Don't Look Now, Dallas Mavericks Could Actually Be Dangerous Sleeper in 2013-14

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2013

Dirk Nowitzki is looking to rebound from a disappointing season where he was slowed by a knee injury.
Dirk Nowitzki is looking to rebound from a disappointing season where he was slowed by a knee injury.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat to win the 2011 NBA championship, but Dallas owner Mark Cuban proceeded to do something only someone as bold as Mark Cuban would do.

He slowly allowed many key players of his title-winning team to walk out the front door.

Tyson Chandler left for the New York Knicks, and J.J. Barea chased money and signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

One offseason later, a once-prophetical Jason Terry jetted his way to the Boston Celtics, and the franchise's assist-per-game leader Jason Kidd joined Chandler in New York.

At the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign, with a largely changed roster and its superstar wearing street clothes on the bench, the Mavericks were pronounced dead at the scene. Dirk Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of the season with a knee injury, and the 7-foot power forward's absence proved pivotal as Dallas missed the eighth and final playoff spot by four wins.

But after the most recent hectic offseason, head coach Rick Carlisle's squad may not be as messy as it first appears.

Of course, the Mavericks' success still hinges on how effective the 7-footer Nowitzki can be.

Dirk missed a total 29 of games last season, but despite being slowed by the knee injury, he was a rather effective shooter. Nowitzki's 41.4 three-point percentage was the highest it's been since 2009-10, and his 47.1 field-goal percentage was a 1.4 percent jump from the previous year.

Led by Dirk, the Mavericks are poised for a return to the playoffs, but although Dallas likely gets bounced in the first round, Carlisle's roster must not be overlooked. Behind a full-strength Nowitzki and some new talent, the Mavericks have the potential to be a dangerous sleeper next season.

Jose Calderon is an Underrated Star

Whether or not Nowitzki was on the floor last year, Dallas was in dire need of a true distributing point guard. Dallas relied on a collection of ball-handlers, primarily Darren Collison and Mike James.

But Jose Calderon signed with the Mavs this offseason, and Dallas now has the facilitator it was missing.

Collison led the team with 5.1 assists per game, and now-departed O.J. Mayo averaged 4.4 per contest, but neither player can compare to the nifty Calderon. In fact, he played similar minutes to Collison and underwent a drop in production, yet still managed 7.1 assists per game with a less-than-stellar-offensively Detroit Pistons team.

As an added bonus, though, Calderon is a fantastic outside shooter. He led the NBA with a 46.1 mark from three-point range.

Granted, Calderon has missed a handful of games during each of his professional seasons except in 2007-08. But if he stays healthy for 70-plus matchups throughout 2013-14, Calderon's knack for finding teammates with open looks will enhance Dallas' sometimes-bland offensive attack.

Monta Ellis' Ridiculous Shooting Can Be Curtailed

Monta Ellis.

Simply hearing the name conjures up memories of questionable shot selections.

But guys, can we talk about how Ellis has actually converted on 45.6 percent of his career attempts from the field? He has scored at least 19.0 points per game over the last six seasons, and Ellis has done so rather efficiently overall.

O.J. Mayo started every game for the Mavericks in 2012-13 and scored 15.3 points per contest on 44.9 percent shooting. Ellis can certainly replace Mayo's production, but he must stop making poor decisions when he has the ball behind the arc.

His three-point shooting is certainly an issue; Ellis made just 28.7 percent of his long-distance attempts last season. The problem is not necessarily the percentage, it is the fact that Ellis launched an even four shots from long range every night despite a sub-30-percent clip.

That's a lot of red from Xs behind the arc. Heck, there's quite a few red marks all over the court, but a force-field seems to appear when Ellis takes a shot near three-point line.

Monta is most effective near the rim, so using Calderon's passing ability and extra attention demanded by Dirk to his advantage would keep him from taking contested outside looks.

If Ellis realizes he is not a superstar and instead becomes a valuable complementary player on the wing, Dallas would have an offensive weapon and not just someone more than willing to take every shot.

Samuel Dalembert is A Less-Heralded Tyson Chandler

Well, not that he is physically smaller, per se, but the 6'11", 250-pound Samuel Dalembert can be a defensive menace in the post just like Tyson Chandler was when the Mavs won an NBA championship.

In his prime season (2007-08), Dalembert averaged 10.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, but since then, his minutes per game have slightly decreased each year. Dalembert played 33.2 minutes per contest during his best season, and he managed just 16.3 minutes per game last year with the Milwaukee Bucks.

With that being said, Dalembert has been equally, if not more effective as his career has progressed. His per-36-minute chart on Basketball-Reference proves the 11-year veteran had his most productive overall season in 2012-13.

Plus, comparing last year's Dalembert to Chandler's impressive 2010-11 season shows the two are quite similar.

Player (per 36 minutes)PPGORPGDRPGTRPGBPG

Oh, and Dalembert's contract is nearly $9 million less than Chandler's during the Dallas championship season. With Chris Kaman no longer on the team, the Mavs need Dalembert to continue being efficient next year.

Ultimately, if Calderon continues to facilitate, Ellis starts to make better shooting decisions and Dalembert provides quality minutes, Dallas could certainly surprise during the playoffs.


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