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Big Picture: Belief in balance

6/2/2014
While Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon thrived offensively, they struggled defensively. Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Now that the dust has settled on the Dallas Mavericks’ season, ESPNDallas.com will explain the big-picture outlook the Mavs need to analyze as they look ahead to the offseason and beyond.

Offensive efficiency was an area in which Dallas thrived over the course of the season. Many expected the Mavs to boast a potent offense, and the team exceeded those expectations as it tied for second in the entire league with an offensive rating of 109.0.

The inclusion of new pieces such as Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon really took the pressure off Dirk Nowitzki to be the scoring leader. Their inclusion on the roster also brought another expectation to the Mavs: that they would be ineffective on the defensive end of the floor.

In the end, Dallas ranked 22nd in the league with a defensive rating of 105.9 during the regular season, meaning the Mavs gave up 105.9 points per 100 possessions. That ranked as the worst defensive rating for any team that made the postseason. Considering the rankings, Dallas' league ranking was its personal worst over the past five seasons, outdoing its ranking of No. 20 in 2012-13.

While Ellis and Calderon thrived offensively, they were near the root cause in terms of the defensive breakdowns. The duo held a defensive rating of 107.9 during the regular season. Of the 10 two-man combinations that logged the heavier minutes for Dallas in the regular season, either Ellis or Calderon were involved in eight of the pairings.

With those known limitations, many expected the Mavs to suffer a cruel fate when they faced the San Antonio Spurs in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs. Instead, the Mavs baffled the Spurs. Much of that credit has to go to coach Rick Carlisle as he put together a defensive approach that confused Gregg Popovich and the Spurs.

Most of the scheming involved having players switch on most of the pick-and-rolls San Antonio initiated. The Spurs tried to capitalize on the Mavs’ lack of lateral movement and foot speed on defense. Carlisle countered, and his move worked in the early portion of the series. It took nearly six games of what would eventually prove a seven-game series for San Antonio to crack the code.

Initially, Popovich and the Spurs gave the Mavs credit for their defensive turnaround. As the playoffs progressed, the narrative changed and they said they just weren’t completely in playoff mode as they faced their I-35 rival. Whether it’s discrediting Dallas or not, the first thing you say is often how you feel. You give an instant and gut reaction, and that reaction gave credit toward Dallas and its efforts on the defensive end of the floor.

The impressive turnaround in the playoffs showed that one key to success for Dallas will be slowly shifting the paradigm from being based on offensive output, to moving toward an emphasis on defensive disposition. That’s not to say that Dallas needs to take the air out of the basketball on offense. It’s just that the numbers show that the Mavs can sacrifice on offense for the benefit of their defense.

In addition, this isn’t saying that Ellis and Calderon have to go away in order for the team to improve. There are subtle ways to improve on the defensive end with the two guards remaining a part of the core for Dallas. It will take some creativity in order to shift the balance of power more toward defense, but it can be done. The Mavs know it can be done because they have already done it. When Dallas won the title back in 2010-11, it had a top-10 team in terms of ratings on offense and defense.

While the Mavs are currently there on offense, they’re nowhere near a finished product on defense. It’s not necessary to get back up to the top in defense right away, though it should be the goal. If they don’t, they’ll be running in circles as they try to improve.