By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
While the San Antonio Spurs were breaking up the Miami Heat dynasty in June, it seemed forgotten that the Spurs were almost bounced in the first round. It took San Antonio seven games to beat the Dallas Mavericks, the only time in last year's playoffs that the Spurs needed seven games to win a series.
The Mavericks lost that series because of the one hitch that set them back all season, their defense. Even though they scored an average of 101 points per game in that series, they gave up 103. It wasn't just because the Spurs were a well-oiled offensive juggernaut, and they were, but the Mavericks had the one of the worst defenses in the NBA last season, giving up over 102 points per game.
Dallas hoped to fix that by parting ways with defensive sieve Jose Calderon and getting Tyson Chandler in return, who was the team's anchor in the paint in its title run in 2011. The Mavs also signed rangy small forward Chandler Parsons, a potential breakout candidate this season who has the ability to be a factor on both ends of the floor.
The question is, did Dallas do enough to keep competitive in the Western Conference or will age and the same defensive woes keep it from playoff contention?
Despite the optimism emanating from their offseason, signs point to Dallas being right where it was last season, a team fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the West.
To their credit, the Mavs' defense does look like it will improve from last season, but not to the point where they are even an above-average defensive team.
Chandler is Dallas' best defensive player and an immediate upgrade over the Samuel Dalembert and DeJuan Blair duo that Dallas interchanged at the center spot last season. However, Chandler will be 32-years-old when the season starts and there is a looming possibility that he's already past his prime.
Chandler appeared in only 55 games for the New York Knicks last season while dealing with a lower leg injury. Since 2008, Chandler has played more than 70 games in a season just once. The pile of ailments and injuries he has sustained seemed to affect him last year, as his defensive rating and defensive win shares were at their worst marks since 2009, per Basketball-Reference.com.
When healthy, Chandler can still be a rebound-snatching force and defensive stalwart -- he was an All-Star just two short years ago -- but Dallas will need him to be 100 percent come April.
Where Dallas will struggle defensively is guarding the other team's guards. Jameer Nelson was signed to replace Calderon, and even though he's a slightly better defender he's still a minus on that end of the court. Nelson's defensive win shares have taken a dive since 2011, and at 32-years-old, he doesn't have the quickness to keep up with the faster point guards in the league anymore.
This is a problem given that Dallas will most likely have to face Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and possibly Mike Conley or Goran Dragic in the playoffs.
The best defensive guard on Dallas may very well be Monta Ellis, which is something no one ever expected to hear. Long-believed to just be a selfish ball-hogging scorer, Ellis found a new commitment to play-making and even playing defense last season that left team owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle impressed.
This is not to say Ellis was a great defender last season, but it was nice to at least see him try.
This is probably the longest an article about the Dallas Mavericks has gone without mentioning Dirk Nowitzki, but that's because defense isn't his strong suit either. This qualifies as nitpicking when pointing out flaws in the future Hall of Famer's game, but the truth is that, at 36-years-old, Nowitzki will be another step slower and his defensive rating last season already tied a career-worst.
Parsons, while known for what he does on offense, certainly has the tools to be an above-average defender as well. He's long and athletic, and has shown the defensive savvy to average at least one steal per game every year he's been in the league. Steal numbers can be a misleading stat when talking about a player's defense, but Parsons' defensive win shares have climbed every season.
The Mavericks will win games this season the same way they won games last season, by scoring enough points to make up for the points they give up. Dallas will miss having Shawn Marion, who was one of their best defenders last season, but offensively they could be even more explosive with Nelson and Parsons in the lineup.
So with a slightly better offense and a slightly better defense, Dallas would appear to be a shoo-in to make the postseason, but not so fast.
The Mavericks haven't done enough to be among the same mix of teams that were the top six seeds in the playoffs last year, and they will be fighting with an improved Denver Nuggets squad, the Phoenix Suns, whom they edged out by one game to take the eighth seed last year, and an up-and-coming New Orleans Pelicans team.
If my math is correct, that's four teams fighting for two spots and Dallas will need its very aged team to remain perfectly healthy if it wants to be one of those two.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo
By HUNTER KOSSODO