Over the past couple of days, Raptors HQ was contacted by two of SB Nation's great writers - Willie Funk of SB Nation Dallas and Kirk Henderson from Mavs Moneyball - about potentially exchanging questions about the teams we cover.
Needless to say, I took this opportunity and ran with it.
So, in place of our usual keys to the game we have a very special Q & A edition of the Game-Day Preview. First up, Kirk:
SC: The Mavs are two years removed from a title, and the team seems to be somewhat in flux. How do fans feel about this transition, and the team that they are fielding this season?
KH: Well since the team is sitting pretty right now at 3-1 I think everyone is happy. Unless the current CBA gets opted out of, the new financial reality of the NBA will have to change the fan expectations for Dallas. Cuban's basic position is that he no longer feels comfortable spending well past the cap, not because he is worried about the money, but because he rightfully worries that doing so limits a team's flexibility with player movement. When you look at a team like the Nets and to a lesser degree the Lakers, those teams are going to feature the same guys for the foreseeable future. With all the off season gambling Dallas has done as of late, I think most fans are simply excited to have a watchable team. It was looking mighty bare there for a while, but GM Donnie Nelson put together a really interesting team.
Offensively, this team has the potential to be among the league's best; Dallas shot over 60% in back to back games for the first time in franchise history WITHOUT Dirk. 5 of the top 8 rotation players are new guys. I'm geneally impressed. Its not all fun though. Mavs are getting killed on the boards; in 4 games we've surrendered 18.25 offensive boards per game. That is just crazy.
SC: Darren Collison is a player who was on the Raptors radar a few seasons back, and a guy that has always interested me. What do you think of his play so far, and to a larger degree, how he fits on this team?
KH: He's been stellar. Everything about his play so far has been really delightful. While its been fun to see O.J. Mayo break out these last two games, it would not be possible with out Collision's penetration and steady hand on the Mavs pick and roll based offense. Through four games he has 34 assists and 6 turnovers and he handles the ball a ton.
Long term... well I don't want to get to excited. I want to see how he plays with Dirk first, but his penetration reminds me of J.J. Barea and getting a pass to Dirk at the high post off a pick and roll is something every NBA player should be able to do. I am cautiously optimistic that Dallas and Collison become long term partners. Then again, a lot can change in 78 games.
SC: There has been a bit of discussion as to whether or no this Mavs team is a playoff team, what is your take?
KH: If they get their rebounding woes under control and survive this stretch without Dirk, I really think so. I've seen a number of Dallas people with expectations as high as the 3 seed, but I still think a 7-8 see is more likely. The West is simply so good, I'm having a hard time writing any one team off. There's so much basketball to be played. There's potential though and that matters.
Dallas has made the playoffs for 12 straight years and 13 would be impressive. This early season stretch without Dirk will be big because the schedule is not loaded with Western Conference powerhouses. It also gives the new guys a chance to find themselves without relying on Dirk. So far, things are looking up!
And now Willie:
SC: With Dirk out of the lineup, how has the rest of the squad compensated for his production?
WF: The obvious answer is O.J. Mayo. With an expanded role in expanded minutes on his new team, Mayo has performed in the first four games of the season. After a poor-shooting preseason that saw him get torched by spot up shooting Kevin Martin, Mayo has completely turned it around. Whether it was the cut he suffered on his hand in the preseason or finding his fit on the team, he's responded with some inspired defense and red hot outside shooting (over 60% from beyond the arc). But the more influential player might be Darren Collison. Unlike Jason Kidd a year ago, he can get to the lane, draw defenders and finish inside as well as kick it out to open shooters on the perimeter. He's been a key in getting Mayo good looks as well as forcing the defense to account for him at all times.
SC: There has been a great deal of roster turnover since last season for the Mavericks. What do you make of the new players?
WF: As mentioned above, Collison has given the Mavs a point guard who can create a lot more than prior guards, or at least the ones that were given minutes. Mayo has been a great shooter thus far, and he should continue to compliment Dirk once the Mavs' superstar returns. However, Mayo will probably struggle to redefine his role and cut down on his shots for the benefit of the team. Caron Butler never could manage to do that during the Mavs' championship year, but in an odd twist of fortune he injured his knee and the team leaned on Dirk during their playoff run. I think Mayo will adjust well though, as he seems to have a good feel for the game. The only question is whether he'll be caught up playing for a contract after getting a small 2-year deal with a player option on the second year. Kaman has done a good job providing some low post scoring off the bench, but his role has yet to be fully defined as the rotation is still in flux to some extent. Elton Brand is clearly in his final years. He's undersized and still lacks the explosiveness his achilles injury robbed him of several years back. A solid second post of the bench, but not much more -- and you have to worry about the minutes he takes from a much more talented Brandan Wright (at this point in their careers).
SC: What do you expect to see out of the team this season (Wins, style of play, player projections, etc.)?
WF: I see the Mavs as a potential 5 seed and darkhorse contender to make a little noise in the playoffs once Dirk makes his way back. Right now they'll push the ball on the break a little more, but you have to wonder how that will change once Dirk comes back. Carlisle will likely be more inclined to run more sets with Dirk back, but I think he'll still allow the thoroughbreds run when the opportunity presents itself. Mayo will come back to earth to some extent, but if he can play some serious defense, the Mavericks are suddenly a good defensive team on the perimeter with him, Marion and Collison. If the Mavs can get the offensive chemistry down during a transitional period mid-season, this team could mean business by the time spring break rolls around.
For more great insight into the Dallas Mavericks, check out Mavs Moneyball and SB Nation Dallas. Also don't forget to follow Kirk Henderson (@KirkSeriousFace) and Willie Funk (@Willie_Funk) on Twitter.
For those interested, you can find my portion of their respective Q & A's here and here.