Ronaldinho answered some questions for Rebecca Lawson of SB Nation's Mavs Moneyball that were posted this morning and I returned some questions to her really late today, which we'll post now.
You can probably anticipate the biggest and most significant question of this whole ordeal so I'll just get to it.
GSoM: Is this the real Monta Ellis that we're seeing or did Mark Cuban replace him with some sort of hyper-efficient doppelganger?
Rebecca Lawson: I think it's the real Monta, but you won't find any less surprise amongst the Mavs fanbase than the general public at his hot start. But there is good reason for it.
I talked earlier this season with Brew Hoop (the Bucks blog) about why they thought he had so much success thus far in Dallas, and they pointed out that he had excellent stretches of play for the Bucks as well. But in Dallas, the difference is that Monta being the number one scoring option is a happy byproduct of the situation here. If you recall Monta's golden years with Golden State, his main goal was to simply wreak havoc by getting to the rim. Once he became "the guy" that expectation brought more defensive attention which led to more and more shots that weren't his forte. He became inefficient because he was forced to do things he wasn't good at.
GSoM: Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland wrote the following about the Mavs: "Either Ellis is the breakout star of small-sample-size theater this year and a regression is coming, or he is in the process of demonstrating something that seems so obvious I hesitate to even write it: Playing for a good team makes individual players appear better, while playing for a bad team makes them look worse." To the latter point, what is it about this team that seems to make Ellis such a good fit and vice versa?
RL: There were some reports that Dirk actually asked the Mavs' front office to explore signing Ellis, and we're starting to see why. Simply put, Monta's skill set complements the players the Mavs already had and have signed perfectly.
He has players alongside him like Dirk, Vince Carter, and Jose Calderon to complement his skill set, and an excellent coach in Rick Carlisle. Defenses will adjust, and it's up to the coaching staff to work with Ellis to find different ways to keep his efficiency high. It's still a bit of a small sample size, but after 15 games we've seen enough to know that when he's focused and has a mission, he can be very effective.
GSoM: Expectations were relatively low for the Mavericks this season (maybe, to some people, because they added Ellis), but they've done well so far - as well as the Warriors in terms of wins and losses to this point. Aside from any shock about Ellis, what has surprised you most about their season thus far?
RL: Something that was incredibly frustrating about last season's team was their inability to finish games. The Mavs had a perfectly serviceable team last season (Mike James jokes aside) that finished with a .500 record and almost made the playoffs. But that team also had a very frustrating tendency to fritter away big leads only to lose in the fourth quarter.
This season's team does not have that problem. The Mavs' front office signed competent, smart role players who complement Dirk to longer term deals. They have a great second (first?) option in Ellis, Dirk is at full strength, they have very good point guard play, they have exciting young players (Brandan Wright is not back from injury quite yet, but first round pick Shane Larkin is, and has been exciting to watch the past few games).
So other than Monta, the exciting thing has been how fast this team has learned to play together. They're unselfish and win and lose as a team, rather than pointing fingers (hi, O.J. Mayo!). The leads turn into wins more often than not so far. Dirk is passing icons in record books every game, seems like. Mavs basketball is fun again, and last season it simply was not.
GSoM: The Mavs are coming off a pair of losses to the Denver Nuggets, a team Warriors fans are somewhat familiar with. What might that pair of losses say about the keys to beating the Mavs?
Denver has certainly had the Mavs' number in recent years (8-16 going back to 2008). With this pair of games, the first loss doesn't say much. The Mavs were on the second night of a brutal back-to-back, were not able to rest their starters in the first game, and had to travel to Denver. I'm surprised that game was even close.
The second game was a little more concerning. The Mavs have very little exciting on defense other than Shawn Marion. They win their games by outscoring their opponent. So, they put up 100 and 106 respectively against Denver, and it wasn't enough those nights. Simply put, if they have an off-night shooting, or if the opposing team has some shooting and an even average defense, the Mavs are incredibly beatable.
Carlisle took the blame for having not prepared the team for the second Denver game, so if true, I'd be shocked to see a repeat of that. Tonight really ought to be a fun one.
For more on the Mavs and tonight's game, check out Mavs Moneyball's storystream for the game.