ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 preview: Dallas Mavericks

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Last season: Dallas was one of the surprise teams in the league last year. A lot of people (myself included) questioned how Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki would pair, particularly with Jose Calderon at the point. Turns out very well — Ellis and Nowitzki made a killer pick-and-pop tandem. And the Mavs could shoot — as a team they hit 38.4 percent from three (second best in the league behind the Spurs). That led to the third best offense in the league pushed them to 49 wins and the playoffs (despite a 22nd ranked defense). Once again in the playoffs the Mavs were written off as just a warmup round for the Spurs, but instead Dallas pushed them to seven games, trying to trap and be more aggressive on defense (Spurs players said at the Finals what Dallas did helped prepare them for Miami’s style). Basically all season long Dallas exceeded expectations… except for Mark Cuban’s, of course.

Signature highlight from last season: Dallas came closer than anyone else to knocking off the Spurs in the playoffs, in part because Vince Carter was clutch in Game 3.

Key player changes: Dallas shook up the roster this off-season. I think they got better but there are a lot of changes, which leads to questions. Gone are guys who played key minutes last season: Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Samuel Dalembert and Shane Larkin (Dalembert, Larkin and Calderon were traded to New York).

In their place come Tyson Chandler (from that trade with the Knicks), Chandler Parsons, Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton, also Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson.

Also key, Dirk Nowitzki re-signed for 3 years, $25 million — about the most team-friendly deal of any superstar. That signing cleared the way for the Chandler Parsons free agent signing.

Keys to the Mavericks season:

Can Tyson Chandler lift this defense up to top half of the league at least? Dallas doesn’t win the 2011 NBA title without Tyson Chandler playing elite defense in the paint as a rim protector. Last season the Mavericks had Dalembert in the paint and the 22nd best defense in the NBA. Chandler is going to be expected to clean up a lot of messes and improve that number. The question is can he still — last season he lacked the same quickness and fluidity on defense, but remember he missed the start of the season with a fractured fibula. Is he all the way back now? He also seemed to check out mentally in New York, I’d expect him to be more focused now (he’s fantastic at talking and quarterbacking a defense). Of course, Chandler in the paint can’t be the only defensive improvement, Dallas is going to have to show improved perimeter defense as well. The backcourt of Jameer Nelson and Monta Ellis are not exactly stoppers, but Parsons will help, he’s solid out on the wing. Dallas doesn’t need to be the 2004 Pistons, but they need to at least be in the top half of the league and more ideally the top 10 to really reach their goals. They have a lot of work to do on that end of the court.

Can Chandler Parsons be worth everything he just got paid? It’s easy to see on paper how Parsons can thrive offensively in Dallas — he stays on the weak side while the Ellis/Nowitzki pick-and-roll happens on the other side of the floor. Parsons can cut to the basket, get a pass and finish at the rim or he can space the floor where he is dangerous both on the catch-and-shoot and off the bounce. At age 25 Parsons has gotten paid like a top option player in the NBA, he has the talent to do it, but now he’s going to have to show it on the court. Nightly.

Who will step up off the bench? Last season the Mavericks had a quality bench — Vince Carter got votes for sixth man of the year, they had DeJuan Blair and others that contributed solid play. This season the bench looks consists of Devin Harris, Doran Lamb, Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson (plus Brandan Wright up front). And Felton, I guess. Dallas should have a strong starting five but they are going to need quality bench production and that means some of those guys are going to have to step up their game.

Why you should watch the Mavericks: The easy answer here is Dirk Nowitzki — the best shooting big man in the history of the game, a guy with one of the iconic shots in the history of the game (that one-legged fade-away). He is worth the price of admission. Frankly, with all the offensive weapons this season the Mavericks are going to be fun. But if you’re a basketball junkie, you should tune in to see the adjustments and plays from coach Rick Carlisle — he’s as good an Xs and Os coach as there is in the league. He constantly puts guys in great positions to take advantage of their skill set.

Prediction: 53-29, and I think they have a real shot at being a little better and getting the four seed and home court in the first round of the playoffs. This is a better Mavericks team than a year ago. Around the Mavs they seem to think they have another contender on their hands (I’m looking at you, Cuban), I don’t see that. But this team is in the second tier in the West and making the second round of the playoffs is a real possibility. However that’s as far as it goes.