarters

As Rick Carlisle and other Mavericks have said, the team can’t continue to rely so heavily on Ellis for the rest of the season. However, on a team with as many scoring threats as this one, it does make sense to ride the hot hand. That’s what Dallas did when Dirk had it cooking a few weeks ago, and that’s what’s happening now with Ellis. Once he cools off a bit, the Mavericks can look in a different direction for points. Last night, Chandler Parsons led the way in the scoring department, although he was also the only Maverick who played more than 30 minutes in what turned out to be a blowout win in a rematch with the Bucks. Ellis and Nowitzki were also red-hot — in other words, everything was back to normal.

But we might as well enjoy the most recent Ellis tear while it lasts. He’s simply been phenomenal at a time when Dallas has needed him most, and his conquests are a huge reason why the Mavs rank second in the league in “clutch” net rating (difference in points per 100 possessions in the final five minutes of a game with the lead at five points either way) at +33.1. The Mavs have played more clutch minutes this season than all but three teams, per NBA.com, which makes their absurd efficiency in the closing moments of close contests even more impressive. Monta Ellis has a lot to do with it.

STAT OF THE WEEK69.8

Dallas shot 69.8 percent (37-of-53) on two-pointers Sunday against the Bucks. According to Basketball-Reference, it’s just the third time in franchise history that the team has converted on 2s at that clip. The other two games, strangely enough, have both come in the year 2014. Dallas hit 70.2 percent against the Lakers on Nov. 21 and 72.2 percent on Feb. 21 against Philadelphia. The performance against Philadelphia ties for the 14th-best in as far back as the B-R database goes (the 1963-64 season). Last night’s blitzkrieg against Milwaukee ties for 41st all-time.

Consider that another coincidental stat, as the Mavs’ No. 41 hit 7-of-8 himself on 2s yesterday. Per B-R, it’s just the 14th time in his career that Dirk has hit at least 87.5 percent on 2s on at least eight attempts. (The Mavs have only lost one of those games.)

Highlights: Mavs vs. Bulls – 12/2/14

Monta Ellis scored 38 points and sank three free throws to send the game into overtime. His 3-pointer from downtown Peoria put the Mavs up for good as they outlast the Bulls in double OT.

We saw all sorts of bonkers efficiency last night. Chandler Parsons went 7-of-8 on 2s. Monta Ellis was 6-of-8. Brandan Wright and Tyson Chandler combined to shoot 66.7 percent, which actually lowered the team’s field goal percentage. You don’t see that very often. (Based on how well those guys have played this season, I don’t think they’re going to hear about it in the locker room.) For the season, Dallas leads the league in two-point percentage at 54.5. Only seven other teams hit at least half their 2s.

Last night’s offensive outburst propelled the team’s offensive rating back up to 114.0, 2.3 points per 100 possessions better than any other team. The Mavericks haven’t scored fewer than 106 points in a game in exactly two weeks; Dallas scored 100 points in a loss to Indiana on Nov. 24 and the Mavs have won six of seven since.

Player of the Week: Tyson Chandler

It didn’t take long for Tyson Chandler to make his presence known.

The center has dominated for practically the entire season, but this week he turned it up even further. Chandler averaged a double-double this week, including a 25-board gem against his former team, the New York Knicks. It was just the sixth time a Maverick has ever recorded that many rebounds and the second since the end of the 1995-96 season. For all the worries that some around the country expressed regarding Chandler’s injuries last season, there hasn’t been much for Dallas fans to fret about this season with the seven-footer’s play. Chandler has been the best defender and best rebounder on the team in all 18 games. In other words, he’s just doing his job.

Chandler’s Week in Numbers
13.5 PPG 67.7 FG% (led team) 14.3 RPG (led team) 6.0 ORBPG 1.8 BPG 90.4 Defensive Rating (led team) 21.0 Net Rating (led team)

Chandler’s net rating this week in particular stood out. Normally, Dirk Nowitzki and Brandan Wright are among the team leaders in net rating. However, those two were shockingly toward the bottom of the pack this week, while the two Chandlers — Tyson and Parsons — topped the list. The Dallas starters did work this week. The best thing about this team is that the bench can carry the team for very long stretches, but the starters definitely can, too. Dallas rolls 12-13 deep almost every night, and the Mavs have quality from top to bottom. Perhaps a more effective way of measuring a player’s value is by looking at how his team did without him. In the four games last week, the Mavs were 33.8 points per 100 possessions worse than their opponents when Chandler did not play. How’s that for impact? Last week, at least, the team performed miles better offensively and defensively when its starting center took the floor.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean Chandler is a one-man team or that his teammates let him down this past week. The numbers do speak for themselves, though, and rather loudly. Chandler is healthy, motivated, and comfortable. That’s a dangerous combination for a player capable of affecting the game in all areas the way Tyson can.

STAT OF THE WEEK98.12

The Mavs’ pace averaged out at 98.12 in the four games they played last week, a huge increase over their typical mark. Pace is the number of possessions a for team per 48 minutes. You’ll notice many newer basketball stats are “X per 100 possessions.” Almost every team plays fewer than 100 in a typical game, but that number is just a round, even way to account for style of play. For example, slow-it-down teams like the Grizzlies, Pacers, Knicks, and and Hornets are all toward the bottom in pace, while run-and-gun teams such as Golden State, Phoenix, and Denver are toward the very top.

Chandler Crush

Jose Barea feeds Tyson Chandler inside for the power dunk in the lane.

Last season’s Dallas squad was near the bottom in possessions per game, and the same held true through the first dozen or so games this season. However, last week the Mavs averaged more than 98 possessions per game, more than two per game above the club’s season average and ninth-most in the NBA. The Mavs now rank ninth in total pace for the entire season. It certainly helps that games against Toronto and Philly, two fast-paced teams, helped to cancel out the grinding battles versus New York and Indiana from earlier in the week. The Mavs averaged 99.89 possessions in the Raptors and 76ers contests, which would be the fourth-highest pace in all of basketball were it the team’s season mark.

Dallas has shown that it is fully capable of adjusting to its opponent’s preferred style of play, whatever that might be. The Mavs don’t necessarily need to impose their will on the game because their roster is so versatile enough to win in several different ways. For example, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons are capable of speeding up the tempo, while players like JJ Barea and Dirk Nowitzki can slow it down with multiple pick-and-rolls to milk the shot clock. Dallas attacks early in the shot clock and the Mavs also wait until the final second at times to find shots. Dallas will take whatever the defense gives, and not many teams can make the same claim. Last week the defenses allowed early shots, so the Mavs took early shots — and it worked out just fine.

Player of the Week: Brandan Wright

Wright Lob Slam

Brandan Wright gets the lob slam from Devin Harris.

Brandan Wright continued his ridiculously hot start to the season this week. The backup big man has reached double-figures in seven consecutive games and eight of the last night. Factoring in last night’s loss in Houston, the Mavs are now 9-1 on the season when Wright scores 10 or more in a game. The statistical savant also recorded his first double-double of the season last night, pouring in 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and grabbing 11 boards.

Wright has simply been phenomenal this season. He’s scoring 0.8 points per halfcourt touch right now, meaning every two times he touches the ball, he’s scoring 1.6 points. That’s an outrageous clip and only one player in the NBA who plays more than two minutes per game (Denver’s JaVale McGee) averages more points per touch. However, even he plays six fewer minutes per game than Wright and receives eight fewer touches per game. There really is no one like Wright.

Wright’s Week in Numbers
12.5 PPG 80.8 FG% (led team) 5.8 RPG 1.3 BPG 1.3 SPG 123.4 Offensive Rating 23.6 Net Rating

His 78.5 field goal percentage leads the league and would be the highest of all-time by a wide margin. Anthony Davis is the only player with a PER higher than Wright’s 31.1 (30 is considered extraordinary), per Basketball-Reference. His 161.1 offensive rating is 22.5 points higher than second-place Courtney Lee’s 138.5 and he’s worth more win shares per 48 minutes this season than anyone in the NBA.

Drive And Find

Jose Barea drives and finds Brandan Wright for the alley-oop slam.

You could go on and on about a player like him because he truly is one-of-a-kind. For a player who plays relatively few minutes — only 18.9 per game, though it’s a career-high — to be worth that many win shares and have a PER that high is mind-boggling. Stats like PER favor heavy-minute players because the stat factors in overall production into the equation. This means Wright makes the most of his minutes when he’s on the floor — even more surprising when you consider his usage rate is only eighth-highest on the team. He finds ways to make an impact off the ball.

If Wright can maintain even 95 percent of his efficiency and productivity for the rest of the season, he’s going to have one of the most outstanding statistical season in league history.

STAT OF THE WEEK6

Last night’s defeat in Houston ended a six-game winning streak, the Mavs’ longest of the season and best overall since the 2011-12 season. You have to go back to the 2010-11 season to find the last time Dallas won six or more in a row at least twice in a season — at one point that season, the Mavs won 18 of 19 games.

The next six are going to be tough, but the six on the other side are going to be even more difficult. Dallas will play Indiana and New York at home next week before going on a four-game trip that will take the team through Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Milwaukee. Three of those teams are .500 or better and Toronto has the best record in basketball. Following that run, Dallas will play Phoenix, Milwaukee again, Memphis, New Orleans, Golden State, and New York again. The Mavs have plenty of games against playoff-worthy foes approaching, which means there are bound to be some really close, entertaining contests to come in the near future — similar to the games we saw against Washington and Houston this past week.

The Mavs will have to play some outstanding ball to win six straight during the next 12, but anything is possible. The Mavs have lost four games this season but have been in the lead toward the end in two of those games. You’ll go crazy playing this game, but their record is that close to 12-2. Learning to win in the clutch is something that takes time for teams with tons of new players, but unfortunately in the West you don’t have a lot of time to figure stuff out. The Mavs are going to be tested during the next month, and the onus is on them to turn close games into wins. That’s how winning streaks are born, and that’s how contenders are made.

Player of the Week: Monta Ellis

Highlights: Mavs vs. Timberwolves – 11/15/14

Monta Ellis led the way with 30 points and seven others scored in double digits as the Mavs chopped down the Timberwolves 131-117.

Monta Ellis isn’t the player of the week just because of his own numbers. We’re beginning to see significant evidence through 10 games that his fingerprints are really all over this team.

Ellis went ballistic on the court this week, scoring 21.5 points in just 32 minutes per game and hitting well over half his shots. Dallas was 24 points per 100 possessions overall when Ellis played. Those are impressive numbers, and they’re a huge reason by Dallas went 3-1, including one dramatic comeback win against Sacramento and two fairly convincing wins over Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Much was made last season of Monta’s development as a player and how effective he became alongside Dirk Nowitzki. A lot of very smart people pointed to Nowitzki’s impact on floor spacing making things easier for Ellis, and therefore Dirk deserved a lot of the credit. That isn’t necessarily incorrect, though one could argue that the German benefited just as much from Ellis. Their symbiotic relationship in the halfcourt propelled Dallas to a league-best offense after the All-Star break last season and the Mavs are off to another crazy-good start this season.

Monta’s Week in Numbers
21.5 PPG (led team) 4.0 APG 1.5 SPG (T-team lead) 52.4% FG 40.0% 3PT 120.2 Offensive Rating 23.9 Net Rating

That said, Ellis has connected with several other Mavericks this season en route to maybe the most efficient start to a year in his career. For example, per NBA.com, Brandan Wright has attempted 10 shots this season off of Ellis passes, and he’s made all of them. Tyson Chandler is shooting 85.7 percent on field goal attempts following a dish from his pick-and-roll partner. Parsons connects on 55 percent of his attempts. Devin Harris is shooting 50 percent on three-pointers following an Ellis pass.

Notice the pattern? Ellis is generating offense for everyone, including himself. And they’re easy points, too. A huge chunk of those points are a result of Ellis penetrating the defense. Dallas scores nearly 1.4 points every time the 2-guard drives to the rim, per SportVU. Ellis is scoring just 6.7 points on drives, but he’s creating 7.0 points for others as well. But even as his individual per-game scoring average off drives has dropped from last season to this season, he’s still 4th in points in the paint per game among guards. The Mavs are 2nd in the NBA behind only the New Orleans Pelicans.

But maybe the biggest impact Ellis has made is felt in another part of the game: transition. Monta and Chandler Parsons are two of the most dangerous transition players in the league, and that’s transformed this Dallas team for the better. The Mavericks now look to push the ball every chance they get, whether it’s off a turnover or a long miss. Ellis is 14th in the league in fast break points per game and the Mavs are 4th as a team. Parsons and Ellis combine to score 6.6 points on the break every game. Those are six very easy points, and as close as the West is going to be this season, every last point matters and could very well decide a game.

After Dallas signed Ellis last summer, he said he wanted to become a one-man fast break. This season, he doesn’t need to be. He’s got company.

STAT OF THE WEEK2

The Mavericks have recorded 30+ assists in two consecutive games for just the second time since the end of the 2009-10 season, per Basketball-Reference. Dallas dropped 33 dimes against Philadelphia on Thursday and 31 last night against Minnesota. The site’s game database only goes back to the 1985-86 season, and it’s just the 13th time since that season that the Mavs have followed one 30-assist game with another. The Mavericks only reached three straight games once — during a stretch in March of 2008.

That run has increased the team’s assists per game average from 21.6 to 23.7, a remarkable leap in such a short time span. Obviously, small sample size is still a factor, as Dallas has just played 10 games this season. However, the Mavs only recorded 30+ assists in 10 games last season, according to Basketball-Reference. That the team has already done it twice this season — never mind that it was in two straight contests — speaks volumes about the club’s willingness to share the ball. That starts with this week’s player of the week, Monta Ellis, and continues all the way down the roster.

Up next for Dallas is a date with Charlotte tomorrow night. This season the Hornets are allowing 23.6 assists per game, the sixth-highest mark in the league. It will take a terrific 48 minutes of ball movement to reach the 30-dime plateau yet again, but the Mavs offense is in a groove right now, and crazy things can happen when shots are falling. There are already plenty of reasons to watch this team, but the quest for 30 is one more.