By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
What are the Dallas Mavericks' chances of making it to the NBA Finals this year? The following is the opinion of a Western Conference scout:
On the Mavs: "I think [the Mavs] will be in the mix this year. They'll be in that 3-to-5 category [for playoff position] if they stay healthy. Obviously they'd like to be in the 3-to-4 range [the top four teams from each conference get home court in the first round]. They can score points, that they can do. They've been preaching defense, but that's not the heritage of the team. Traditionally, guys who can score, they're not accustomed to having to play defense. They'll attempt it, but even if they do, I don't know how far it will get them."
Raja Bell: "Is he even on the active roster? He is? Oh....I think he's a good utility player. He's tough-minded. He can make some shots. And he has playoff experience [as part of the 76ers Eastern Conference championship team of two years ago]. When his number is called, he'll be ready to go."
Shawn Bradley: "You know what, he's a specialty player. The way Nellie plays, there will be games where he won't be used at all, and then there will be games where he'll still be used effectively. He can change the course of games defensively. And they don't need him to score. He's limited offensively, but he can rebound and block. He's not bad to have."
Evan Eschmeyer: "Again, out West, against Shaq, you need size and depth. He gives them that. And he understands his role. Guys who understand their role are valuable. He has a useful six fouls. He's a bright kid who knows how to play. He's not great, but he has some value."
Michael Finley: "Obviously, he's an offensive star. One of the go-to players. Can make a lot of threes. He's found a comfort level with his jump shot, though, for whatever reason. He doesn't attack the basket anymore. Guys around the league talk about that all the time. He doesn't use his athletic ability the way he could...That said, I really like him."
Adrian Griffin: "A blue-collar utility guy. He'll play different positions, guard different positions. Passes well. Doesn't have to score to help them win. On a team like that, there aren't many shots to go around, anyway."
Avery Johnson: "Good leader. Great in the locker room. Solid backup in case they get injuries to Nash or if Van Exel gets twisted. He's playoff-tested. Just a great guy to have. He's a spot player. He's been around for a while, so he may have four or five games where he gets a DNP [did not play]."
Raef LaFrentz: "Really in a secondary role now. Perimeter-oriented. Probably down to 10, 11 shots a night. A good shot blocker, but not a good post-up player, though he probably should be. Decent rebounder. Not real physical. He's a guy who's probably really happy to be on this team and will sacrifice a big role for wins."
Eduardo Najera: "Similar to Griffin, but bigger and tougher. Will do the dirty work. He's undersized at the strong forward, but he's willing to defend bigger, tougher guys. He's a guy you don't want to play against. He's the antithesis of the rest of the team. That's how he survives--by doing the dirty work."
Steve Nash: "Really emerged as a star. A leader. Tireless. Can score and can push it. Likes to pass it. Became a good penetrator. Tries to defend, though he really can't. But he'll give you a little effort, anyway. One of the biggest things is that he really believes he's a star now. It's his team to run."
Dirk Nowitzki: "Top 5 in the NBA right now, probably. Close to 7-foot-1. Unguardable. Can go inside or out. Much tougher than people give him credit for. Good, not great, rebounder. Can't guard anyone, but he scores and rebounds, so at least you get two outta three."
Nick Van Exel: "If he'll accept his role of coming off the bench and being a sixth man, he can be instant offense. Great shooter, great range. Real confident. He can also be a bad teammate. Real selfish. Won't guard a lot. He's a me-person. Maybe some of that will go away now that's he playing with a successful team. But they were successful in L.A., and he was a pain in the ass, so who knows. He cares about minutes."
Walt Williams: "You can never have too many shooters. He'll fill a Johnny Newman role. A guy who's happy to be there. The way Nellie plays, he'll find a use for [Williams]. He can still shoot. He has size. A big guy who they can use to spread the floor against Sac and San Antone and L.A."