Sure the Future is Now...But...
If you watched these last two Mavericks' preseason games, you may have been reminded just how valuable Drik Nowitzki is to this team's hopes. The fans have watched a team struggle with new personnel and poor shooting while Nowizki, Jason Terry, and Jerry Stackhouse rode the pine nursing nagging injuries to make sure they are ready for the opening '06-'07 tip.
With just Dirk back, the team's shooting and overall game improved. And we saw that Dirk may have found a way to step up his game once again: assists. In just 22 minutes, the big German dished four sweet looking dimes. He looked as if he may be seeking his first triple double this year.
In fact, it seemed pretty clear that the Mavs have worked hard on ball movement this training camp after ranking next to last in assists last season. Everyone was getting in on the act on this night, creating open looks for their teammates time and again. It's hard to say if this will remain their game after Terry and Stackhouse, two good players who are notorious over-dribblers, return to action.
Also, with Dirk's return, came reassuring performances for some of the Mavs' new guys who have struggled this offseason. Greg Buckner and Devean George both scored in double digits while providing a solid defensive presence. Anthony Johnson didn't post the numbers but looked more like himself yesterday.
At this point, it is still hard to tell where this team is at, but as long as Dirk is healthy this team will contend.
But, if this team can win it all now and doesn't, can it win in the future? Absolutely!
Exhibit A: D. J. Mbenga. He still hasn't reached consistency but continues to show improvement. He failed miserably last night when the Little General gave him the chance to start. It's obvious, however, that opposing players don't like going to the basket against him. And, on the offensive end, he's showing an array of moves he didn't have before. I still think, once he learns how to finish at the basket, he'll be the team's best big man.
Exhibit B: Pops Mensah-Bonsu. He's the new developmental PF, ala Josh Powell. He would have been drafted in the first round this year if not for knee surgery. He's got hops, moves around the rim, and plays tough defense. And the fact his last name means "King of the Whale Killers" has to be a sign. He's either a great hunter or he's Ishmael.
Exhibit C: Ndubi Ebi. Okay, this guy looks clueless at times but what an athlete. The thing that may hurt him is he and Pops have similar skill sets. But this is a guy drafted three spots ahead of Josh Howard who should have gone to college rather than the NBA draft right out of high school. The only way he can play in the D-League, however, is if he's not on an NBA roster since he has two years in the NBA already before being cut last year by Minnesota. But he's flashed some major potential and Avery Johnson has said his D-League status won't hurt him in the competition with Jose Juan Barea for the final roster spot. Considering Ebi has size and the Mavs have three point guards, I think he makes the team.
Exhibit D: Maurice Ager. He's in a similar boat as Josh Howard in being drafted by the Mavs several picks later than they believed he would be available. He's shown he's a rookie in preseason while displaying why the Mavs liked him late in the first round. Don't expect the same production Howard had as a rookie, though. This team is much deeper than the one Howard entered the league with three years ago. But he's a major cog as this team goes forward.
I have no real predictions other than to say this team, while displaying rough edges this preseason, is set to contend for the next several years. Perhaps this year's picture will come into focus as we watch the final three games of the preseason.