If you’ve been too busy watching the Dallas Cowboys fall apart after watching the Texas Rangers gall apart, guess what? THE NBA IS BACK TODAY. Your Dallas Mavericks don’t start until tomorrow, against the Atlanta Hawks, but there is no reason to wait. Here is what you need to know going into this season:
Dirk Nowitzki is back and looking like Dirk Nowitzki. He was out of shape going into — and for much of — the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. Last season, he missed most of the first half with a knee injury — his first extended absence of his career — and then wasn’t really the guy who makes me type/scream/type-scream “I SEE YOU, BIG GERMAN” until the latter part of the campaign, by which time he’d grown a massive beard that made him look like the bass player for a ’70s boogie-rock band everyone secretly loves. I wish he had kept it. As I said on Twitter at the time, it was the “Ignition (Remix)” of beards, and I obviously stand by that. ANYWAY, Dirk is healthy again and has been looking pretty sharp. Paraphrasing his new commercial, do you really think he’s done? Here are the last two things to go: height and shooting. He’s got both. He might not be “put the team on his shoulders and win games singlehandedly with his insane, wrong-legged crazy-high-arching fadeaway shot” Dirk anymore, but he’s not terribly far off.
Monta Ellis Will Enjoy Playing With Dirk, And You Will Enjoy Watching Him Do So. Will he always take smart shots? Probably not. It will be frustrating at times, for sure. And, at other times, it will be absolutely intoxicating. He gets to the rim, he’s a better passer than anyone gives him credit for, his shoe game is extremely tight, and, in the right situations, he has been efficient. (He averaged 20 points on 53 percent shooting in 2007-08, for instance, and is still at 45 for his career, even with last year’s sort-of-explainable 41-percent disaster.) He hasn’t had teammates like this in a long time, or a coach like Rick Carlisle, and I think he the two-man game with him and Dirk will be delightful. It’ll be a different look than what Dirk was running with Jason Terry, so it might take you a minute to get used to it.
This team is going to have a great offense. Dirk is on the comeback trail, I just said enough about Monta, new point guard Jose Calderon is the quarterback they missed all last season, Shawn Marion gets in where he fits in, and Vince Carter is more like “Half Man, Half Ridiculous Shot Selection” now, but still capable of punch off the bench.
And a pretty average (in the best possible scenario) defense. I don’t look forward to seeing what happens when a team faces a speedy guard who can get to to the basket. If Derrick Rose is all the way back, it will be like my son playing me in NBA 2k13. You probably haven’t seen that. It’s not great.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like if someone merged Erick Dampier and Desagana Diop into one player and then made that player past his prime and a little out of shape? Congratulations. The Mavs have Samuel Dalembert. At least he is flexible.
Bottom line: the Mavs — despite no Dirk for a big chunk, despite starting Derek Fisher for a minute and Mike James for way longer, despite OJ Mayo leaving his jumper in the backseat of a cab sometime around Christmas, despite fielding a roster full of guys with one foot out the door (Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand) — finished last season 41-41. They didn’t upgrade enough to be considered a contender for anything other than a playoff spot. Maybe if everything went absolutely perfect, the team would have an outside shot at the 5th or even the 4th seed. I’m not saying that will happen. That is under pristine laboratory conditions, and even then, there is probably somewhere around a 3 percent chance of that happening. Don’t get your hopes up. I think, most likely, the Mavs finish with 46-47 wins and, let’s say, the 6th seed.