Bill Simmons, The Sports Guy, recent column on the Clippers made a very interesting point. His article focuses on how the Clippers, the greatest laughingstock in sports, managed to make the playoffs. One important difference is the improvement of Elton Brand, who for years was a consistent 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks guy. This year he took his game to a whole new level. In fact "[h]e's better than every power forward in the league except Duncan and Nowitzki."
That got me thinking. For years Dirk and Brand have pretty much been on the same level especially since Brand actually plays some defense. But Brand made a huge jump this year and this year his numbers might actually be better. And while Nowitzki has improved, is he still as good as Brand?
I took a look at the Dallas roster. And then I realized it: The Mavericks are really the Knicks-west! Let's compare:
Take the top two players off the teams (Dirk and Marbury) and see what's left.
1) Both teams lack a true point guard and have two shoot first point guards (Terry/Harris for the Mavs, Francis/Robinson for the Knicks).
2) Both have two underachieving centers (Curry/James for the Knicks, Dampier/Diop for the Mavs).
3) Both have a soft big man who can't play defense but can shoot (Van Horn for the Mavs, Frye for the Knicks).
4) Both have swingmen who can't do anything but slash (Stackhouse/Daniels for the Mavs, Richardson/Rose for the Knicks).
5) Both lack shot blocking, rebounding, and toughness out of their big men (Diop is the only decent shot blocker on either team and he usually only plays about 2 minutes before he fouls out).
One key difference is Josh Howard, who is a solid young player. And the Mavs were a slightly better constructed product.
But look at the difference. The Knicks have the third worst record in the league, and the Mavs are competing for the best record in the West (which is a far superior conference). It's not all Avery Johnson; Nowitzki brings a lot more to the table than people think.
Can anyone name five better players in the league right now? I don't think so. We have Kobe, Duncan, and Nash as givens and maybe Lebron and Wade. That's it, at best. Nowitzki has really come alive.