The Dallas Mavericks have started their season in a less than spectacular fashion, but it’s far from worrisome. The team is comprised of All-Star quality performers, and roll players that are devoted to team play. They are capable of explosive offense and shut down defense, and have one of the most intense coaches in NBA history.

The negatives this season have consisted mostly of inconsistent scoring and terrible defense. Inconsistent scoring can come and go. There will be times when teams seem to find themselves in a rut. That obviously didn’t happen much at all last year, until the playoffs. There have been a couple reasons for this particular problem.

  1. Relying on the jumper.
  2. Constant Change – trying new things, new lineup combinations, and limiting the lineup due to injuries.

The first, relying on the jumper, has been the Mavericks’ Achilles for a couple years now. Ever since Jason Terry clanked 3-pt attempt after attempt in the Finals of ‘06, it’s been the single most glaring problem the team hasn’t fixed. But the fix is pretty simple: find players that take it within 15 feet.

The second, constant change, is a temporary problem. There were plenty of people, players and staff, that needed to learn from the failure of the ‘07 playoffs. None more than Avery Johnson. His laser focus on technical accuracy of his game plan on both sides of the floor broke down the team over the course of the season. Failure to accept change hurt the team when going up against a team and coach, Don Nelson, who thrive on shaking things up.

The reason not to worry so early is that there is plenty of time to work on both negative aspects causing losses. Dallas is attempting to combat the jumper-only mentality by making changes in the lineup and philosophy. Avery Johnson, more than anyone, has learned from his failures last year and adapted his methods accordingly. Moving Jason Terry to 6th man, giving more latitude to Devin Harris, and the commitment to Brandon Bass will pay off in the long run. Although the team’s overall record may not be as good as last year, the team has improved.

Moving Jason Terry to the 6th man position clarifies his role on the team as a spot up shooter. His limited ability on the offensive and defensive ends are minimized and his scoring is maximized. He isn’t a point guard. He isn’t a good passer, and he isn’t as good defensively as others on the roster. Johnson knows he’s a great offensive player, and can adjust his playing time to match his mood (whether he’s hot or cold) without damaging his ego.

Devin Harris is, without question, the best guard on the team. He’s amazing defensively. That ability seems to be dismissed by some, but he’s a top-5 defensive guard in this league. He doesn’t get assists not because he isn’t capable, but because the offense is isolation-based. You can’t get an assist for passing to Dirk who then creates his own shot, whereas someone like Chris Paul is passing to Peja coming off double back door screens for a catch-and-shoot. Devin’s speed is something you just can’t coach. It’s a wonderful asset, and what can be coached is how to use it better. Harris can also be coached to be a better scorer. He’s wonderful and breaking people down and getting into the lane, but doesn’t finish well. If he can develop a lane-floater ala Nick Van Exel and Tony Parker he’ll be damn near unstoppable.

Allowing some of the bench players to develop is another huge bonus for the team. Avery wasn’t willing to give JJ Barea and Pops Mensa-Bonsu enough minutes last year during the season, instead choosing to put in an offensively horrible Austin Croshere and still offensively horrible Devean George. Those minutes would have been better spent developing some of the younger players and maybe getting them ready to contribute against young athletic teams like… oh, let’s say… Golden State. This season JJ Barea and new roster addition Brandon Bass are getting those minutes from a coach who’s learned his lesson. Both players have proved already that the time is worth it. JJ put up 25 pts earlier this season, and I think we all can agree that Brandon Bass, for as ugly as some of his shots are, has the body and athleticism this team so desperately needs.

One thing that is most impressive is the teams morale. Except for one argument between Terry and Dirk a few years ago there has been no bickering to be heard of. The team seems united in it’s goal and believes in each other. They have the roster, and the coach, to win a championship. Let’s not worry ourselves out of contention just yet.