Do Mavs Feature Top-Tier NBA Frontcourt?
The start of the upcoming season is mere weeks away and it looks like this could be the year of the big man with numerous quality pairings ready to inflict damage over the course of the 2012-13 campaign.
Looking around the league, there’s no shortage of quality power forward-center combinations. Starting with the newly formed tandem of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol in Los Angeles, many four-five combos throughout the NBA are looking dangerous heading into the new year.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in Utah is another veteran duo that looks to be formidable this season. The pairing of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in Memphis should also get a nod as a top tandem. Other talented frontcourt duos include Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler in New York, David West and Roy Hibbert in Indiana, and, if healthy, David Lee and Andrew Bogut in Golden State.
Also, the extremely young and talented duo of DeMarcus Cousins and the fifth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Thomas Robinson, project to be a top post tandem in this league for many years to come, just as Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will only continue to improve as they reach their prime.
Those are just a few of the big-name combos out there that NBA fans around the world will have their eye on throughout the season.
Another four-five grouping that actually hasn’t been getting much play from the national media is the Dallas Mavericks’ duo of Chris Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki. Obviously, Nowitzki’s MVP-level game, even after 14 NBA seasons, speaks for itself but the main X-factor will be the play of Kaman.
Looking over the all-time history of the Mavericks, center would have to be considered the franchise’s weakest of any position. When you take away Tyson Chandler, who played just one season in Dallas (albeit the only championship-winning season in franchise history), the pickings are slim when it comes to quality centers that have played the position for the Mavericks. Brendan Haywood, Erick Dampier and Shawn Bradley aren’t exactly elite players.
Which brings us to the next chapter for the Mavericks, with Kaman taking over the starting center job heading into the new season.
Offensively, Kaman is unmatched in the lore of Mavs’ big men and could also feature an all-around game that even Chandler couldn’t measure up to during his time in Dallas. Of course, the key to Dallas’ hopes of an elite-level frontcourt reside on the health of the oft-injured seven-footer.
When able and on the court, there’s little doubt Kaman has an array of skills that make him one of the top big men in the game today and a playing style that should mesh well with Nowitzki.
“I think Kaman was the first guy to say he’s coming, which was a good move,” Nowitzki said of his new teammate. “I think Chris should be the best offensive center that I’ve played with here in my career. I’m not sure defensively, but I think offensively he’s good – scoring in the post, shooting 16-17 footers. I think we should be able to play fine off each other.”
Rewind back to his last (nearly) full season as a starter in the 2009-10 campaign. In 76 starts with the Los Angeles Clippers that year, Kaman averaged 18.5 points (49 percent shooting), 9.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per contest, which earned him a spot on the Western Conference’s All-Star team.
Fellow new edition Elton Brand, who played alongside Kaman at power forward that season, believes the Mavericks’ new starting center is still capable of being among the league’s best.
“Chris is a great center in this league,” Brand said. “Scoring center, can block shots, big body – you see he has a lot of moves. You give him space, he can really dominate a game down there in the post. He hits the mid-range jumper very well, he has quick feet for a center, a true seven-foot center. He’s definitely going to surprise some people in that aspect. He can play and he can still play.”
Even more recently, over the course of 22 games played with the New Orleans Hornets this past season, Kaman proved his worth as a starting center. Despite the Hornets brass going back and forth over whether or not to trade or release the nine-year veteran for most of the season, Kaman broke out during that stretch to the tune of over 16 points, nine rebounds and 1.5 blocks per contest. Kaman then played just eight games (43 total in 2012) after March 24, so freshness shouldn’t be an issue after playing in just half a season’s worth of games this past year.
The established cohesion between Nowitzki and Kaman should also not be overlooked. The duo has played together on the German National team since Nowitzki coaxed Kaman to join him in 2008 and that rapport should pay dividends as they try to get on the same page heading into the season.
“The whole thing about Dirk and Kaman is that there’s a familiarity there,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said. “So I think that’s a plus, the fact there is a relationship there. They went through something special together and I view that has positive too.
“All that stuff guarantees you nothing, you still got come out here and get these guys tied together, not just two, three of them.”
Unfortunately for the Mavs’ aspirations, Carlisle is 100 percent correct in his statement above. Kaman left his first practice as a Maverick after just minutes on the court and has been day-to-day with a lower back injury. The good news for the Mavericks is that Kaman shook off what he regarded to be a minor injury and started for Dallas earlier today in the team’s preseason opener.
“I think I’m still in my prime and I think I still have a few years of that,” Kaman said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I want to remain humble and I’m going to just try to do my job. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I’m just going to do the best that I can do.”
When talking about the Mavs’ frontcourt, it’s also prudent to bring up the veteran presence of Brand, who should see plenty of action at both the center and power forward positions this season. Heading into the 2012-13 season, Dallas is looking to have a three-headed frontcourt monster that, if healthy, will give teams fits down low.
“I think Elton is going to be great – post defense and shot making from 15-16 feet,” Nowitzki said. “Chris looks in great shape and stayed in shape all summer so, yeah, I think we’re going to be good and still be a tough team to beat. Where we’re going to end up, I have no idea because the West is stacked, especially on the top. So it’s going to be tough to crack those top two-three up there, but we’re sure going to try.”
Not unlike the current situation in Los Angeles with the Lakers, health will be the key in the frontcourt for Dallas as the Mavericks try to reverse fortune and become contenders once again in 2013.
Elton Brand: The Enforcer?
Another interesting tidbit to emerge from media day this past week was the willingness of newly signed forward Elton Brand to shoulder the load defensively in Dallas. Known earlier in his career as one of the most unstoppable scorers in the post, Brand has reinvented his game later in his career. Just last season, that defensive edge helped the Philadelphia 76ers advance to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
“I’m definitely going to have to anchor the defense, bring toughness,” Brand said.
Brand not only led the 76ers in blocks per game (1.6) in 2012, but the 13-year vet also wasn’t shy about reinforcing the idea that he doesn’t mind doing the dirty work in the paint.
“I’m not proud of it, but I think I led the league in flagrant fouls last year,” Brand joked. “But you got to bring that in order to win. You’ve got to do those kind of things, protect the paint and I know I’m going to be looked at to do that for sure.”
Starters Kaman and Nowitzki, while neither is a slouch on the defensive end, aren’t exactly known for their penchant to shut down opponents on that end of the court. Another big man down low that wants to shoulder the defensive load will only help this more offensively-equipped Mavericks team moving forward.
Who is your favorite frontcourt NBA duo heading into the 2012-13 season? Is the Mavericks’ trio of Brand, Kaman and Nowitzki one of the top NBA frontcourts? Let your voice be heard in the comment section below!