Dirk & The Dallas Mavericks Hang Tough Early

The Dallas Mavericks missed the playoffs in the 2013 season. Between the aging of Dirk Nowitzki and having to compete in the rugged NBA Western Conference, there weren’t a lot of reasons for optimism prior to this season. But as we approach Christmas Day, the Mavs are hanging right in. Their 15-10 record would put them in the postseason. Let’s take a look at what the keys to success have been, and what the future looks like.

Dallas signed guard Monta Ellis in free agency this summer and the prolific scoring guard has made his presence felt immediately. Led by Ellis and new point guard Jose Calderon, the Mavs are playing at a quickened pace and executing well offensively. Dallas ranks in the top ten in offensive efficiency, a stat that measures points on a per-possession basis and doesn’t reward teams just for running and gunning.

The high ranking for the Mavericks tells you they are not only playing faster, they are playing well. Ellis is knocking down 20 a game, with Calderon kicking in 12 and veteran Vince Carter chipping in 11 points off the bench.

Most impressive though is that Dirk seems to have a found a fountain of youth. The big German is pouring in 21 points per game, and his fellow veteran forward Shawn Marion is also scoring in double digits.

What Dallas is not doing is rebounding, and the defense has been subpar. This is also a little bit of the Ellis effect. Even for a guard, Ellis smallish and he’ll never be known as a lockdown defender. Calderon is also a small guard. In a league where a lot of guards go 6’6″ and 6’7″ and can crash the boards from the wings, this is a big matchup problem.

The Mavericks get decent rebounding from their frontcourt people–center DeJuan Blair has done a quality job off the bench, but none of them are really dominant rebounders. Nowitzki has never been, relative to his size and position, a physical inside player. All of this makes the small backcourt stand out a little bit more. Devin Harris will provide some more depth when he comes back from a toe injury, but in terms of physical build, he’s cut from the same cloth.

When you look at the Western Conference playoff picture and see a team like Golden State currently on the outside looking in, and a team like Memphis trying to stay afloat until Marc Gasol gets healthy, it makes you ask who are the 1-2 teams currently in the top eight that will get bounced out. Dallas is certainly a candidate, and they need to toughen up on defense and add a veteran rebounder by the trade deadline.

But the Mavs weaknesses are certainly not worse than Phoenix or Denver, and if nothing else, it looks like Dallas is at least going to contend all year. That’s something it was hard to be sure of when the season began.