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Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Big Picture: Changing of the guard

By Bryan Gutierrez

Mavs
Assuming Devin Harris re-signs, starting him over Jose Calderon should improve Dallas' defense.
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.

Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon are now part of the new core for Dallas. Mavs owner Mark Cuban made that so by giving them multiyear contracts going into the 2013-14 season. It’s established that they were part of the problem when it came to Dallas’ issues on the defensive end of the floor. Veteran guard Devin Harris was one other cog of the guard rotation. Though he enters free agency this summer, there is still a sense of optimism that Harris will re-sign with the Mavs. If Dallas works up a deal similar to the one Harris was willing to sign last summer -- three years and $9 million dollars -- he’ll be in a Mavericks uniform next season.

If that’s the case, one subtle move the Mavs could make to improve their defense is moving Harris into the starting lineup in place of Calderon. If Harris hadn't missed half of the season due to his toe surgery, it’s not out of line to think that coach Rick Carlisle would have considered a lineup change. The fact that the Mavericks were battling for their playoff lives and had already established a rotation and substitution pattern, however, figuratively squashed the idea of making a change.

Calderon’s numbers prior to Harris’ debut Jan. 18 look solid. He averaged 31.5 minutes, scoring 11.9 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting from the field and 45.9 percent shooting from 3-point range.

Once Harris returned, Calderon averaged 29.4 minutes per game, scoring 11.0 points per game on 44.9 percent shooting from the field and 43.9 percent shooting from 3-point range. There’s a bit of a drop-off, but the bigger issue comes in Calderon's defensive rating. On average, he gave up 106.8 points per 100 possessions prior to Harris’ debut. Once Harris came back, Calderon gave up 109.6 points per 100 possessions. A number of factors might have come into play, but there was a notable difference in his productivity on defense.

Meanwhile, Harris averaged 20.5 minutes, scoring 7.9 points per game on 37.8 percent shooting from the field and 30.7 percent shooting from 3-point range during the season.

It’s apparent that there is a give-and-take approach Carlisle would be making by swapping them in the lineup. You lose Calderon’s range and scoring potential, but you gain Harris’ speed, athleticism and versatility on the defensive end. Harris held a defensive rating of 104.6 during the regular season. While he wasn’t a lockdown defender, he had the speed and footwork to stay in front of quicker perimeter threats and was known as one of the Mavericks who would step in and take charges, which shows a strong disposition on defense.

The allotment of minutes shifted more toward a 50-50 balance in the playoffs as Calderon averaged 27.3 minutes against the Spurs, while Harris averaged 25.2 minutes in the series.

Another difference was the fact that Harris played more of a natural point-guard role while Calderon was more of a floor spacer. In terms of actual usage, Harris, playing fewer minutes, had the ball in his hands 3.5 percent more than Calderon did when he was on the floor.

The biggest risk with making a swap is Harris' injury history. Calderon has been the consummate teammate over the course of his career. He’s also experienced being “demoted” and moving to a bench role. Within Dallas’ system, it doesn’t always matter who starts or comes off the bench. Jason Terry made a living being a monster as a reserve. Vince Carter revitalized his career as a super sub for the Mavs.

In theory, the move could work out. If continuity is a goal for the 2014-15 season, Harris will come back. If that’s the case, continuity in the starting lineup should not be assumed.