It's hard to believe the arrival of Lamar Odom via trade offered so much hope to downtrodden Dallas Mavericks fans who were dealing with the loss of Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea to free agency. And no one could've predicted that the 2011 NBA Finals MVP, Dirk Nowitzki, would report for duty so out of shape that the Mavs finally had to give him an in-season sabbatical.
Injuries to guards Jason Kidd (calf) and Delonte West (hand) also caused issues, which is why the Mavericks' 21-13 record at the All-Star break should be cause for celebration. Coach Rick Carlisle is in the running for NBA coach of the year because he's found a way to mesh all these spare parts. This team is winning games because of excellent team defense that is spearheaded by the ageless Shawn Marion.
Now, please buckle up for FOXSportsSouthwest.com's annual Mavericks Midseason Report, which you should clip and save immediately. Warning: Not every category will be completely serious, so try not to react in a violent manner.
Breakthrough player after 34 games: Former lottery pick Brandan Wright wasn't the most coveted free agent around following two shoulder surgeries, but Donnie Nelson thought he could eventually be of service. Wright was buried behind Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi early in the season, but he's emerged as a key player over the past month. In fact, Mahinmi's having a hard time getting off the bench because of how active Wright has been. He has a decent little baby hook shot and provides a ton of energy off the bench. One longtime NBA scout recently told me that Wright was the Mavs' "bounciest" player. Wright told me recently that Jason Terry presented him with a DVD of Tyson Chandler's pick-and-rolls before the season started. He's watched the DVD religiously, so look for some more lob passes to him in the second half of the season.
Biggest surprise from a positive standpoint: Don't act like you thought Vince Carter was going to make a huge impact on this team. But he's bought into Carlisle's emphasis on defense and given the Mavs a unique advantage at shooting guard. He nearly always has a height advantage, allowing him to post up and score in the paint. No one's going to replace Chandler's inspirational leadership, but Carter does seem to connect with the younger players. And occasionally he turns back the clock and delivers a thunderous dunk.
Biggest bust by far: Despite a supportive head coach and some gracious new teammates, Lamar Odom has been an enormous disappointment. He slept-walked through the first 15 games due to being out of shape, but it's not like he set the world afire after that. Carlisle has been extremely patient with Odom in hopes that he'll actually contribute something in the second half of the season. But at this point, he's nothing but a seat-filler for Nowitzki. And he's not really good at that, either. Odom's 36 percent shooting percentage is 11 percent below his career average. And really, it's not even about his numbers. He doesn't appear engaged half the time and his reality show only makes his lack of production more embarrassing. His former Lakers teammates were beyond shocked that he wasn't in town for Wednesday's game.
Best defensive stopper: Somehow, Shawn Marion was able to show up in excellent shape following the lockout. He's made a case for the NBA's all-defensive team, with owner Mark Cuban running his campaign. Marion has the uncanny ability to defend some of the league's top point guards as well as prolific scorers such as Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. Carlisle is going to have to be smart about Marion's minutes in the second half because he admitted to being worn out after the recent Lakers game. But Marion continues to be the face of the No. 1 field-goal percentage defense in the league.
No more ceremonies, please: The Mavs raised the NBA championship banner on Christmas Day and then were run off the court by the Miami Heat. They held their ring ceremony before a game against the Timberwolves on Jan. 25 and were subsequently blown out of their own arena by Kevin Love and friends. The Mavs did win games after Caron Butler and Corey Brewer received their rings, so things are looking up. But you almost wish they could hold a private ceremony when Chandler returns to the AAC next month. It's not like the Knicks need any further motivation to beat Dallas.
The most maddening player on the roster not named Lamar: Guard Roddy Beaubois may be the biggest tease in the league. He thrived when Jason Kidd first left the lineup with a calf injury, but he couldn't sustain that production. Carlisle has challenged him to be focus more on competing than entertaining. It will be interesting to see how responds with West still out with an injury. If Beaubois could become more reliable as a backup at both guard positions, the Mavs could be a lot more dangerous. At this point, though, you'd be foolish to count on that happening.
Bringin' the Wood: Center Brendan Haywood had an excellent first half of the season. He brings a strong presence in the middle and his rebounding on both sides of the court has been outstanding. His free-throw shooting is still an adventure, but he makes up for it in other areas.