Coach: Avery Johnson, 3rd Season (76-24; 18 games in ’04-’05)
General Manager: N/A (owner – Mark Cuban)
’05-’06 Record: 60-22, 2nd Southwest Division
Postseason: eliminated in NBA Finals, Lost to MIA (4-2)
Projected Starting Lineup (’05-’06 Stats)
PG – Devin Harris (9.9 ppg., 2.2 rpg., 3.2 apg.)
SG – Jason Terry (17.1 ppg., 2.0 rpg., 3.8 apg.)
SF – Josh Howard (15.6 ppg., 6.3 rpg., 1.9 apg.)
PF – Dirk Nowitzki (26.6 ppg., 9.0 rpg., 2.8 apg.)
C – Desagna Diop (2.3 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 0.3 apg.)
Key Additions: PF Austin Croshere (trade – IND); PG Anthony Johnson (trade – IND); SF Devean George (UFA – LAL); SG Greg Buckner (UFA – DEN)
Key Subtractions: SG Marquis Daniels (trade – IND); PG Darrell Armstrong (trade – IND); SF Josh Powell (trade – IND); SF Adrian Griffin (UFA – CHI)
2006 NBA Draft
Round 1 – SG Maurice Ager (28th overall), Michigan State University
Round 2 – N/A
It was interesting last season to see the maturing of Devin Harris. He was a player who wasn’t in the favor of Coach Avery Johnson at the beginning of last season, but you could definitely see him get more comfortable. As that happened, Harris was able to get more confidence in his game and more importantly in the fact that his teammates would support him and help him get better as a floor leader. This season is another opportunity for Harris to continue to allow his NBA game to get better and to make better decisions. The guy is just fast on the court. He will get the ball and get behind the defense before you even know. Harris is just one of those guys who looks as though he has another gear that no one else has on the court. When he looks for it, Harris can put up some points as well. He’s a good defender who is learning and still adjusting to the league. Harris needs to be able to take on more responsibility for the Mavericks this season because they will count on him more to lead the offense.
Jason Terry could legitimately be the number one scoring option on more than half of the teams in the NBA, but here in Dallas he’s just a part of the scoring rotation that includes Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard. Terry could in theory see time as the point guard, but his strengths come from scoring the basketball, not running an offense, so Terry will start and play the majority of his minutes at the shooting guard position, which makes Devin Harris’ job more important. Terry can score in many different ways, from spotting up and shooting to driving to the basket. That can cause havoc for many teams because you have to respect all aspects of his game while keeping an eye on two other strong scorers. Terry will get his on the court, and Dallas needs to make sure that he’s able to get his touches and make the plays necessary to win. With all the talk of his offense, what goes forgotten is that Terry is solid defensively. He’s not smothering, but he can be effective for them in both man and zone coverage. His quickness allows him to close quickly and step up on perimeter shooters.
The main players off the bench for the backcourt are both new arrivals. Dallas traded for PG Anthony Johnson from Indiana and also picked up Greg Buckner from Denver. Johnson will give the Mavericks a veteran off the bench to run the offense to keep Terry free from having to handle the ball very often. He has been one of the coaching staff’s favorite pickups and Avery Johnson sees the ability for him to control the game when the second unit is on the court. Meanwhile, you have Buckner available to come into play for the Mavericks, and this will be important because he is a relentless defender who will play big for them when needed. He’ll give the Mavs a player who will work hard on both ends of the court, a quality that Avery Johnson absolutely loves in any player. Buckner is back for another go-round with the Mavs.
Josh Howard had quite the coming out party last season in the NBA playoffs. He went from a promising young player who could be a solid NBA player to a budding superstar. Howard proved that he is a player who can provide excellent effort in many different aspects of the game. He’s a scorer who just finds a way to get the ball into the basket. He’s not an offensive specialist who scores in one way, like a sport-up shooter or a natural slasher. If he needs to take the ball inside, he can do that, just as easily as he can rise above a defender and knock down a tough jumper. As he continued to prove this, Coach Johnson gave Howard more and more responsibilities on the offensive end. Don’t be surprised to see him at the top of the key with the ball in half-court sets because he’s got that ability. What sets Howard apart and what Avery Johnson loves is his attention to detail on the defensive end. They will usually match Howard with the opposition’s best offensive threat outside, and Howard prides himself on working hard and shutting that player down. He won’t always be able to, but he will give you the work ethic you want from a young, talented player.
When the Mavericks lost to the Miami Heat in last season’s NBA Finals, Dirk Nowitzki took a lot of flack for his performance against them. They questioned his ability to lead the team and to be a superstar who takes over the game when he’s needed the most. Dirk shot less than 40% from the field and an anemic 25% (6-24) from beyond the 3-point line. He will be the first to tell you that he was disappointed in his performance and they he should have been able to do much more, and he will need to do so this season. Nowitzki is still one of the best players in the NBA and almost always provides the Mavericks with an offensive mismatch on the court. Bigger players cannot guard him outside the paint, while the smaller guys aren’t able to throw him off close to the basket. He can rise over those players and shoot at will with his height and arms extended. You’d like Dirk to get a little more aggressive on the boards, but that’s just nitpicking since he averaged 9 rebounds a game last season. He is a bit of a liability defensively, but that is something that Avery Johnson and the Mavs can deal with as long as he’s giving them the excellent offensive production and their other players are hustling around Dirk.
Dallas didn’t stay still this offseason, making a number of moves to try and get better and tougher off the bench. They did so by picking up Devean George from the Lakers and also trading for Austin Croshere. Dallas did give up Josh Powell, a forward was a regular in the rotation early in the season until he lost favor with the team, and also lost Adrian Griffin to the Bulls. In Devean George the Mavericks get a player who can provide scoring and defense, but most importantly the attitude of a champion. He has been around some championship teams with the Lakers and he understands what it takes to win in the tough Western Conference. He’ll give them that leadership off the bench and could solidify the second unit, allowing Howard and Nowitzki to take breaks and stay fresh throughout the season. Croshere is a solid rebounder who will work hard inside, and possesses a decent outside stroke that could benefit in the Mavericks’ system.
It’s really a crap-shoot in the middle for the Mavericks. It appears as though DeSagana Diop has gained the upper hand because of his defense and his strength inside. He’s not going to be a factor at all on the offensive side of the ball, and he could still be a liability, but they’ll go with him because of the defense. Remember, Avery Johnson values players who work hard and show effort at all times, whether in a close game or a blowout. Diop seems to be the higher energy of the two centers.
That’s not to say that Erick Dampier won’t get off the bench quickly, but he’s shown over the years in Dallas that he’s not more than a mediocre center at best. He definitely hasn’t been worth the huge contract that he signed with the Mavericks. Dampier is looking to be antiquated because of his style of play and because of the shift in the NBA towards more offense and less banging around. Dampier isn’t as tough on defense as he once was and will really only give you average play in the middle and the occasional blocked shot or two. He doesn’t move well and is often late to help when the Mavericks are showing zone coverage. Besides, with the Mavericks looking to run and to set a high offensive pace, expect them to use Nowitzki at center occasionally to press the offensive issue.
It’s really hard to say that last season was a disappointment. The Mavericks were able to get further than the franchise has ever been before. They challenged the Heat and it appeared early as though they would be able to defeat the Heat, taking a 2-0 lead in the series. But after the disappointing loss in the Finals, the Mavericks are looking hungrier than ever. Especially in the NBA, they always say that you have to pay your dues before actually getting to the Promised Land, and the Mavericks are chalking that experience as the last one needed before they finally break through. Whether or not they can this season is the true question.
This season is going to prove especially difficult to get it done. No one in the Western Conference stayed put in terms of improving their teams. Everyone around them, and even the Mavericks themselves, went out to try and improve their teams. Remember, this Maverick team didn’t even win their division last season because of the Spurs, and they’ll be back to give them more trouble within their own division. The keys for the Mavericks will be to get more consistent play from their fringe players. Guys like Devin Harris and the players battling for the center spot. They’ll need Dirk Nowitzki to get better as the postseason goes along. They are a playoff team, but whether or not they’ve got what it takes to take the final step forward is the big issue. I don’t see them being able to replicate their run last season.
Leading Scorer: Dirk Nowitzki
MVP: Dirk Nowitzki
Postseason: eliminated in Western Conference Semi-Finals