Preview: Dallas Mavericks

2017-18 Dallas Mavericks


Projected Record: 34-48 (12th in West)

Over/Under: 37.5

2016: 33-49 (11th in West)


Key Additions:

  • G Dennis Smith Jr.
  • G P.J. Dozier
  • F Josh McRoberts
  • C Jeff Withey

Key Subtractions:

  • None

Summary

Strengths:

  • Coaching
  • Offensive upside
  • Youth

Weaknesses:

  • Injury risk
  • Lack of depth
  • Limited ceiling

Betting against Rick Carlisle seems like a recipe for disaster, and yet I just couldn’t bring myself to bring the Mavericks up to their over/under line of 37.5. I like quite a few pieces on this team, and Dirk Nowitzki is still a basketball magician, but as the Western Conference continued to load up on weapons this offseason, it felt like the chances of a surprise Mavericks playoff appearance dissipated pretty quickly.

There are a surprising number of veterans on this team whose best days are behind them; I don’t see J.J. Barea, Wes Matthews, or Josh McRoberts as players with a lot to contribute to an NBA team at this stage. I didn’t even realize Devin Harris was still in the league! Seth Curry, Dwight Powell, and Dorian Finney-Smith are varying levels of interesting as role players, but man, you can only ask Dirk to do so much heavy lifting in his 20th NBA season.

Essentially, what it boils down to with Dallas is that they need a new franchise player to take the reins from Dirk the way Kawhi Leonard did for Tim Duncan in San Antonio. Although he’s played reasonably well for Dallas, Harrison Barnes still feels miscast as a lead option on an NBA team. He’s just too one-dimensional; he scores a lot in volume but he’s not efficient, he doesn’t defend like you’d expect a guy with his athleticism to defend, and his assist rate – amazingly – was lower than the famously pass-averse Enes Kanter last season (7.7% vs 7.9%). I was fine with Barnes in his Golden State role, where he’d hang back and get 10 easy shots per game while the stars went to work, but his usage rate is up 10% from those days and he’s just doing too much.

Seth Curry is out indefinitely with a leg injury, and his absence further depletes a team that needs all the weapons it can get. If Curry misses significant time and Dirk looks too old, this team could degrade into “Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith take 30,000 shots” in a hurry. I like Rick Carlisle a whole lot, but getting this team into the playoffs in the Western Conference would be practically a miracle.


Most Valuable Player: Dirk Nowitzki

The end is sadly near for one of the most unique players in NBA history, as we saw Dirk Nowitzki show significant signs of decline for really the first time. We don’t yet know if this will be Dirk’s final year, but he only has so much left in the tank, and the Mavericks are unfortunately not built to limit him the way Tim Duncan was in his own final season. Dirk will still be a threat from mid-range and beyond as he always has, it’s simply a matter of whether how much his body will allow.

X Factor: Dennis Smith Jr., Nerlens Noel

Dennis Smith could very well be the franchise player Dallas needs – he’s a supremely athletic, exciting scoring guard who I’ve enjoyed since N.C. State. He’s a big play machine who slipped somewhat in the draft because N.C. State had a miserable season, but for me, he’s not as far off from Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball as his draft position suggested. There are concerns – his effort level was inconsistent in college, partially because his team was so bad, and he’s not likely to make a great defensive impact – but I think Dennis Smith is for real.

There has been a strange amount of drama surrounding Nerlens Noel since he was drafted by the 76ers. I understood it in Philadelphia – the Sixers’ continuous “best player available” approach left them with a surplus of bigs that couldn’t really coexist with each other, and Joel Embiid clearly took greater priority. What I don’t understand is why Noel and the Mavericks can’t seem to find any common ground. Noel isn’t a max contract player right now, naturally, but I’m surprised that the negotiations seemed so far apart. Now, with Noel on a Qualifying Offer for the season, he might be gone after the season ends.

As a basketball player, Noel is pretty much exactly what we thought he would be: a dynamic, versatile defender who can only make limited contributions on the offensive end. On paper, Noel seems like an ideal fit with this roster – the yin to Dirk’s yang – and yet he seems likely to be coming off the bench, at least initially. I like Noel and I want to see him stay healthy and contribute to this team, but the situation is so weird, I don’t know if I can expect it to work out.


Conclusion

Dirk Nowitzki is nearing the finish line, but the Mavericks don’t seem likely to bring him one last playoff berth. The Mavs have some interesting talent in players like Dennis Smith, Seth Curry, and Nerlens Noel, but Curry is out indefinitely and Noel may bolt in the offseason, so this team seems pretty combustible. An ideal season would see Smith emerge as the alpha dog and allow Barnes to relinquish some of his heavy burden, while reducing the strain on Dirk’s body. Even then, I don’t think the Mavericks get particularly close to one of the coveted last Western Conference playoff spots.

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