Well, the Dallas Mavericks did it.
After a yearlong absence, they made it back to the playoffs. It took a superhuman season from Dirk Nowitzki and what seemed like an eternity of bouncing into then out of the top eight, but the Mavs are back in the show.
Though not without some significant warts.
Yes, Dallas has the third-most efficient offense, according to John Hollinger, but that's not the problem. Scoring never has been for this team. It's had other issues, some glaring and others less obvious.
There are three big issues this team has; three big problems have to be addressed if Dirk and Co. hope to make any noise in the playoffs. So let's get right to it.
For better or for worse, Dallas is going to ride or die on the shoulders of Dirk Nowitzki. The 35-year-old 12-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer has carried the team all year, and that won't change in the playoffs.
Throughout the season Dirk has been one of the best players in terms of his effect on his team. The Mavericks are 7.8 points better per 100 possessions with Dirk on the floor, according to 82games.com, one of the best marks in the league. And the offense specifically is a major beneficiary, scoring 4.3 points more when he's playing.
And this kind of data is obviously backed up by how Nowitzki has looked during the season. He's flirting with a shooting line of 50/40/90, while being a more-than-willing passer and putting up 21.6 points per game. Though the offense isn't run through him as much, it is certainly reliant on his talents and the attention other defenses pay to him.
Put it all together, and the Mavs rely pretty heavily on Nowitzki. Which would be fine if he wasn't 35.
Thirty-five in the NBA is practically ancient. It's hard to tell how much tread is left on Nowitzki's tires after 15 long NBA seasons, though one thing is for certain.
Without him, the Mavs are done.
Thirty-five-year-old NBA players are more likely to get hurt. You'll have to forgive me if I don't have the data to back me up on that one, but it's true.
And hurt can be a variety of things; it doesn't have to mean he will miss games. It could be a bum ankle or a sprained wrist. Anything of that sort that might slow Dirk down.
Dirk slowed down would be a death sentence for this team.
There is no second superstar, or even a second star for that matter. The Mavericks have been good because the team is exactly that, a team. With an offense predicated on ball movement and a roster full of guys who know their roles, outside of Nowitzki there isn't really another A-list guy.
Which means if Dirk can't get it done one night, Dallas doesn't have that other guy to look to. Sure, Monta Ellis has had big games, but he's tough to rely on.
To be clear, nobody is saying Nowitzki will get hurt. That's the last thing anyone wants. But when a team has one and only one star who is clearly in the twilight of his career, that's certainly a weakness. One that cannot be ignored.
Oh how this franchise misses Tyson Chandler.
It was so nice to have an athletic 7-footer who knew how to protect the paint. Chandler wasn't just a shot-blocker, but a shot-alterer if that's even a thing. He would put himself between the ball and the basket, extend his arms and make shots at the rim anything but gimmies.
Dallas could really use some of that right about now.
In Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, the Mavericks have one of the worst defensive backcourts in the league. Getting into the lane isn't too much of a challenge for opposing guards, and it would be nice to have a big guy waiting on the block to bail Calderon and Ellis out.
Samuel Dalembert has done a little of that. He's got the size and some of the instincts, but he's really just a Chandler impersonator. He barely plays 20 minutes per night, and when he's right he can do a good job. But unfortunately, that's not a consistent thing.
So where does that leave Dallas? As the fourth-worst defense in the league in terms of paint defense. According to NBA.com the Mavericks allow opposing teams to shoot 61.7 percent from five feet and closer.
For some perspective, the Indiana Pacers' opponents shoot 51.4 percent from that range. And they have Roy Hibbert. Oh, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are the next best at 54.5 percent, and they have Serge Ibaka.
I'm sensing a pattern.
Obviously Dallas cannot just add a paint-protector at this point. The team has to roll with what it has. It needs more game-saving blocks like this one from Brandan Wright, and more quality minutes from Dalembert.
I know, it makes me nervous too.
And that's why it's a weakness. Playoff teams will attack that rim, and right now Dallas is not in a good spot to defend it. If the Mavs can't at least have a pseudo paint defense, a first-round exit is likely in the books.
Anybody who has played basketball with even just a half-decent coach has heard some variation of this phrase. "A defensive possession isn't over until there's a defensive rebound."
This Mavericks team might need to hear that again.
By any statistic, Dallas would be one of the worst rebounding teams in the Western Conference playoffs. Whether it be total rebounds, rebounding differential or defensive rebounds the Mavs are at the back of the pack.
Currently the team's leading rebounder is Samuel Dalembert at 6.8 per game. It's no wonder the team struggles with boards.
And in the playoffs, this problem gets magnified. The games slow down, the players crash the boards harder and every rebound is crucial. Championships can be decided with one lapse. Just ask the Spurs. I'm sure nobody on that team has forgotten the Ray Allen dagger courtesy of Chris Bosh's glasswork.
There's just nothing more demoralizing than a certain type of offensive rebound. A team plays 24 seconds of high-energy team defense, only to see its hard work go to waste thanks to a poor box out.
To put it bluntly, the Mavericks are not a good defensive team. They rank poorly in defensive metrics (22nd according to John Hollinger) and simple stats (19th in points allowed). It's not their good side.
But as mediocre to ghastly as they are at all things defense, they're even worse at rebounding.
That's how bad it is.
With small guards, so-so rebounding centers and Dirk's diminished athleticism, Dallas just doesn't have the personnel to block out the likes of Blake Griffin or Kawhi Leonard. And just to prove my point, Leonard actually had a career-high 16 rebounds against Dallas just a couple days ago.
Defense wins championships. And without rebounds, defense doesn't really happen. So I guess you can say they're kind of important, and maybe something other teams might exploit in the playoffs.
All statistics, unless otherwise noted, are from Basketball-Reference.com.
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