Thursday, November 02, 2006

2006-2007 Dallas Mavericks Preview

Have you ever wanted to read an NBA Preview that discusses the movie Serendipity and What You Know by T.I. in the first paragraph? Well, now you get your chance as I present my 2006-2007 Dallas Mavericks Season Preview (available in high definition).

Do you believe in fate? Yes, that’s a central theme to the horrific chick flick, Serendipity, a movie I have been forced to watch more than once with more than one girl. I don’t know what it is about that movie, but I think I’ve seen it more than I’ve seen Casino, so I actually somewhat understand it. Anyway, the amazingly flawless Kate Beckinsale meets John Cusack one night, and Cusack wants her number, but she psychotically refuses saying that if they were meant to be together, then they would meet again. And as fate would have it, they finally see each other on the day of Cusack’s wedding, and he is sure that after this one night encounter from years ago, he is ready to leave his wife for a woman who, though gorgeous, is just as likely to be a head case as a soul-mate. Nonetheless, fate brings them together. They live happily ever after… And that brings us to What You Know, the immortal song by T.I. I first heard it before Game 1 of last year’s Finals because the Mavs came out for warm-ups to the song. According to iTunes, I have listened to it 138 times since then. No song gets me more psyched up and giddy than What You Know. So, as I sat down to write this preview, I put my headphones in, and the first song that came on, out of the 2374 I have was What You Know. Fate. I’m a believer. If Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack can get together in a fictitious world, then why can’t What You Know be an indicator of a great Mavs season?

We’ll have more on the song and the subject of fate as the preview progresses.

There is another reason why I’m more excited than ever about this season. I bought NBA League Pass for my house in Dallas, so I can watch all the Mavs games through NBA League Pass Broadband. I will be writing about the Mavs all the time now.

As for the preview, let’s break down this year’s roster. I pulled out the old TI-83, and used a random integer generator to pick the order of how I evaluate each player. Without further ado…

Desagana Diop

Every time I hear Diop’s name, I want to yell “Young Diop” just like in Young Joc’s name is in It’s Going Down.

Diop’s performance last year was one of the few things I misjudged in my preview, and I will gladly swallow my pride and say that Diop is the athletic center that this team had been craving for years before his arrival. It’s going to be hard for Diop to improve his play from last year because he was solid for most of the year, but he knew exactly what to do this off-season, work on his offensive game. Diop reportedly spent a lot of time developing a short jump shot, which will be effective considering how far away from the basket he would be after getting an offensive rebound (about 6-8 feet).

I’m not going to nuts over Diop yet, but I am excited to see what he can bring to the table this year. It’s not like teams are going to be able to game-plan to take him out of the game because he dictates the plan as a primarily defensive player. He should have an equally solid season as last year.

Devean George

Hands down my favorite off-season acquisition because of the hilarity of his introduction and the impact he’s going to have on the team.

I don’t know if anybody read about how George was brought into American Airlines Center after he signed his contract, but whoever came up with this idea was a genius. Mavs staffers brought George into the locker room where 200 Dallas area women were waiting to give him a large ovation. Talk about making a guy forget about leaving LA, Dallas women are so much hotter, and George was immediately immersed in them. Great move.

As for what George will be doing other than every single woman in Dallas, how about being a team leader who has won 3 rings and played with Shaq, Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Kobe, Robert Horry, and all of those other great Lakers contributors? George may play less than 10 minutes per game, but he will be felt 24 hours a day around the Mavs.

Devin Harris

Devin will forever be known as the player who pushed the Mavs past the Spurs. Yeah, Dirk converted the 3-point play against Ginobili, but Harris took the Spurs by surprise and out-Tony-Parkered Tony Parker. But what can we expect from Harris this year?

I think everyone who watched a Mavs playoff game last year knew that he needed to work on his jump shot, so Harris spent everyday in this summer shooting and recording every shot he took. At the very least, Harris will have a couple of favorite spots on the court to shoot from because he practiced there so much. And I’m pretty sure Avery told him exactly where those spots should be based on the offense, where other players like to shoot from, and where Harris would be most effective as a shooter and/or driver.

And again, let’s not forget that Harris is a Spur killer. He has had some of his best games against the Spurs, and I expect that trend to continue.

Pops Mensah-Bonsu

YES! We got Pops! There really isn’t much else to say about that because he probably won’t be used very much this season, but if he ever gets in a game, AAC has to play “Gotta have my Pops” commercial clips from Corn Pops.

Erick Dampier

People hate this guy because he makes 73 million dollars and doesn’t perform like a 73 million dollar man. Well, I got news for Dampier haters, he may be getting paid 73 million to come off the bench, but there’s a lot that comes with that. He hasn’t caused a distraction about not starting; in fact, he relishes the role because he takes advantage of time he spends on the court. I won’t sit here and tell you that the Mavs aren’t overpaying him, but let off the guy a little bit. He didn’t cost the Mavs a playoff series last year; he played Shaq pretty valiantly, I’d say.

Now, if he could just work on his hands.

Maurice Ager

Solid, safe first round pick. Count me as one of the people who see him as a mini-Stackhouse. He may spend some games in street clothes, but I could see him as a contributor at some point, if not this year, then in the next couple.

DJ Mbenga

Still on the Mavs energy team, but I can see him as being less effective given the fast style of play that many teams are adopting. Nonetheless, Mbenga will come out and get a few blocks and rebounds before picking up his 4th foul in 5 minutes. I have no problem with the Mavs wasting 6 fouls on Mbenga if he’s out there busting his balls to get the ball because that will make the other guys play just as hard. Adrian Griffin proved that last year, and that’s why he was a starter. Mbenga won’t reach starter status, but he will earn every minute he plays wit his hustle.

Greg Buckner

I was actually upset when Buckner left the Mavs in 2002 because I liked his defensive prowess and his inability to give up on a play. But who can blame him for signing with Philadelphia for a contract well above market value?

Well, now Buck’s back in a Mavs uniform, and I expect big things from him. Think of a faster version of Adrian Griffin with a better offensive game. And do you think he’s excited about playing for the Mavs? Hell yeah, he is. After spending the past two years in Denver with George Karl and Kenyon Martin, Buck is happy to be out of the circus and the snow and into Dallas.

Actually, the Buckner signing looks better and better as I think about it more and more. So management let him walk in 2002 because they thought Raja Bell could take his place. Buckner went to Philly where he got paid but never played. Then he goes to Denver where he came off the bench and developed a three point jumper. Now, the Mavs get him back. It’s like sending a kid off to fat camp only instead of losing weight, Buckner got money, a better offensive game, and an appreciation for the Mavs.

Jose Juan Barea

He went to Northeastern. I have nothing against him, but I really don’t have much to say either because I don’t know much.

Austin Croshere

Ah, the most controversial move the Mavs made all summer. There are some fans who don’t understand trading away Marquis, and there are others who are upset that the Mavs brought in another version of Keith Van Horn. Well, as much as I loved ‘Quis (see my Ode to ‘Quis post), this move made so much sense.

Croshere plays nearly the same game as Van Horn who proved to be a valuable back-up to Dirk. Obviously the Mavs are going to lose something when Dirk has to sit, and Croshere’s job is damage control; he minimizes the negative effect Dirk has sitting on the bench. As long as Croshere doesn’t get in the game and start bombing threes and not rebounding, he’ll be fine. Plus, his contract comes off the books at the end of the season. Now, we just need a crappy, cheesey nickname for him along the lines of KVH. The only Croshere related subject I can think of is from Any Given Sunday when LL Cool J says “Shut up, Crozier, you’re an offensive coordinator.” Crozier and Croshere are actually pronounced the same (Thanks,, for your phonetic spelling of names).

There is one funny thing about Austin Croshere on the Mavs, and that’s his number. It’s 44. My friend, Ryan, pointed out that the last Mav to wear 44 was none other than the Preying Mantis himself, Shawn Bradley. Croshere will bring some validity to that number.

Josh Howard

Can you say Scottie Pippen part deux? Go on. Say it. Because that’s what you are watching when you see the Mavs play.

There are two things that Josh needs to work on to reach Pippen level. First, he needs to consistently use his basketball IQ, which means not taking a three just because it’s open (that killed the Mavs in the Finals). The other thing is for Howard to channel his emotions toward beating the team rather than overreacting and taking a bad foul. If he makes a good play on offense, Josh will come back and get a perimeter foul trying to make another play. Or if he makes a great defensive play (a big block or deflected pass), he’ll take an unnecessary shot at the other end.

His 20 points or more streak is a subject for later in the preview because that deserves its own section.

I am one of the biggest Josh Howard fans you’ll ever talk to because I love his aggression and refusal to give up on a play, but the mental aspect of his game is the only thing holding him back. And luckily, he’s got a great coach to help him out and reign in all of that emotion and use it in a way to positively contribute to the team.

Dirk Nowitzki

Am I the only one who doubles over every time I hear a discussion about best basketball players, and Dirk is in everyone’s top 5? It still is surreal to see a Mav as unquestionably one of the best 5 players in the league.

When the Mavs had their resurgence in 2000, they had the Big 3 in Michael Finley, Steve Nash, and Dirk. Finley was the heart of the team, Nash was the playmaker, and Dirk was the finisher. When Nash left, Dirk had to pick up the slack and become the playmaker. And after Finley went to the Spurs, Dirk became the heart of the team. I wrote about Devean George being a leader of the team because of experience; well, Dirk is the unchallenged on-court leader who will hold his teammates accountable. We’ve seen it go down for the past couple years, and we should expect no less.

Bonus: The crappy fate/Serendipity/T.I. theme applies to Dirk in a pretty neat way. My favorite number is 13 because I was born on March 13, and when I was ordering the Mavs for the random selection, I did it by number, and Dirk is 13th on that list. Pretty cool, huh? How about Dirk being 13th when you list the players in alphabetical order? Do you feel it yet?

As for what should see from him this year, I think it will more of the same. I think he’s reached his full potential, so now it’s time for him to use his skills to improve his teammates’ games. Dirk could keep his scoring at the same level, get more offensive rebounds, and find his open teammates when he is double-teamed.

Fear not, Mavs fans, Dirk will contend for MVP again this year with LeBron and Tim Duncan.

Anthony Johnson

George was my favorite move, Buckner was the most sensical, Croshere was the most controversial, and Anthony Johnson was the most necessary. The Mavs’ offense was flat last year without Terry, Harris, or Armstrong in the game. And even though Armstrong was a great energy guy, he was old, so the team knew they had to find a legitimate point guard to play behind Terry and Harris. Mike James didn’t work out, but I think they found a better role guy in Anthony Johnson.

If you ranked Mike James’ skills 1-10, Anthony Johnson is probably one less in everything, except portliness. Sorry, but it was there for the taking. Plus, he comes at a smaller price. And he’s clutch, and clutch is everything.

Jerry Stackhouse

I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe Jerry Stackhouse without using words like passionate and intense. So here’s what I came up with, bear with me.

Jerry Stackhouse is to the NBA Title as a Jewish mother is to her kids. Stack wants that title so badly that he will do anything to get there, and a Jewish mother will break down walls to make sure her kids are marginally happy (which can get ridiculous after awhile). Last year’s playoffs proved how badly Stack wanted to win. He was suspended for a game making a play and hard foul on Shaq of all people. He stared down Tim Thomas, the epitome of steroids in sports, on more than one occasion. He even had time to make a few great blocks of breakaway lay-ups or dunks.

Do you remember that NFL Network commercial where two Dolphin fans were standing by a pool and one guy says “Ricky Williams has one thing on his mind this year, and that’s winning football games”? That’s how I feel this year (except Stack wants to win, not smoke weed in South Asia); he has a one track mind. Why do you think he happily comes off the bench? Why do you think as he has ingrained himself in the team his scoring has gone down and passing has gone up? Why do you think he is the enforcer on the team? Because those are the things he needs to do to ensure a title for himself, and the only way for him to get that title is to be a team player.

He just needs to be at 100% health come playoff time.

Jason Terry

And we end on Jason Terry, which again is part of that whole fate deal. If you looked at each player on the roster, and someone offered you a chance to pick one player to play well above his normal level of play in a playoff series, who would it be? Initially, you might say Dirk, but there will be only a few games this year where he’s not the best player on the court, so he would be redundant. I could understand wanting Josh Howard or Devin Harris, but they are still young and make occasional mistakes that would negate their great play (remember, we went over this with Howard?).

In case it isn’t obvious, my pick would be Terry because of his streakiness and ability to ignite the team. Whenever the Mavs get in a funk, Terry is always prominently involved.

And now, to finish the T.I. thought that I began nearly 3000 words ago and continue with the preview.

Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay
What you know about that {*3X*}
Ay, don't you know I gotta key by the three
When I chirp shawty chirp back
Louie nap sack where I'm holding all the work at
What you know about that {*3X*}
Hey I know all about that
Loaded 44 on the low where the cheese at
Fresh off the JET to the ‘jects where the G’s at
Hey what you know about that

Hey I know all about that

Fresh off the JET. Perfect.

Now that we’ve finished going over the players, it’s time to give a quick recap to some of the bigger off-season stories regarding the Mavs.

Mark Cuban: If you’re a Mavs fan, and you’re upset with how Cuban acts on the court, then you should go back to 1997 when Ross Perot owned the team and tried to get Mavs Man on the active roster. Cuban is a total alpha-dog, which is what got him a few billion dollars, and it’s what turned the Mavs around. And if he yells at the refs, it’s because he believes they are tainting his product, his possession. You can hate the guy, but he is what made the Mavs what they are today.

New Ball: I’m not sure what prompted a change to an inside/outside ball when the game is played strictly indoors, but the change happened. Players are understandably up-in-arms about the ordeal, but the ball’s not going to change back, so learn to live with it. As my Dad says, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you chicken shit, make chicken salad.”

The Death of the Josh Howard Statistic: This was never an issue with the off-season, but it was with me. I hated that statistic, and in a sick way, I’m glad the Mavs finally lost a game that he scored over 20 points. While Howard scoring over 20 points certainly helped the Mavs’ cause for winning, it never decided a game. If Howard scores over 20, it’s usually because Dirk’s game is on, and Howard’s man naturally has to help. Yes, there were times where Josh turned it on to fuel a victory, but more times than not, his points were the product of a perfectly designed offense for the team. The next time I see the Mavs’ record when Josh Howard scores 20 or more points, I’m going to put dry ice in my mouth.

Marquis Daniels possessing a gun: I am actually surprised that most people don’t understand why players all have guns and carry. A lot of these guys are rich and come from communities where trust isn’t common, so the gun is protection to them. So Marquis Daniels owning a gun isn’t the craziest thing I ever heard. Sebastian Telfair trying to bring a gun on the team plane is dumb and having Fabolous shot is ironic. But guns are guns. If you don’t like it, then call Charlton Heston.

As for how the team will perform this year, the Mavs have one of the more perplexing schedules I’ve seen. Their longest homestand is 4 games, and that occurs twice. They have a 6 game road trip. And they only play 4 in 5 nights once, and that’s at the beginning of the season. There’s also a week break during the All-Star break. So for a team that has great depth, the schedule is favorable. There will be a fair amount of travel because they aren’t at home for too long at any point, but that’s where the role players can really come in and make an impact.

I feel good about this team, so here’s how I see the playoff seeds shaping up (for those of you that didn’t read the NBA Preview that I posted yesterday).

Eastern Conference

1. Chicago
2. Cleveland
3. Miami
4. New Jersey
5. Detroit
6. Washington
7. Boston
8. Indiana
9. Milwaukee
10. Orlando
11. Philadelphia
12. Charlotte
13. Atlanta
14. Toronto
15. New York

Western Conference

1. Dallas
2. San Antonio
3. Phoenix
4. Minnesota
5. Houston
6. LA Clippers
7. Denver
8. LA Lakers
9. Utah
10. New Orleans
11. Golden State
12. Sacramento
13. Memphis
14. Seattle
15. Portland

Yes, the Mavs will win their division for the first time in 20 years. It will be glorious. As for awards…

MVP: ‘Bron ‘Bron
ROY: Brandon Roy
MIP: Sebastian Telfair
Coach: Scott Skiles
Executive: John Paxson
Dumbest Player: Reggie Evans
Craziest Event: Anytime Stephen Jackson interacts with another human being
Funniest Moment: Isiah Thomas’ realization that be built a team that can’t win together
Most Inevitable Catastrophe: Grant Hill’s season ending injury
Biggest Rivalry: Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Sebastian Telfair’s fight to become the players who are least in touch with reality.

Here’s how I see the playoffs going down.

Round One: Mavs over Lakers, Spurs over Nuggets, Clippers over Suns, Rockets over Wolves; Bulls over Pacers, Cavs over Celtics, Heat over Wizards, Pistons over Nets

Round Two: Mavs over Rockets, Spurs over Clippers; Bulls over Pistons, Cavs over Heat

Conference Finals: Mavs over Spurs; Cavs over Bulls

Finals: Mavs over Cavs

It’s far away, so this is obviously subject to change midseason, but the Mavs pick will not (barring key injury).

Why do I think the Mavs can win the Finals after more-or-less blowing a chance to sweep? Because these guys pay attention to their haters as much as they do their lovers. They go out and play basketball; you never hear Dirk or Terry come out after a big win and beat their chests saying “You guys counted us out, and we proved you wrong.” No, they say “We were the better team, and we knew it, so we beat these guys’ brains in.” Media is nothing to these guys, so a bounce back is inevitable.

Two years ago, they meshed with a new core surrounding Dirk and a new coach. Last year, they gained experience in winning (sweeping a team, winning Game 7 on the road, closing out a series, playing in the Finals), and this year, they will put it all together.

Hey what you know about that
Hey I know all about that

And the Mavs do know all about that.


Ross said...

I saw Buckner play in person against Golden State on Monday and while we did lose (which has started to become commonplace) I was quite impressed with his performence. Croshere on the otherhand was TERRIBLE, bounced 3 shots in a row off the front of the rim, I'll give him some time but I'm predicting Walker part 2. Also, if you have not read Wikipedia's biography of D.J. MBenga, I would suggest doing so. I'm a huge fan (mostly because his name is so fun to say) and everyone should read what this guy has been through.

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