Fully Rebuilt Dallas Mavericks Still Fly or Fall with Dirk Nowitzki

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Fully Rebuilt Dallas Mavericks Still Fly or Fall with Dirk Nowitzki
USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks have been arguably the NBA's busiest team this offseason. 

They started off the league's silly season in June when they traded for Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, kept it going in full force in July by prying Chandler Parsons from the Houston Rockets for a substantial sum (three years, $46 million) and have since capped things off by filling out the roster with the likes of Jameer Nelson, Richard Jefferson and Al-Farouq Aminu.

As nice as those moves may be, they're still little more than window dressing, albeit with fancier curtains than anything we've seen out of Metroplex since 2011. This team's fate still rests on the broad shoulders of Dirk Nowitzki, just as it has for more than a decade.

And it will continue to for at least another three years. According to ShamSports, Nowitzki will earn a total of $25 million through the end of 2016-17—an incredible bargain for a player of his abilities.

Nowitzki showed last season that he could still handle the responsibility of being a superstar. The giant German bounced back from an injury-riddled 2012-13 campaign by averaging 21.7 points while nearly etching his name into the 50-40-90 club for the second time in his Hall of Fame career (49.7 percent shooting from the field, 39.8 percent from three, 89.9 percent from the free-throw line).

How was Nowitzki able to pull off such a stellar showing—and earn his 12th All-Star appearance in the process—during his age-35 season, when most superstars have already slowed down considerably?

"He's just more skilled than everyone," Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers told Bleacher Report back in January. "It almost comes down to that with him. He's seven feet tall. He's maybe the best shooter in the league, if not top five—still. At that size, it makes him very difficult to guard."

It helps, too, that the 7'0" Nowitzki's game has never been predicated all that heavily on speed or athleticism. Size and shooting are two attributes that Father Time and Mother Nature can't easily degrade, and they just so happen to be the ones with which Nowitzki has fashioned himself into a franchise cornerstone.

USA TODAY Sports

Nowitzki's reliability in that regard makes it that much easier for the Mavs to constantly retool the roster around him. They know they're going to get 20 points or more pretty much every night from him. They know opposing defenses are going to flock to Nowitzki to challenge his shot, and that such attention will open up the floor for everyone else.

Better yet, they know Nowitzki will be on the court. He's missed 10 or more games in a season just twice in his 16 years in the NBA.

With Nowitzki comfortably in place, the rest of the new pieces should have little trouble orienting themselves accordingly, especially with the direction of head coach Rick Carlisle.

Chandler should be the most seamless fit of all the new faces, if only because his is not so new. He spent one season with Carlisle's Mavs, but that one season (2010-11) ended with Dallas hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy and team owner Mark Cuban filing arguably the most awesome legal brief of all time.

Chandler isn't quite the player now that he was back then. As Grantland's Zach Lowe put it:

Chandler is nearly 32, and he’s been banged up almost continuously for the last two seasons. He declined visibly last season in New York, playing without his usual urgency and pitch-perfect timing. Chandler has always been a wizard at helping just long enough to deter an opponent’s attack, returning to his man at just the right instant, and preventing that guy from either getting the ball or scoring. Lose a half-step and that trick becomes much tougher.

The Mavs certainly hope Chandler rediscovers his Defensive Player of the Year form.

Dallas lacked anything resembling a reliable rim-protector, and it showed. According to NBA.com's SportVU stats, the Mavs gave up 22.3 attempts at the rim per game and allowed their opponents to convert them at a 55 percent clip—the third-worst mark in the league.

The San Antonio Spurs exploited Dallas' interior weakness religiously during the first round of the playoffs, hitting a blindingly hot 62.5 percent of their shots at the rim.

Chandler wasn't exactly stellar in that regard last season (51.5 percent shooting allowed at the rim), but his mere presence, combined with his overall leadership on the defensive end, should beat out what little Samuel Dalembert contributed as a paint-patroller by leaps and bounds.

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

In truth, defense is the only real area in which the Mavs need significant upgrades.

Their offense has been humming along quite well for some time now. In fact, Dallas has finished outside the top 10 in offensive efficiency just three times in Nowitzki's career: during his lockout-shortened rookie season in 1999, after letting Chandler and J.J. Barea go in 2011-12, and in 2012-13, when the Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

That's the benefit of having a tall shooting marvel like Nowitzki around which to organize an offense. Just insert a quick guard, run pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, rinse, repeat, and boom! You've got yourself 109 points per 100 possessions, or something thereabouts.

To that end, Dallas' other additions should fit in just fine.

Parsons is a multiskilled wing who can attack off the dribble or spot up for three-pointers with near-equal proficiency. Nelson isn't quite as quick or as sharp on the shot as he used to be, but he's serviceable—certainly more so than Felton.

In Jefferson, the Mavs have themselves another over-the-hill NBA veteran whose experience could nonetheless be valuable. In Greg Smith and Aminu, Dallas adds youthful exuberance to its board-crashing brigade.

Of that group, only Aminu is considered anything close to a "plus" defender. Parsons could be passable if he integrates into Carlisle's schemes properly.

The point is, this team is going to live and die by its ability to put up points. As such, the Mavs should be a solid pick to make the playoffs out West, at the very least, and might even be good enough to win a round (or two) if they figure out how to stop anybody.

The revamped supporting cast could dictate just how deep a run Dallas enjoys next spring. But it'll be Dirk Nowitzki on whose extraordinary efforts the Mavs' postseason participation will balance in the first place.

 

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