Sleeper Week, Part 3: The Renegades

Cuban Dirk

The Mavericks are mavericks. That’s why I called them the renegades in the title. They don’t follow trends, they create them. They don’t care what you think of their team, they’re going to operate by their own rules, and if you don’t like it you can kiss their rings.

It’d be easy to call Mark Cuban’s two-year plan a failure. Losing Tyson Chandler didn’t yield Deron Williams, Chris Paul, or Dwight Howard. It didn’t even get them a lesser star like Josh Smith or Andrew Bynum.

Objectively, what the Mavericks did over the past two years was smart. It just didn’t work out. Saying they made the wrong decision would be like saying you should’ve let your drunk friend drive because you crashed your car sober. The right decision can lead to the wrong consequences. That’s just life. What it did get them was a pretty damn good consolation prize: flexibility.

You can find almost anything on the open market if you look hard enough. There are always going to be teams that ruin the curve by paying Jerome James $30 million, but smart teams can pretty easily pick through the scrap heap and find valuable pieces. Case in point: Carlos Delfino was paid $2 million last year to do the same things Mike Miller was paid $7 million to do and probably did a better a job of it.

You can always bet on two things in the NBA: stupid teams doing stupid things (with a particular emphasis on Phoenix, Charlotte and Sacramento) and smart teams doing smart things (with a particular emphasis on Dallas, San Antonio and Houston). So even though I probably would’ve skewered Milwaukee for making the same moves, I actually like what Dallas did.

Instead of putting all their eggs in one basket, the Mavs paid for skills rather than players. They needed passing, so they signed Jose Calderon. They needed scoring, so they brought in Monta Ellis. Sam Dalembert fills the defensive hole at center and Devin Harris gives them another guard off of the bench.

Are you going to win a title with a starting five of Calderon-Ellis-Shawn Marion-Dirk-Dalembert? Probably not, but considering the circumstances, it turned out pretty well.

Where I differ with everyone else is just how well. I think the Mavericks are going to at least give the great teams some trouble. Take a quick look at some of the players they signed and ask yourself who they remind you of.

A foreign point guard who makes his teammates look better and is a great shooter? Sounds a lot like Steve Nash, doesn’t it? A volume scoring shooting guard who doesn’t play defense? Story of Michael Finley’s career. And believe it or not, Devin Harris is actually pretty similar to Devin Harris.

The Mavericks stacked their roster with players Dirk Nowitzki knows how to play with. That’s the key to the whole plan. This roster was built specifically to complement Dirk. And when you have Dirk playing at his best, you’re nearly an automatic playoff team.

Don’t believe me? An injured Dirk had a higher PER than Dwight Howard last year. In his last healthy season he beat out Carmelo, James Harden, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, and more. He missed 30 games last year and his team, with OJ Mayo as the de-facto lead scorer in his absence, still managed to go .500 and stay in the playoff race until the end.

Even if he doesn’t play defense, even if he’s lost a stop, Dirk Nowitzki is such a valuable offensive player that with the right guys around him, he’ll get you to 45-50 wins. Before the lockout year of 2012 he’d stayed above 50 every year since 1999. Dirk is the same guy even if his teammates are different.

Who do you want to bet on to snag one of the final playoff spots in the West? Portland? The Lakers? A Nuggets team with a new coach, GM, shooting guard, and small forward? Or a proven champion with some stability for the first time in two years? I’ll take Dirk. See you in the playoffs.

By: Sam Quinn
Twitter: @SamQuinn23

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