Which Mav has been the most pleasant surprise this season?
Gutierrez: Monta Ellis is the easy answer, so I’m going with Jose Calderon. I was wondering aloud who was impersonating Calderon during the first two games of the season when he looked lost on offense and his shooting touch was failing him. For those who don’t remember, he went 1-of-15 from the field and 1-of-8 from 3-point range in those first two games. Since then, Calderon is shooting 49.7 percent from 3-point range. He shot a league-high 46.1 percent from 3-point range in 2012-13 and is currently shooting a career-best 47.9 percent from long distance this season. His ability to shoot is something to marvel at. It’s stunning to see him work off a screen and hit pull-up jumpers, too. That’s an element to his shooting arsenal that I didn’t expect him to have. Adding that to his assist-to-turnover ratio, which is second best in the league amongst starting point guards (behind Chris Paul), you get a guy who is a pleasure to watch. I knew he was efficient, but I didn’t know he was this efficient.
Taylor: Ellis has been better than I thought as a playmaker. Of course, he commits too many turnovers, but we could say that about a lot of players. The reality, though, is that based on all of the stuff we read about Ellis coming into this season, he was painted as a selfish, shoot-first player who put up numbers but didn't help the team. Nothing we've seen could be further from the truth. The two-man game with Dirk Nowitzki has been outstanding, and he has been a quality playmaker on several occasions this season. He's scoring without taking a lot of shots. In essence, he has been everything you could've asked from an upper-echelon player who took a pay cut to play for the Mavericks.
MacMahon: If the Mavs thought Ellis would fit this well, they would have given him a four-year, $40 million deal the moment Dwight Howard decided to go to the Houston Rockets. The truth is they didn’t make the three-year, $25 million offer until they discovered Devin Harris needed toe surgery, which caused them to take his three-year, $9 million deal off the table. But give Ellis, who is averaging 20.3 points, 6.0 assists and shooting 45.5 percent from the floor, credit for completely buying into coach Rick Carlisle’s vision for him. Ellis has emerged as the Mavs’ best co-star since Nowitzki became the unquestioned face of the franchise, which makes his deal a bargain.
Which Mav has been the biggest disappointment?
Gutierrez: It’s probably not fair, but I’m going with Shane Larkin. The rookie was already behind the learning curve after missing the entire summer league and preseason due to his ankle injury. He’s been back for six weeks, and there really hasn’t been a lot to write about. After seeing his minutes go to Gal Mekel, Larkin said he learned that he needed to bring his speed and athleticism when he was on the floor. In spurts, he’s shown those two attributes and some potential, but he often looks hesitant when he has the ball in his hands. With a pressing need for help at the backup point guard position, Larkin has had opportunities and hasn’t done much. It’s still early, but it would have been nice to see a little bit more out of him with 18 games worth of action under his belt.
Taylor: Samuel Dalembert takes this easily, considering he lost his starting job for a few games to DeJuan Blair. The coaches have already talked about his motivation level several times this season, and we're not even at the midway point yet. His only job is to play defense and rebound. Anything else is a bonus. If he does just that, he makes the Mavs a much better team. Until he does, the Mavs will be a solid team searching for consistency.
MacMahon: It wasn’t Brandan Wrights fault, but him missing the first month and a half of the season due to a nondisplaced fracture in his left shoulder after signing a two-year, $10 million deal was a major disappointment. The hope was that he’d be able to pick up where he left off last season. He’s done that, but the Mavs just had to wait six weeks longer than they wanted to get Wright in the mix.
Which Mav should improve most over the rest of the season?
Gutierrez: Jae Crowder’s second season has been somewhat of a mixed bag. He continues to show improvement on the defensive end of the floor with his versatility, but he still struggles with his perimeter jumper. He was on fire to start the season, but tried-and-true regression to the mean caught up to him. He’s been cognizant of the slippage as the reliance on the 3-point shot went down in December, but his overall shooting percentages are still below average. When he uses his athleticism and becomes more of an attacker, things move in a positive direction for him on the offensive end of the floor. He’s still young enough to be molded into a player the Mavericks desire, but he’ll need to show more consistency in order for that to happen. No longer a rookie, Crowder should understand the ebbs and flows of a long season and make adjustments as he goes, thus bringing some improvement.
Taylor: Larkin has speed and can hit the 3. All he needs, like most young players, is confidence. The more he plays and succeeds, the better he'll get. You could argue one of the best things that has happened this season is that Harris' foot injury has forced Carlisle to play Larkin and Mekel instead of letting each of them ride the pine. Larkin has the skill set to be a quality 15-minute backup this season, and if he keeps getting consistent minutes, he'll achieve that because no one else on this roster has his skill-set combination.
MacMahon: Larkin obviously has the most to learn as a rookie who missed all of summer league and training camp. The Mavs still have every reason to believe the lightning-quick Larkin can develop into a J.J. Barea-like change-of-pace point guard, but it’s worth reminding folks that Barea was a nonfactor as a rookie. Larkin should dramatically improve over the course of his rookie season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Mavs will benefit immediately. That improvement might come in the D-League once Harris is cleared to play.