2017-18 Preview: Dallas Mavericks

By Darryl Howerton #21

Nothing much has gone right in Dallas since the 2014-15 Mavs’ 50-win season when soon thereafter they lost verbally-committed free agent DeAndre Jordan, after the Clippers center reneged on a handshake agreement with Dallas owner Mark Cuban. Since then, the Mavericks have declined to a 42 and then 33-win club in 2016-17, while the core lineup surrounding Dirk Nowitzki has been a revolving door: Rajon Rondo, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler scattered to Phoenix (Chandler), Memphis (Parsons), New Orleans (Rondo) or Indiana and beyond (Ellis). In the time since, the Mavs have overspent to lure subpar middle-max (Wesley Matthews) and junior-max free agents (Harrison Barnes), while watching diamonds in the rough get shelved by injuries (Seth Curry). Such is life in post-championship Dallas where great expectations consistently come crashing down due to  injuries or other forms of disappointment.

Mavericks 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Devin Harris, J.J. Barea, Seth Curry Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, Dorian Finney-Smith Dirk Nowitzki, Nerlens Noel, Dwight Powell, Salah Mejri
Newcomers Dennis Smith Jr., Yogi Ferrell Josh McRoberts, Jeff Withey
Gone DeAndre Liggins, Manny Harris, Nicolas Brussino  A.J. Hammons, Jarrod Uthoff
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images

Offense: It’s tough to improve on a 33-win team when they give the keys to the offense to a 19-year-old point guard, Dennis Smith Jr., and then lose his 27-year-old up-and-coming sidekick Seth Curry to a left tibia stress fracture injury two weeks before the season starts. Granted, old-heads Nowitzki, Devin Harris and J.J. Barea can steady the ship that ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency (103.7 points per 100 possessions) and 29th in pace (94.16 possessions per game). But it’s not a good sign when the only double-digit scorers in prime form are mediocre shooters at best (Barnes, 19.2 points in 35.5 minutes per game, .541 true shooting percentage; Matthews, 13.5 in 34.2, .533). We’ll see if the offensive additions of bigs Josh McRoberts, Jeff Withey and starting center Nerlens Noel (for a full season) give Dallas more of an inside-outside presence. At the very least, they should shore up the Mavericks’ rebounding problem of being the worst offensive boarding squad.

Defense: No one is forecasting that Noel will become Dallas’ next Tyson Chandler, but there is little doubt that Philadelphia’s former prospect is ready to deliver at a top 10 rim protector rate in his new home in Dallas. That will certainly help the ball club ranked 15th in defensive efficiency, with 106.3 points allowed per 100 possessions. Noel’s +2.58 Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranked 16th in the NBA among all part-time and full-time centers. Blending in with complementary center Salah Mejri and talkative team defender Nowitzki could create an interesting dynamic for a team that desperately needs to improve in this area. Barnes and Matthews are two nice defenders who are likely to take on their opponent’s top forward and guard, respectively, while Harris has now become the type of team veteran who can coach up young Smith to use his vast athleticism to the best of his team’s ability on defense.

Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images

Upside: All eyes are on Smith and what the 19-year-old point guard can bring the Mavericks offense, just as those same eyes are focused on 23-year-old Noel and what the center can do for the Dallas defense. Smith’s detractors have yet to see him make his teammates better like most lotto prospects do, but his defenders note that none of his peers can do what Smith does when it comes to pure athleticism at the point guard position. Noel, meanwhile, has followed up his season-long 2013-14 injured campaign with 75-, 67- and 51-game campaigns. If Noel can stay healthy, board and defend like he has the past three seasons, then Dallas (or others) may be willing to pay the junior-max contract when Noel becomes a free agent again this summer.

Durability: With Noel’s post-injury career already addressed, Dallas will be hoping to get even more positive results from Barnes and Matthews, who both have played 2,000-plus minutes in every one of their NBA seasons thus far. After all, Curry is out indefinitely; Nowitzki is 39 and only played 1,424 minutes last season; Smith is but a teen. The youth and exuberance of backup forwards Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith can only help some of the old fogies on this team make it to the finish line (Finney-Smith only missed one game in 2016-17; Powell missed five).

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Synergy: Nowitzki thankfully has two teammates on this 2017-18 squad that can help him reminisce about past Finals days in 34-year-old Harris, who played on the 2006 West champion Mavs, and 33-year-old Barea, who played on the 2011 NBA champion Mavericks. These three, along with Matthews, are the Mavs who qualify for our 5,000-Minute Rule—Nowitzki (54,568 minutes in a Mavericks uniform), Harris (11,761), Barea (10,246) and Matthews (5,313)—though Barnes is likely only a year away of joining them (2,803). Will Nowitzki still be a part of his team as he enters the last year of a two-year, $10 million contract? Only Dirk knows the answer for sure.

Experience: Not many current ballers have played more playoff minutes than Nowitzki, who has logged 5,895 postseason ticks in his 19-year career and ranks fifth among the actives, trailing only LeBron James, Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobili. Barnes, Harris and Matthews rate in the top 100 on that chart, playing 2,041  (47th), 1517 (65th) and 1,172 (79th) postseason minutes, respectively. Only Nowitzki (2011 Mavs), Barea (2011 Mavs) and Barnes (2015 Warriors) have NBA Championship rings.

Win Frame: 25-30 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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