Through the first 15 games of the 2013-14 season the Dallas Mavericks have been an efficient, effective and at times an explosive team on offense. Free-agent shooting guard Monta Ellis has exceeded preseason expectations and has proven to be a fantastic fit with Dirk Nowitzki and the entire Dallas offense. The Mavericks have succeeded playing unselfish basketball and their team stats reflect their hot start on the offensive side of the court.
The Mavericks average the sixth-most points in the NBA at 104.4 per game. Dallas is also shooting an impressive .464 percent from the field, good for eighth in the NBA. Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle was optimistic about his team’s ability to score points heading into the season and this has proved to be the strength of the Mavericks early on.
Unfortunately, as time has proven again and again, being a strong offensive team in the NBA will only take you so far. While Dallas has been a great offensive team, they have struggled mightily on the defensive end of the court. Dallas is currently allowing their opponents to put up 102.5 points per game; only four teams allow their opponents to score more points per game than the Mavericks.
Part of the problem has been the Mavericks inability to keep their opponent off the free-throw line. Dallas ranks No. 28 overall in opponents free throws attempted. The Western Conference is full of fast, athletic point guards that will repeatedly drive to the hoop without an effective perimeter defender to contend with.
Built this way
The Mavericks came into the season with concerns on the defensive side of the ball. Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle spoke about his defensive concerns at the Mavericks 2013 media day. While speaking about the Mavericks roster, Carlisle stated: “I like this team offensively; this is going to come down to defense.”
The Mavericks current roster is comprised of skilled players on the offensive side of the ball, but they have very few players capable of locking down their opponent. Fortunately for Dallas they will have two players joining their team capable of improving the Mavericks effectiveness on defense.
Reinforcements on the Way
The Mavericks 2013 first-round draft pick, point guard Shane Larkin recently joined the team and he has provided Dallas with another defensive option on the perimeter. Larkin had hoped to start the season with the Mavericks but he broke his ankle in a Summer League practice. Larkin missed all of the NBA Summer League, training camp and preseason with the injury. Despite missing out on valuable experience leading up to the season, Larkin has shown the ability to make a difference, despite averaging only 12.7 minutes per game.
Larkin has eight steals in his first six games and his per-36 minute average is an impressive 3.8 steals per game. Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle will have a short leash with the young guard, but if he plays smart and limits his turnovers, his ability to use his quickness and agility on defense will continue to earn him playing time.
Power forward Brandan Wright and point guard Devin Harris are both expected to join the Mavericks within the next month. Wright has been recovering from a small fracture in his left shoulder and Devin Harris is close to returning after undergoing surgery to repair a dislocated toe on his left foot.
Wright is an athletic forward who will give Rick Carlisle another big man in the post. Wright will be a useful option against the faster, more athletic forwards in the Western Conference. Devin Harris will provide Dallas with a defensive upgrade over starter Jose Calderon. While Harris is not a lock down defender, he is faster on his feet than Calderon.
Trades an option?
While in theory it would makes sense for Dallas to pull the trigger on a trade that would improve their defensive situation, this remains a difficult proposition. The Oklahoma City Thunder currently hold the Mavericks first-round pick. If the Mavericks finish with a top-10 record, they will send their first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Mavericks most attractive trade asset, Shawn Marion, is also one of their best defensive players. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson will have to get creative in order to find a defensive stopper on the trade market.
Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the NBA and the combination of Brandan Wright and Devin Harris will provide him with two more reliable options in the Mavericks rotation. Despite their issues on defense, Dallas currently has a record of 10-7. The Mavericks will not become a top defensive team overnight, but if their complete roster can display the ability to stop high-powered offensive teams for key stretches in games, they could become a team that can contend in the Western Conference.
Rick Carlisle will continue to preach effort and communication in order to push his team to improve, but it will ultimately be on each player to put forth the effort necessary for the Mavericks to become a better defensive team.