The Dallas Mavericks have played four preseason games as of Thursday. Four games provides us with enough of a sample size to make snap judgments about what we have seen from Dallas so far. Isn’t that what is fun about the preseason, speculation based on a limited number of games? Let’s take a look at the good and the bad through four preseason games in Dallas.
The health of Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki appears fully healthy at the beginning of the year for the first time in the last two seasons. Nowitzki has stated that he feels great and it has been evident in his play this preseason. Nowitzki is playing less than 24 minutes per game, but is averaging 15.3 points per game and is shooting better than 50 percent from the field.
While the high shooting percentage and points are promising the most important factor for Nowitzki is his health and durability. Nowitzki has appeared spry on the court and he has shown that his legs have the lift necessary to pull off his unguardable one-legged fadeaway.
It’s no secret the Mavericks go as Nowitzki goes and starting the season with Dirk playing at a high level is critical for a Dallas team that expects to be contending for one of the eight playoff spots in the Western Conference.
Monta-Ball off to a fast start
When pressed about his shot selection last season in Milwaukee at Dallas Mavericks Media Day, Monta Ellis replied that: “What I’m saying is, I’m going to play Monta basketball.” The early reports on Monta-Ball are encouraging in Dallas. Ellis has executed the two-man game with Nowitzki and has shown he can do more than just score. With Jose Calderon sidelined, Ellis has reminded everyone that he is an adept passing guard. Ellis has averaged 7.2 assists per game for the Mavericks during the preseason. This has not prevented Ellis from scoring, as he has averaged 13.3 points per game.
Ellis and Nowitzki are beginning to develop a feel for each other in the Mavericks half-court offense. They are both dangerous scorers with the ball in their hands and they are already seeing the benefits of each other’s presence on the court. Once pass-first point guard Jose Calderon joins them on the court, the looks Ellis receives on the offensive end should only improve.
The trainer’s room at the American Airlines Center in Dallas is a busy place. Head athletic trainer Casey Smith has had his hands full early on this preseason. The Mavericks are currently nursing forward Brandan Wright back from an injured shoulder that is expected to keep him out for the next month. He has company in the trainer’s room as point guards Devin Harris and Shane Larkin are also on the mend.
Newly acquired point guard Jose Calderon has yet to play as he is recovering from hamstring strain. Things do look better for Calderon as Dallas is hopeful he will make his preseason debut on Saturday against the Charlotte Bobcats. Brandan Wright, Devin Harris and Shane Larkin will all miss the Mavericks first regular season game on Oct. 30.
The 82-game NBA season is a grind and Dallas will need contributions from almost every player on their roster. Each team will sustain injuries as the season progresses, but it is discouraging that Dallas is already missing a few key contributors before the season begins. The Mavericks knew Devin Harris would not be ready at the beginning of the season when they signed him, but his absence makes the early-season health of Jose Calderon critical.
The Mavericks depth in the frontcourt was evident when examining their roster on paper prior to the season. This issue has been exacerbated by the injury to Brandan Wright’s shoulder. (Read about Wright’s shoulder injury and its impact here).
Starting center Samuel Dalembert has looked good at times during the first four preseason games, but he has consistently found himself in foul trouble. If Dalembert is unable to play more than 30 minutes per game then Dallas could struggle down low without sufficient depth.
Coaches typically spend the majority of the preseason experimenting with their roster. This is an opportunity to find out what roster combinations are the most productive without risking a victory to do so. While the distribution of minutes may not carry over to the regular season, the players that take the court will.
Dallas has found positives on the offensive side of the ball as Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Shawn Marion are all playing well out of the gate. The concerns on the Mavericks 2013-14 roster lie with their limited depth down low. Coach Rick Carlisle will be using the four remaining preseason games to determine what his best options are until the season begins on Oct. 30.