In advance of Monday's meeting in Dallas, I sent some questions about the Mavericks to Jonathan Tjarks of SBNation Dallas. My questions along with his answers are below, after the jump. Be sure to keep an eye on SBNation Dallas for my answers to his questions as well.
These Q&As are always fun and informative. There's nothing like getting the scouting report first hand from the guys that know the team best. Enjoy.
Steve Perrin: Dirk Nowitzki was lackluster in the first month of the season after being exhausted from the NBA Finals and EuroBasket. He took 10 days off to rest his knee and get in shape, and has now averaged 26 on 55% shooting over the last five games since returning to the lineup? Is he back? Is he all the way back? Is he 2011 Finals MVP back?
Jonathan Tjarks: I'm not sure he will be totally "back" until the playoffs. He's a player who depends on his timing and needs his legs under him, which is going to be hard to do in the NBA's 5-games in a week format this season. There are nights where he looks like his old self and there are nights where he's dragging his leg around and not getting the proper lift on his shots. The good thing for Dallas is this is a much deeper team offensively than last year, so even on nights when Dirk's not giving you much, they can stay competitive.
SP: Dallas' championship seemed to feed as much as anything on the team's chemistry. Tyson Chandler on defense, J.J. Barea off the bench, even timely threes from Peja Stojakovic were all key elements of that playoff run. What are the odds that the team can find the same kind of cohesiveness with those guys gone?
JT: I wouldn't say so much the chemistry as it was Tyson Chandler. Until you watch him on a nightly basis, it's hard to appreciate how good a player he is b/c his stats aren't all that incredible. He was every bit as important as Dirk for that team last season; he was basically all 3 current Dallas centers in one player: Haywood's ability to hold position in the low post, Mahinmi's ability to slide his feet across the lane and protect the rim and Wright's ability to catch and finish on offense while also knocking down his free-throws.
Everyone else the Mavericks lost was fairly replaceable, but without Chandler's two-way play at the center position, this team isn't going to be winning a title. A good example was the Dallas/Portland game on Saturday: the Trail Blazers went small in both OT's, putting Aldridge at the 5 and sticking him on Dirk and having Wallace play the 4. Last year, when they did that, Chandler absolutely destroyed them on the offensive glass in Game 5, getting 13 offensive rebounds and pretty much ending the series after Brandon Roy's Game 4. None of Dallas' centers are doing that this year.
SP: The acquisition of Lamar Odom was supposed to be a big part of shoring up the bench after the departure of Chandler and others. Unfortunately, he's having the worst year of his career, currently shooting 36%. Lamar is a former Clipper, and we know he is one of the more emotional players in the league, and something is not right with the guy right now. Play pop psychologist for a moment -- what's going on in Lamar Odom's head?
JT: The biggest adjustment for Odom has been his role: in LA, he played the 4 with either Gasol or Bynum at the 5 and took bigger players off the dribble from the high post. Dirk is obviously eating up most of the minutes at 4 in Dallas, and neither player has the athleticism to play good interior defense at the 5, which forces Odom to the 3.
It's taken him awhile to adjust to playing as a 3, where his advantage isn't in quickness, it's in height. Also, playing two old guys at the 3/4 positions means you need an athletic center like Mahinmi or Wright at the 5 not another 30+ player like Haywood. Odom has started to make the adjustment in his game and post up smaller 3's while letting Dirk step out to the 3-point line and spot up. The trio of Mahinmi or Wright/Dirk/Odom has become one of the best Mavericks line-ups and it can be absolutely deadly by the end of the year.
Long story short, I think most of the things that are happening on the court can be explained in X's and O's and not so much pop psychology.
SP: The Mavericks have seven key contributors (and Brian Cardinal) over the age of 30. In the compressed schedule of the 66 game schedule, how big a factor is age going to be for this team in the second half of the season?
JT: Huge, that's why Dallas needs its younger players on the perimeter (Delonte West and Rodrigue Beaubois) and on the interior (Brandan Wright and Ian Mahinmi) to play well. You never really know what you're going to get from that many guys in their 30's in such an absurd season and you've got to make sure they're getting adequate rest. Carlisle's given every guy on the roster significant minutes at some point this year and he definitely has not settled on a crunch-time line-up yet.
SP: Somewhat related to the last question, it's an open secret that the Mavs plan to clear the decks and make a run at free agents Dwight Howard and Deron Williams this summer. If they amnesty Brendan Haywood and find a taker for Shawn Marion, they could conceivably have enough cap space to sign both of them, but it would mean losing everyone on the current roster save Dirk, Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones. This type of high wire act has never really been done before -- trying to repeat as champions while simultaneously starting over. Can this actually work? Back to team chemistry for a moment, this can't be good for it, right?
JT: I'm not the biggest Jason Kidd fan in the world, but one thing I do have to give him credit for is establishing a very professional tone in the locker room. He's the emotional leader of the team, and when you have two first ballot Hall of Famers in Kidd and Dirk buying into Carlisle's system 100%, as well as vets with a lot of skins on the wall in Terry and Marion, everyone else is going to have to fall in line.
Dallas is a team full of 30-something veterans who really know the game and aren't concerned with individual stats at all. So guys like DeShawn Stevenson last year and Vince Carter and Delonte West this year understand they have to play their position. They know this is not the place where fits are going to be tolerated. As a fan, it's definitely nice not to have to worry about the team's professionalism and the difference is noticeable when teams like Sacramento come into town.
As for the future, if Dallas can get Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, you do it and worry about team chemistry later. The Clippers are a perfect example of this -- how many rotation players do y'all still have from beginning of last year -- just Blake, Foye and Jordan? These are professional basketball players; if their games complement each other, they'll figure out how to get along with each other.