In preparation for tonight's game versus the Dallas Mavericks, I exchanged emails with Doyle Rader (@thekobebeef) of Mavs Moneyball, a blog that you should check out if you haven't already. Always a fun read.
Here's what they had to say:
Dallas is off to a pretty nice start. Is this about where you expected them to be at this point?
I wasn't sure what to expect when the season started. This is essentially another all-new roster. However, this team has definitely surpassed the expectations of all the naysayers who still pine for players that were on the championship roster from a couple of years ago. Dallas has become an offensive juggernaut which has allowed them to hide their deficiencies on defense. I suppose the defense is about what I expected it to be, I just didn't know the offense would be this potent.
How much credit does Monta Ellis receive for their start? It looks like, for the most part, his numbers have been pretty good so far.
Ellis deserves a lot of the credit. He is the Mavs leading scorer and has the highest usage percentage on the team. He is also the first guard on the team to actively attack the rim since J.J. Barea. Minnesota fans should be accustomed to Barea's desire to get to the rim at this point. What Ellis allows the Mavericks' offense to do is to spread the floor. Much of the time he is the primary ball handler, allowing Calderon to spot up around the perimeter, where he shoots the three well. This spacing creates room for Nowitzki to operate in the elbow, around the perimeter, or along the baseline as well.
The presence of Ellis has made teams think twice about double-teaming Dirk as well. Ellis is a superb passer, he leads the team in assists, and can carve up a defense that does not rotate crisply or leaves a man open. The reaction to Ellis' signing was generally negative over the summer. However, all of that has been silenced by his play. Is he a perfect player? No. He turns the ball over a bit too much. In Dallas, though, Monta has found a system that fits him well.
Lots of new faces in Dallas this year (Ellis, Calderon, Blair, Ellington, rookies, Harris in a way). Any pleasant/unpleasant surprises?
Blair might be the biggest surprise. He fell out of favor in San Antonio, which is usually a telling sign about a player, but is having a rebirth of sorts in Dallas. Along with Samuel Dalember, Blair has formed the interior core of the Mavericks. He battles for every loose ball and rebound and is far and away the team's best offensive rebounder, averaging 5.9 per 36 minutes. Dallas is not a strong rebounding team so Blair's activity on the glass is welcome and much needed.
Shane Larkin has also been a pleasant surprise. Dallas isn't big on the draft but they may have found a keeper in Larkin. He brings dynamic speed to what is otherwise a generally slow roster. Not only that but he has shown tenacity on the floor, jumping in passing lanes and diving for loose balls.
The only unpleasant surprise has been the length of time that Devin Harris has missed due to surgery he had over the summer. Hopefully he comes back before the end of 2013 but there is officially no timetable for his return.
What is it about Dirk's game that has kept him so good this late in his career?
His game is all about his shot mechanics. He has never been extremely athletically gifted like his teammate Vince Carter once was. Dirk takes punishment on the floor but he was never explosive and therefore has less to lose in terms of playing ability. His high release is nearly impossible to defend and his off-foot one-legged jumpshot is now the en vogue shot to learn among the league's young elite players. Mechanics have staying power far longer than most physical gifts.
Lastly, why will Dallas win when they face Minnesota Saturday? Why won't they win?
These are two of the best offensive teams in the league. If Dallas wins it will be because they shoot the ball well and limit Minnesota's scoring opportunities in transition. The Mavericks simply cannot compete with the Timberwolves' rebounding abilities but they must not let the Wolves dominate the offensive glass. Minnesota does not shoot extremely well but they are capable of putting up a considerable about of shots because of their rebounding.
Dallas won't win if their shots aren't falling. It really is as simple as that. The Mavericks are all offense and if they are not scoring then there is little else they can do to change the outcome of the game.