- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPNDallas.com columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and MavsOutsider.com editor in chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.
Don't look now, but Dirk Nowitzki is the Mavs' leading scorer again. Will that be the case at the end of the season for the 14th straight year?
Gutierrez: Michael Finley averaged 22.6 points per game while Nowitzki averaged 17.5 in 1999-00. I certainly don't see the margin being that wide between Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. Nowitzki is flirting with joining the 50-40-90 (shooting percentages) club for the second time in his career. An efficient Nowitzki will lead to plenty of points. It will be close, but I think Nowitzki maintains his leading scorer title for the Mavericks.
Taylor: When the season ends, Ellis will be the leading scorer because Dirk will allow the offense to flow through. Ellis has shown he can be a playmaker, especially in the pick-and-roll. As the season goes on, we should expect the 35-year-old star to slow down just a little because of the NBA grind while Ellis will probably maintain his performance. The key for the Mavs was to get a legit sidekick for Dirk, and that's just what they have.
MacMahon: This will be a neck-to-neck race, although they're really not competing against each other. I'll go with Dirk for a couple of reasons. I figure November, when he averaged 20.4 points per game, will be perhaps his toughest month of the season because of a schedule pace that he called "brutal." Nowitzki will also be a much more consistent scorer over the duration of the season than Ellis, a streaky shooter who will mix in the occasional single-digit dud like Saturday night.
What are reasonable expectations for Brandan Wright?
Gutierrez: A point per minute isn't reasonable? Oh, OK. Wright averaged 11.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 23.8 minutes in the final 24 games last season. He shot 57.8 percent from the field in that span. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, Wright will see an uptick in scoring average from that span last season without a drop-off in efficiency. An improvement in the rebounding numbers would be huge but is not entirely expected. He'll be a huge insurance policy in scoring for the Mavericks when they need to get Nowitzki rest, especially in the fourth quarter.
Taylor: Wright is a lively body who should average double figures because he can run the court and he has a nice jumper. If the Mavs can get him to 6-7 rebounds a game, they would really be excited. He's a good player. The question is whether he can make the jump to really good player, which will happen if he can get his rebounding numbers in line.
MacMahon: I love Wright referring to his late-season production as a minimum expectation. It should be. He returned to Dallas stronger and with a little more range on his jumper, not to mention much richer after signing a two-year, $10 million deal this summer. The next time Rick Carlisle asks for my advice, I'll tell him to start Wright at center to pair him with Nowitzki as often as possible. That's a tremendously effective offensive tandem. Whether that happens or not, don't be surprised if Wright is the Mavs' third-leading scorer.
Fast-forwarding to the summer, who is the free agent not named LeBron you'd most like to see land in Dallas?
Gutierrez: Shawn Marion will be a free agent, thus creating a hole there. Luol Deng makes sense, but I'm not sure he's worth the perceived price tag. Dallas will need to continue working on its center position as well. This will probably be an underwhelming selection, but put me down for seeing Marcin Gortat as the free agent I'd like to see land in Dallas. The Mavericks were close to getting him in the summer of 2009 as a restricted free agent. As an outright free agent, they'll have just as good of a shot as anyone else to land him.
Taylor: The Mavs, for the most part, have been looking for a center forever. They might be able to get a solid wide body in free agency. Gortat would be a good choice because he's big enough to bang and has a solid offensive game. Spencer Hawes might also be intriguing because of his ability to hit the jumper and spread the court. I just don't want to hear Mark Cuban tell me how they're going to get LeBron James signed.
MacMahon: I'll go out of the box a bit and say Eric Bledsoe. He's a restricted free agent, so this might be a pipe dream, but he's a blossoming star. So what if the Mavs signed Jose Calderon and Ellis last summer? Bring Calderon off the bench and keep his minutes in the mid-20s as he gets into his mid-30s. Bledsoe and Ellis would be a phenomenally fun, explosive backcourt. Bledsoe would solve a bunch of problems defensively, and he's averaging 19.5 points and 6.4 assists for the Suns this season. He would be worth an eight-figure annual investment over four years.