During the 2010-2011 season, the Dallas Mavericks were riding a top-ten defense into the playoffs. Four of the Mavericks five starters were 32 or older. Thanks to the cohesive play of their veterans, Dallas would eventually become the NBA champions of that season. Vince Carter, who began that year as a member of the Orlando Magic before being traded to Phoenix, had missed out on the playoffs that year. Carter, adjusting for the first time in his career to coming off of the bench, was finding his usage lowered and his opportunities to show off his athleticism dwindling. Following that season, the Mavericks acquired Vince Carter, and both the team and the player have found their game evolving since then.
Vince Carter is the greatest dunker of all time. He put on the best all-around slam dunk contest performance ever seen, and in the 2000 Olympics he put down perhaps the best in-game dunk ever, leaping completely over 7’2″ French pro Frederic Weis. “Le dunk de la mort,” or the dunk of death, is perhaps the most memorable Olympic basketball moment ever. As Carter has advanced in age and lost explosiveness, he has learned to become an effective player in other ways.
While he is still good for a big time dunk a few times a year–he has 13 on the season–they are no longer coming at will. Carter has transformed himself into an efficient bench scorer, allowing himself to be a valuable player at age 37. Carter’s effect field goal percentage, which weights three-pointers more heavily due to their added point value, is at 50 percent, above his career average of 48.9 percent. The percentage of his shots that have come from behind the three-point line has increased, with his two highest rates ever coming this and last season. Always a good shooter, Carter can now almost be labeled a three-point specialist, and quite a good one.
Dallas, too, has undergone elaborate revisions to their game in the past several seasons. The team is still led by star Dirk Nowitzki and under the leadership of head coach Rick Carlisle, but their style of play has greatly changed due to their age and personnel changes. Gone is anchor Tyson Chandler, and with him the Mavericks era of strong defense. This year’s Mavericks squad is scoring more than they have in any season under Carlisle, and without a dominant defender they have moved to a more aggressive style of play. They are second in the league in steals, and second in the league in turnovers forced. Adapting to the talent they have, they are also an efficient three-point shooting team, even though they have taken less threes than during their championship run.
This season, the Mavericks are again utilizing veteran players. Four of five starters are 32 or older; their youngest is 28. They are currently in the thick of the playoff race in the deep Western Conference, and are playing to the strengths of their older, more experienced players. Vince Carter and his Dallas Mavericks squad have learned to evolve their game, and with title hopes once again they are hoping that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Commentary by Brian Moore