An Instruction Manual to the Mavs Offseason
Step 1: Construct an underwhelming Western Conference roster on paper
Step 2: Overachieve in the regular season, just barely eclipsing a .500 record
Step 3: Earn a bottom 4 playoff seed
Step 4: Get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, although somehow avoiding a sweep
Step 5: Either trade away or use late first-round draft pick
Step 6: Accumulate tremendous amount of offseason ‘hype’ by publicly voicing interest in league’s top free agents
Step 7: Land meetings with league’s top free agents
Step 8: Get strongly considered and then rejected by league’s top free agents
Step 9: Overpay ‘Plan-B’ middle-tier free agents in lieu of failure to sign big names
Step 10: Rinse
Step 11: Repeat
Sprinkle in a bit of Mark Cuban controversy, a few of Rick Carlisle’s ugly grind-it-out style wins, and some vintage Dirk Nowitzki magic and ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Dallas Mavericks. Why, oh why, do we #MFFL (Mavs Fans For Life) keep coming back? Oh right, 2011, that’s why. Despite the roller coaster of massive swing-and-misses in free agency and overachievements in the regular season, Dallas has proven to us that the impossible is quite possible, and thus we continue to believe.
The 2011 Mavericks have proven that the formula — an unlikely mixture of vets way past their prime and unproven young guns far from theirs — works, under very specific circumstances.
Rick Carlisle runs a system that undoubtedly revolves around Dirk Nowitzki, using him for ball screens while simultaneously throwing off-ball screens at the defense to keep them from resting in help position. Above anything else, the entire roster, with exception to the center, must be exceptional shooters. Dirk still seems to be a magnet for double teams even as he continues to age, and when he isn’t on the floor, Carlisle’s continuity offense keeps the floor spread and the ball moving, which leads to an abundance of open looks.
With this in mind, there are specific positions that have specific requirements to fill out the necessary roles of a successful roster. First, a pass-first point guard who can shoot. The reason why Jason Kidd thrived while Rajon Rondo blundered is because the point guard isn’t the star of this team. He isn’t the first, second, or even third scoring option, and although his job is to facilitate the offense, he isn't the playmaker either. The point guard’s primary role is to make the smartest read coming off ball screens and his secondary role is to knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers off of drive and kicks and out of double teams.
It is no mystery that the big German is as unathletic as a newborn deer. Even though he’s listed at 7’0”, rebounding and defending in the post have never been his strengths. That is where the center comes in, enter Tyson Chandler. A classic type of big man who is an active and vocal low-post defender who can alter every single shot that’s attempted in the paint. Offensively, nothing but dump-off passes, put-backs, and alley oops. That is all. (Cough, DeAndre Jordan, cough, Hassan Whiteside, cough, still bitter.)
Lastly, a defensive-minded wing. Nowadays, we are seeing a combination of athleticism and shooting that the league has never seen before. A versatile and defensive-minded forward who can guard both on the perimeter and in the post is necessary when defense is two of your five starters’ greatest weakness, (most point guards that have played for Dallas certainly aren’t known for their ability to stay in front of their man). An example of this is when Shawn Marion’s 2011 playoff defensive assignments were the likes of Brandon Roy, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James, in that order.
Again, the formula is proven, it’s just a matter of finding the right pieces with the right mindset. The Mavericks are currently in the middle of Step 9 and Step 1 of their cyclical process, so let us evaluate their tentative roster for the 2016-2017 NBA season with each individual’s strengths, weaknesses, and a brief summary of how they fit into the formula.
PG: Deron Williams
Strengths: Circumstance. There’s no way to sugarcoat how big a disappointment D-Will was in Brooklyn after all the hype around him in Utah. Good news for Dallas is, those days seem behind him. He’s no where near the talent he once was in Utah, but last year we saw a decent improvement from his Brooklyn form. In Brooklyn, Williams’ numbers digressed each and every year. This past season in Dallas, Williams saw an improvement in his averages for the first time since his 2010-2011 season. Add one year of experience in Rick Carlisle’s system and things are looking surprisingly promising for the vet.
Weaknesses: Durability. Williams hasn’t played more than 70 games in a season since ’12-’13, and before that, ’09-’10. DWill has had a few wrist issues, but his primary setback has been his weak ankles. It seems every season he sits out every few weeks or so because of a tweaked ankle here and a tweaked ankle there.
Formula: Deron Williams hasn't shot better than 40% from the 3-point line since his rookie year, but his career efficiency from deep exceeds 35% and is guaranteed to knock down 1-2 a game, which is serviceable. Expect him to dish out anywhere between 6-8 assists a game, and Mavs fans can’t complain about that. Again, defense isn’t his strong suit, so expect Wesley Matthews to check the better of the two guards they face on a game-to-game basis which, in many cases, will be the point guard.
SG: Wesley Matthews
Strengths: Work ethic. After tearing his achilles tendon in 2015 as a Trailblazer, Matthews bounced back the very next season and played 78 games for Dallas. His minutes were limited in the beginning to ease him back into game-speed conditioning and physicality. His numbers were down, but that’s obviously due to the injury and the constant micro-adjustments he made to his new jump shot with less elevation. With one full season removed from his achilles injury, expect to see a more active, athletic, and better shooting Wesley Matthews this year.
Weaknesses: One-dimensioned. Wes is your prototypical 3-and-D guard. He is a member of this modern class with guys like Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, Danny Green, Iman Shumpert, and Kent Bazemore, among others. Last season, that is all Dallas needed of him. With Parsons’ absence this year, Rick Carlisle will surely require more from Wesley Matthews to help Deron Williams handle the rock in addition to facilitating for others.
Formula: Dirk Nowitzki needs to be surrounded by knock down shooters and Wesley Matthews is that description personified. Matthews’ presence on the court will keep pesky guards from sneaking in and doubling Dirk, and if they dare, the kick out to Wes on the perimeter will be routine. Defensively, it is important that he picks up the slack for Deron Williams’ shortcomings, and he has proven that he is capable of just that.
SF: Harrison Barnes
Strengths: Winning experience, health. Harrison Barnes has been to two NBA finals and played a major part in winning one of them. He’s mentally and physically prepared for a deep playoff run when the time comes and knows what it takes to advance to the next round, something Dallas has struggled to do since 2011. In addition, Harrison Barnes’ presence will be immediately felt much more than Parsons’ ever was for one reason; he’ll be on the court. Dallas’ former starting SF Chandler Parsons was constantly sidelined with multiple knee injuries throughout his 2-year tenure as a Maverick. Hopes were always high for him but they were never fulfilled simply because he could not keep his body healthy. Barnes played a career low 66 games last season due to a sprained ankle, but that’s pretty much the extent of his injury history. His first three seasons in the league, Barnes played an average of 80 games.
Weaknesses: Anti-clutch. Harrison Barnes, for lack of a better word, downright choked in the 2016 NBA Finals. Opportunities came where Barnes could have, and should have, hit major wide open shots that would have either extended their lead in a close game or cut into their deficit in the midst of a vintage Warriors comeback. Unfortunately, barely, if any, of those shots ever fell. It killed their momentum which opened up the door for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to take advantage and do something spectacular, which they often did. Rick Carlisle will give Harrison Barnes more responsibility than what his previous role required of him, and it is important that he rises to the occasion if Dallas is to succeed in the Western Conference.
Formula: Harrison Barnes’ description is nearly identical to Wes Matthews. Both are long, athletic wings who can shoot lights out and defend multiple positions. Both came from teams where they played the part of a catch-and-shooter for two All-NBA talents each. In the absence of a second star on this Dallas roster, expect both wings to step up into larger roles and benefit from a greater usage rate. Both Barnes and Matthews are groomed and ready to assume more responsibility as Dirk continues to age, as long as they work to expand their games further.
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
Strengths: Leadership. Dirk was a man possessed in their 2011 championship run, but those days are long gone. What isn’t lost is his lifetime experience and wealth of knowledge for the game which, much like fine wine, continues to improve with age. In addition to leading the offensive charge at 38 years young, he will serve as a mentor for the young guns as they work to improve their games and get acclimated with the NBA lifestyle.
Weaknesses: Father time. There’s no question Dirk has been on the back end of his career for a few years now. In fact, he’s probably two or three years away from potential retirement. Whatever athleticism he once had is almost entirely absent at this point in his career. He was never fast, but one of Dirk’s greatest strengths was his underrated quickness in the post with his crafty pivots and sporadic pump fakes. As he slows down each year, Dirk will face a greater challenge having success in the post. Luckily, the combination of his high release point, fade away, and knee buffer has always made up for Dirk’s lack of elevation, so no need to fret about his jumper.
Formula: Dirk is the formula. He’ll be running pick and pops with his guards until the oceans dry up. His high post isolation with suffer due to the reasons mentioned above, but his jump shot will always be one of the deadliest weapons in the NBA. He’ll most likely see a decreased usage rate as some of his younger teammates will slowly transition into larger roles in preparation for the dreaded Post-Dirk era.
C: Andrew Bogut
Strengths: Size, IQ. Although the modern day NBA is transitioning into a smaller, faster, and more versatile type of lineup thanks to Bogut’s former teammate Draymond Green, massive centers who know how to use their size still have tremendous value in this league. Take Boogie Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and more recently Hassan Whiteside and Steven Adams for example. Bogut's ability to collect 8.5+ rebounds and 1.5+ blocks per game is all the Mavericks could ever ask for. Former Mavs center, Zaza Pachulia, certainly surprised us all with his ability to rebound last season, but his defensive presence in the paint was almost nonexistent. To have a center who can board and D up will be a refreshing reminder to #MFFL of the Tyson Chandler days. A nice added bonus is Bogut’s offensive prowess. His court vision is far above average for an NBA center thanks to Steve Kerr’s system, and his ability to score around the rim will surely provide exactly what Carlisle needs from his center.
Weaknesses: Health. I’ll leave it at this, in his 10 year career, Andrew Bogut has played in 70+ games, out of a possible 82, just three times. Luckily, one of those three rare occasions happened last season. Unfortunately, he sat out the final two games of the 2016 NBA Finals due to a sprained knee he sustained in the third quarter of Game 5. The MRI revealed that no surgery was required and that he’s expected to make a full recovery long before the 2017 season gets going. That’s all well and good, but knee injuries are a son of a bitch, man. Expect Mavs trainers to be wary of his durability all season.
Formula: Rebounding, post defending, and the ability to finish around the rim. Andrew Bogut is a significant improvement at the center position from last year’s team and will fit in like a glove. His health is always of concern, but when on the court, he’s monster in the paint on both ends. And not for nothing, Golden State’s singular weakness is an active big man. Take Steven Adams and Tristan Thompson for example. They both ate the Warriors alive in the playoffs last year. Subtract Andrew Bogut from that team and their only weakness just got weaker.
JJ Barea: Fast-paced ball handler, shooter, facilitator
Devin Harris: Scorer, facilitator
Seth Curry: Shooter
Justin Anderson: Spark plug, athletic slasher, shooter, perimeter defender
Quincy Acy: Athletic slasher, defender
Dwight Powell: Athletic finisher, rebounder, post defender
Salah Mejri: Rebounder, post defender, rim finisher
AJ Hammons: Rim finisher, rebounder, post defender
The Mavericks’ roster has certainly improved compared to last season, where they finished 6th in the West with a 42-40 record. It’s difficult to predict where they seed this year, on the count of so many other teams also making improvements to their roster. The top three seeds in the West obviously belong to GS, SA, and LAC. The remaining five playoff spots will be a dog fight between Memphis, Portland, Houston, Dallas, Utah, Minnesota, and OKC. Two of these teams will miss the playoffs, and the Mavericks could very well be one of them. If I’m being hopeful, I’d probably seed Dallas 6th again where they would potentially face the Clippers in the first round. The Clips have never been known for their playoff success, so that might end up being the best matchup for them…if we’re being hopeful.