There have been many great coaching jobs thus far in the NBA this season. However, no coach has been able to do more with less than Rick Carlisle.
Carlisle has the Mavericks at 22-16, good enough for fifth in the West, and he has accomplished that with a roster that really has no business being where they are this far into the season.
The Mavs coach still relies on 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki to be his primary scoring option, and his second and third most important players (Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons) are both coming off of major injuries, which has severely sapped their production.
His starting point guard, Deron Williams, was considered by many to be completely washed up heading into this season. The Nets were ready to pay him just to go away, and it was clear after multiple ankle and leg issues, the explosiveness just wasn’t there anymore.
Oh, and Dallas’ starting center? That would be twelve-year journeyman, Zaza Pachulia, who is conveniently having his best season as a pro in a Mavs uniform (Ed. Note: he was instrumental for Milwaukee’s defense last season, too).
Carlisle’s bench doesn’t exactly impose fear, either. It’s mostly a mixture of veterans who have fallen off — Ray Felton, J.J. Barea, Charlie Villanueva, Javale McGee. Or, young players who have yet to stick anywhere in the league — Dwight Powell, John Jenkins, Jeremy Evans.
When the Mavericks failed to sign DeAndre Jordan in the offseason, they were expected to experience a major drop off from the 50 wins they managed a year ago. Not only had they lost out on Jordan, but they had lost defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler (again) in free agency, had to replace the productivity of their leading scorer from a season ago (Monta Ellis). All of this while trying to recover from their embarrassing playoff loss and the Rajon Rondo trade midway through the 2014-15 season that failed in such spectacular fashion. Even with last-minute additions to the roster like Williams and Pachulia, all signs pointed to Dallas becoming a bottom feeder in the Western Conference.
But then a funny thing happened; the Mavs just kept winning.
Dallas started off 3-3 before a six-game winning streak in November. Ever since, Dallas has responded every time they have began to experience turbulence this season, and it is in large part due to the stability from their head coach.
Carlisle has not only garnered a resurgence from players like Williams and Pachulia, he also has managed to win while limiting Dirk’s minutes (because of age) and Matthews’ (because he’s coming off of a torn achilles). All this while trying to ease Parsons into the rotation without overexerting him.
Despite a roster that was hastily cobbled together after DJ flip-flopped following the moratorium, and without Tyson Chandler manning the middle, the Mavs defense is exactly average (No. 15 in defensive rating) with a top-10 defensive rebounding percentage. Offensively, Dallas hasn’t been as good as they were to start last season (when they led the league in offensive rating before the Rondo trade), but they are in the top 10 in points per possession (No. 8) and they’re hovering around 50 percent in effective field goal percentage. They’re also turning the ball over less than 27 other teams, which makes easy opponent points off the break extremely hard to come by.
Carlisle is undoubtedly one of the most clever coaches from a scheme standpoint in the NBA, but his greatest asset is being able to get the most out of his players, even when they appear to be outmatched from a talent perspective.
A recent example of Carlisle’s ability in this respect came during his team’s 100-91 win over New Orleans last Wednesday evening. The Mavs were coming off of a dramatic double-overtime win over Sacramento on the second end of a back-to-back, and Nowitzki, Pachulia, Williams, and Matthews all sat for rest.
Still, even with a starting lineup that consisted of Felton, Barea, Parsons, McGee, and Vilanueva, the Mavs beat New Orleans on the road, 100-91. Bench wins like that happen sometimes in the NBA, but the Mavericks beat the Rockets in similar fashion back in November.
No matter what group of players go out there for the Mavs, it seems as though they always are put in the best position possible to succeed. And Dallas hasn’t just beat up on weak competition either — they own wins over Golden State, Houston (twice), Memphis, Chicago, and the Clippers.
The Mavericks may very well fall off in the second half of the season if they can’t stay healthy or their ability to play above their collective talent level fades. But even if they do, the fact they are in the conversation for homecourt in the playoffs at nearly the halfway point of the season, is a testament to Rick Carlisle’s superior coaching ability.