Fourth in a five-part series examining the re-tooled Dallas Mavericks position by position.
Have the Dallas Mavericks featured a stronger power forward combo since the days of Dirk Nowitzki and Eduardo Najera? Or Maybe it was Dirk and Kris Humphries or Drew Gooden? A Dirk-Elton Brand duo is a pretty nice tandem and arguably one of the most diverse and potentially productive pairings in the league. Nowitzki has plenty of motivation heading into the 2012-13 season. He's coming off his lowest scoring average since his first two seasons in the league and hearing questions about his durability, stemming from the early season right knee issues, as he enters his mid-30s -- Father Time, bro, will live on. ... Elton Brand gives the Mavs a 30-minute-a-night reserve who can score, rebound and play defense behind Nowitzki. Brand's time will also be spent at center, but Dallas has never had a backup 4 with Brand's pedigree and it should go a long way to managing Nowitzki's minutes. ... We're only guessing here, but it makes sense for Brandan Wright to see more time at his preferred power forward position than at center, the position the Mavs played him at last season even though it became painfully clear that his lean frame is not suited to go up against true NBA centers.
How it came together
The Mavs pulled one over on the media, if not the rest of the NBA. Dallas was said to be putting together an "aggressive" bid for Philadelphia 76ers amnestied Brand and some estimates sailed to $5 million. One source said the Mavs were going to save the 76ers a bunch of money on Brand's $18 million salary for next season. Dallas had the high bid and won Brand's services in the amnesty bidding process, but that "aggressive" bid was a very pedestrian $2.1 million. That's the amount the Mavs will pay the veteran, giving Dallas easily the best value in the league for a backup power forward and center of Brand's stature. ... For the most part, the Mavs loved what they got from Wright, a former lottery pick who had been dogged by injuries. Even though Wright had a forgettable playoffs, he showed enough energy, athleticism and skill for Dallas to pick up the final year on a contract that will pay him less than $1 million.
Nowitzki says he's got at least a couple more years of elite-level play in him and there's every reason to believe that he will come into training camp at the end of September in excellent condition. Everyone knows the story from last year -- championship run followed by the Olympic qualifying tournament, the lockout, the sudden resolution, the two-week training camp, the knee issues, the struggles and Charles Barkley, bro. Nowitzki has had a long offseason and one that seemed to be fun-filled, including his Heroes charity baseball game, Wimbledon, traveling Europe, a ceremony with fiancee Jessica Olsson in Kenya and perhaps even formal nuptials to close out the summer. So the 7-footer should be refreshed and focused. ... Brand acknowledged during an ESPN Dallas radio appearance that getting amnestied wasn't exactly flattering. So, he's got a thing or two to prove as well just as some are wondering how much he has left in the tank at 33 and coming off the lowest scoring average of his career (11.0 ppg) and his second-lowest rebounding average (7.2). Brand is in a contract year and should have no problem fitting in and can easily squeeze in 30 minutes a night shuttling between power forward and center. His solid physique, long arms and smarts make up for a lack of foot speed on the defensive end, where he's quite effective. ... If Wright moves back to power forward, it could help his confidence. If he can remain healthy, as he did last season for the first time in his career, it could be a breakout year for him. He has to impress early to get playing time behind some crafty veterans at either position.
So what if Dirk, and Brand for that matter, have lost more than we think? It's not Nowitzki's 21.6-point scoring average from last season that is of concern, but rather his 45.7 percent shooting percentage, down six points from 2010-11 and his low since his rookie season. Some of it was due to a terrible stretch early while he struggled through right knee stiffness and swelling. Other issues are Nowitzki's increased 3-point attempts and a decrease in driving -- again early on due to the knee issues -- a part of his game that had really taken off and was so effective during the championship run. In 62 games last season, Nowitzki took 212 3-point shots, his high since taking 220 in 77 games in 2007-08. He took just 168 attempts in 73 games in 2010-11 and 121 attempts in 80 games in 2009-10. While Nowitzki really thrived in canning 3s in transition, an argument can be made that Nowitzki's high long-ball total was partly due to the Mavs having few scoring options last season and him being forced to launch more 3s than he would like late in the shot clock. The Mavs would probably rather see more work more from his elbow, mid-range game and penetrations. ... Brand wasn't an offensive focal point for the 76ers last season and his scoring average dipped four points to a career low. He's a high-mileage veteran and at some point, the tank starts to run dry.