This Sunday, the Thunder are going to be taking on the Dallas Mavericks down in the American Airlines Center at 6PM. Dallas currently holds the fourth best record in the Western Conference, while the Thunder are sitting in tenth. It will be the first meeting between the two teams this season, and the fourth game for the Mavericks with new acquisition Rajon Rondo. The Thunder, meanwhile, are still unsure about Durant's status for tomorrow's game. With so many storylines shaping up, it's sure to be one of the better rivalries this season.
1. Alright, I've gotta ask. How would you rate Rajon Rondo's performance three games in? Are his turnovers an issue, or his lack of outside offensive ability?
I was not quite as enthusiastic about this trade as other Dallas fans. Brandan Wright is fantastic, and I was sad to see such a talented big man go. That said, Rondo certainly hasn't been outstanding in his three games with Dallas, but I think it's way too early to be worried. His assist to turnover ratio hasn't been great, but what he was doing this season in Boston in terms of passing just wasn't sustainable, and these numbers over the last few games have actually been a lot closer to his career averages. I think as the offense gels, turnovers won't be quite as big a problem. And I think we knew what we were getting in terms of outside offensive ability when we made this trade. Offense hasn't been a problem for Dallas this season, so the decision to sacrifice offense for defense made some sense, though I'm not convinced Rondo's going to solve all of our perimeter defensive issues.
2. Charlie Villanueva scored 14 points against the Hawks, and dropped 18 on the Suns. The last time Charlie V had 14, it was March 31st, 2013. Is this guy really going to be a long-term solution in place of Wright, or is there something I'm missing?
Sadly, I think Charlie Villanueva is not going to be a long-term solution for Dallas. It's great that he's given us some very well-timed performances after losing Wright, but he's just not a talented player who we'll be able to rely on over the long run. The true shooting percentage he's managed in the 115 minutes he's played this season is a crazy outlier if you look at his career numbers, so unless he's undergone some sort of major late-in-basketball-life shooting transformation (which seems very unlikely), I don't think he can come close to replacing Wright over the long run. He does have a great blog, though!
3. From an OKC fan's perspective, there are a lot of hateable players on Dallas. Dirk and JJ tortured us in the 2011 playoffs. Monta Ellis has posted some sublime scoring nights against the Thunder while on bad teams. And of course, Tyson Chandler is a reminder of the OKC Hornets playoff run we never saw and the failed trade that could have brought him here as a member of the Thunder. Are there any players on OKC's roster that might draw similar ire from a Dallas fan's perspective?
None in particular! The Thunder are obviously in an enviable position when everyone is healthy; I'm sure fans everywhere would love to have that sort of talent. But the Thunder have always struck me as extremely likable, and I don't think Dallas fans bear them any ill will.
4. Out of Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, and Chandler Parsons, which player's performance are you worried about the least coming into this game? What makes them so reliable, in your mind?
Dirk for sure. I don't think Dirk will necessarily have the strongest performance of those three, but he's still my pick when it comes to reliability, even if he's had some difficulty this year, especially with his perimeter shooting (his three-point percentage is actually at its lowest since his rookie year). Monta Ellis is a bit of a wild card, even under Rick Carlisle's guidance, and even though he's had some big fourth quarters this year, I'm often bothered by his propensity to throw up long-twos. And Parsons has improved after a little bit of a shaky start, but Dirk is still the bedrock of this team. He's smart enough and experienced enough to make adjustments when he's struggling and will still help facilitate even when he's having an off night.
5. If there was one common misconception about the Dallas Mavericks that you could clear up, what would it be and why?
I'm a little worried that Dallas' reputation for an insanely efficient offense may outlive their actual efficiency. We have yet to get a sense of whether the Rondo-Wright trade and its defense-for-offense tradeoff is a net improvement, but even if it is, it's going to be very, very tough to replace Wright's off-the-charts shooting efficiency. I'm not sure how widely appreciated his offensive contributions were.
6. Any predictions for tonight?
I've sworn off single-game predictions for good since the NBA season is long and weird stuff can happen. But I think these two teams are pretty evenly matched without Durant, and there are definitely some individual match-ups I'm looking forward to seeing, namely Russell Westbrook versus Rajon Rondo and Tyson Chandler versus Steven Adams. It should be a good game!
Huge thanks go out to Kate for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure to keep an eye on Mavs Moneyball for a Q&A with me (posted soon) and more great Maverick coverage.