In a week with a number of important games for the Golden State Warriors, tonight's game against the Dallas Mavericks could be a highlight as Monta Ellis makes another return to Roaracle in another team's jersey.
A win tonight puts more space between the Warriors and the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, which includes the Mavs. So for some more insight on where the Mavs are this season and where they're going, we have a Q&A with Jonathan Tjarks of SB Nation's Mavs Moneyball to re-orient ourselves with our playoff competitor.
Q&A with Mavs Moneyball
GSoM: People have been talking about Monta Ellis being a great addition to the team since the beginning of the season and the numbers justify it. But is there anything you've seen this year that has disappointed you or confirmed the more negative perception of him?
Jonathan Tjarks: Monta has been a huge plus for the Mavs, but that says as much about the state of the team at the end of last season as any evolution in his game. He's a scoring guard who needs to play with the ball in his hands, can't shoot 3's and is an inconsistent (at best) defender at both back-court positions. The ideal back-court partner for Monta is a bigger guard who can run point, defend 2's and shoot 3's - basically, an All-NBA 6'5 guard. And if you had a player like that, you would be trying to fit guys around him rather than the reverse. If Monta were on a title contender, he would have to be in a 6th man role ala Jason Terry.
GSoM: Did Dirk Nowitzki making the All-Star Game this year surprise you? What signs of decline are you starting to see in his game?
JT: Slightly, if only because of the quality of forwards out West as well as Dirk's non-existent contributions on the defensive end. There are some things about his game that are basically timeless - he's not getting any shorter or becoming a worse shooter, so he's held off decline better than most 35-year olds. If there are canaries in the coal mine for his decline, it's the drop in rebounding numbers and free-throw attempts from his MVP days. Dirk is a more limited player than he used to be, which given how effective he still is, tells you what a great player he was in his prime.
GSoM: Everybody is surprised by the performance of Portland and Phoenix this season, which has made making the playoffs in the Western Conference even more difficult this season. So even if the Mavs miss the playoffs, have they performed to your expectations this season or let you down in any way?
JT: In terms of on-court performance, they have far surpassed my expectations this season. What has surprised me most is the dog that hasn't barked - the Mavs have been remarkably healthy for a team that depends on so many older players to have huge roles on both sides of the ball. If Dirk or Shawn Marion had been hurt for any length of time, things would have gotten ugly real fast. It's a testament to the professionalism of the vets on this team, as well as the contributions of the medical staff, that they have been able to answer the bell on a nightly basis. Even if they don't make the playoffs, given the talent level and age distribution of this roster, it's hard to say they would have underachieved.
GSoM: Sometimes in today's NBA landscape, when a team is teetering on the edge of missing the playoffs and a roster with a number of veteran players as the Mavs have, fans will start hoping - no matter how loudly - that their team will fall into the lottery so they can build toward contending in the future. Is there any feeling right now that fighting for a low playoff seed is hurting the team's future?
JT: My concern with the Mavs is not so much the fighting for the low playoff spot as it is the overall approach to roster-building.
Dallas has been one of the worst drafting teams in over a decade - when you look at what they've done with their draft picks, it's hard to see much point in wanting them to play for draft positioning. Not only that, you have to have a commitment to playing your young players and getting value from your picks - there's no point in drafting a low-ceiling NBA-ready PG like Shane Larkin and then burying him on your bench.
Long story short, the Mavs have been living on borrowed time for awhile and they seem headed for a steep cliff. I'm enjoying the Dirk Nowitzki experience for as long as it lasts, because I get the feeling Dallas will be wandering in the wilderness for a long time afterwards.