Dallas Is Tanking and It's Genius
The Dallas Mavericks have been quite bad. Their record is 1-10 after 11 games. However, they are not strangers to bad starts. They started the 2016-17 season at 2-9 after 11 games. They were 4-16 after 20 games. This season, they seem to be headed for another horrible start, but this season feels different. It feels like the Mavericks are tanking. Let’s look at a few of the clues.
The first clue is the injury to Seth Curry. There has not been much news on Curry’s injury, but he is doing on court work with the team. Curry is very important for the Mavericks offense, which has been just awful this season. According to Basketball Reference, the Mavericks offensive rating of 101.4 points per 100 possessions is 28th in the league. Curry’s ability to space the floor and also serve as a secondary playmaker could really benefit the Mavericks. In Curry’s absence, the Mavericks are playing Dennis Smith Jr. much more than people thought. Playing rookie point guards in the NBA is a recipe for losing games. It seems that the Mavericks are really taking their time with Curry when they really need him back. If they were really going to try and compete this season, something tells me Curry would’ve already been back.
The second clue is the lack of minutes for Nerlens Noel. His tough contract situation with the Mavericks was much publicized. Noel wanted a max contract and he was not offered that in free agency. He decided to take the qualifying offer and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He put a big bet on himself and he is not getting minutes. After 11 games, he is averaging only 18.2 minutes per game. For a team that is as bad defensively as Dallas, the fact that they are letting an athletic defensive center sit on the bench is troubling. Their opening game is a perfect example. The Mavericks played the Atlanta Hawks and Noel put up 16 points and 11 rebounds in only 19 minutes of time. He was great for the Mavericks and was a +9 for them in a game that they lost by 6 points.
Centers like Noel have thrived in Dallas. Tyson Chandler and Brandan Wright come to mind. This is an out there theory, but Dallas seems to be sabotaging their team by not allowing Noel to get minutes. This does two things, it ensures that they will have a better chance of being terrible defensively and it hurts Noel’s value. Is Dallas hoping that they will be able to re-sign Noel to a discounted contract after a lackluster season? I am not sure, but it could also signify that they have no intention of moving forward with Noel and are going to let him leave in free agency.
The third clue is the play of Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk Nowitzki is one of the best players to ever play the game, but it is time for him to not be playing this much. Nowitzki is averaging over 24 minutes per game and has no business playing more than 10 to 15 minutes per game. While offensively, he can still help your team, he is awful defensively. He offers no rim protection and can do nothing against opposing bigs. The move would be to let Nowitzki come off the bench and allow Noel to play center with Harrison Barnes as the small ball four. However, the Mavericks are employing the amazing tanking strategy that the Lakers used, the aging franchise player strategy. During Kobe Bryant’s last season in Los Angeles, the Lakers let him be the man when he was on the court. He led the team in shot attempts per game and they lost 65 games. It was genius. While Nowitzki is not Kobe Bryant in this regard, he is making it easier for the Mavericks to lose.
The Mavericks have always tried to win and be a good team. They were trapped in NBA mediocrity for a long time and seem to have finally embraced the idea that they need draft picks. They have some nice young players and could really build a team, but they are going to lose this season. Nerlens Noel will continue to get bench player minutes, Seth Curry will not be rushed back from injury, and the living legend Dirk will continue to get the chance to go out there and play. It may be bad for their record, but the people in Dallas love Nowitzki and it may be the last year that they can watch him play. The Mavericks should allow this team to continue on this path. They need to give Dennis Smith Jr. minutes and let him develop. They need to prepare for free agency with Seth Curry and Nerlens Noel and they need to start scouting these college guys. The draft will be here in 8 months.