Kevin (HHH): Three of your top six rotation players (Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, and Shawn Marion) are 35 or older. How much longer can you count on their nightly contributions, and who is there to take up the torch when they either a) start to decline, or b) decide to hang it up?
Timothy (MM): This question is more easily answered for Dirk, since he's obviously the most important player in franchise history, and his retirement is a major consideration for Mavericks fans everywhere. He's been fairly clear about wanting to sign another contract this offseason for a discount to give Dallas more cap room, which implies that we can -- at least -- look forward to another 2 years of Dirk. This is Dirk's first full season back and healthy to start the year, and while he doesn't look like MVP or championship Dirk, he's still a FAR above average basketball player, and I think Mavs fans can look forward to that for a little while longer.
Mark Cuban, the Mavericks' high profile owner, has expressed interest in retaining Vince Carter for another contract as well, as Vince's game is much more savvy and shooting and much less athleticism, now, but you have to wonder whether he'll hold up for 3 or 4 more years, or if at some point, he'll just totally fade, a la Jason Kidd (which would also be fine, it's to be expected). I haven't heard too much, re: Marion, but I have the vague memory of him tossing around the idea of retirement after this season. Marion's declining athleticism has taken a surprising toll on his game, though he's still the best defender and rebounder on the team, so he's an asset as long as he can control angles and get in position for boards.
Sadly, there isn't too much left on the team long term behind those three potential Hall of Famers. The Mavericks are hoping to shape last years' second round pick Jae Crowder into a Marion-esque defender, shooter, and hustle player, but the jury's still out on whether he'll really even be an NBA caliber rotation player. Currently injured backup Center Brandan Wright has been an absolute killer in limited minutes for the last two seasons, and the hope is probably that he can be a major force given a big role.
Monta Ellis has been playing incredibly well of late, and he still has most of his prime to look forward to, if he can keep it up. I'm sure that if he can maintain the blistering pace he's set for the next few years (a very big "if"), the Mavs will have a place for him for the foreseeable future.
Kevin: Tell me your story on Gal Mekel - where did he come from, how did he find himself on the Mavs, and what could he mean to the team going forward?
Timothy: I don't really know any more about Mekel than you can find on Google: he was born in Israel, making him only the second Israeli player in the NBA along with Omri Casspi. He finally made his way to the NBA after a two year stint at Wichita State University and several years around the Israeli Super League, of which he won MVP in 2011 and 2013.
His coming to the Mavericks was actually a pretty big surprise, most Mavs fans were expecting EuroLeague MVP Nick Calathes (now of the Grizzlies) to come over and play for Dallas, so the Mekel pickup was wildly unexpected. He's played exceptionally well, though, filling the gap left by the injured Shane Larkin and Devin Harris. He had a turnover problem in the first few games, but he gets better every time he plays. If he keeps improving, he could be a legitimately very good backup point guard, though it's hard to imagine him having much more of an impact than that.
Kevin: The Mavs rank second in the NBA with nearly 107 points scored per contest. At the same time, they've allowed 103.3 points per game on defense, in the bottom quarter of the league. Do you think their pace of play is going to work in the long term or do you think they should slow it down?
Timothy: I think the question of pace has far less to do with whether the Mavs' defense can sustain it than it has to do with whether or not the offense can. The Mavs' defense is going to be terrible no matter how fast they play. The combination of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis in the backcourt is absolutely disastrous defensively, and Dirk Nowitzki is hardly the kind of rim protector that can compensate for such a mess. Samuel Dalembert has actually done a pretty passable job on that front, but he's not really any better than "fairly above average" defensively, so the Mavs still get shredded, and will continue to get shredded.
The real problem that the pace has caused is turnovers. When the Mavs try really hard to push the ball, it often gets incredibly chaotic and frantic and the ball starts flying around everywhere -- especially into the hands of the opposing team. It's strange to see the Mavs' turnover numbers right around where they were last year, despite replacing Darren Collison and OJ Mayo -- turnover machines -- with Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon. I think they can get it to work, simply because Calderon in particular has always been so good at keeping the ball safe historically that he'll figure it out. Not to mention the return of Devin Harris, eventually, who basically only thrives in high pace situations.
Kevin: You've got a bunch of long range gunners - nine players in fact average 1.8 or more three-point attempts per 36 minutes. Who would you want holding the ball when the Mavs are down by three with possession and one second remaining?
Timothy: Dirk Nowitzki. Always, always, always, always Dirk. Heat fans should know that by now!
Kevin: A hypothetical question: The Mavericks beat the Heat tomorrow. How did they do it?
Timothy: Geez. It'll take a lot of good luck. Probably: Wade's knee acts up and he looks as bad as he did in his worst games of the playoffs last year, and the Heat's defense looks as bad all game as it has in some of its worst moments in the early season. Maybe Dirk and Monta both have huge revenge games, as Dirk has flashbacks to 2011 and Ellis goes nuts to right the wrongs done to him for "Bucks in 6." If 2 out of 3 of those things happen, the Mavericks can probably steal it.
HHH would like to thank Timothy and Mavs Moneyball for playing along with us. Tune in for the game preview later, and check back tomorrow night for the game thread, going live at 6:30PM.
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