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Dallas Mavericks 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 season for the Dallas Mavericks.

Basketball Insiders

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Since winning an NBA title in 2011, the Dallas Mavericks have made the playoffs in four out of five seasons, but have yet to advance past the first round.

The Mavericks are hopeful their offseason acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut will help the franchise progress towards deeper postseason success. The team also re-signed Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams and Dwight Powell, while bringing in free agents Seth Curry and Quincy Acy.

Both Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia have moved on, with Barnes and Bogut brought in as replacements — upgrades, the Mavericks hope.

With Rick Carlisle on the bench, Dallas is very well coached. The team is stocked with quality veteran players. Provided they stay healthy, the Mavericks should once again make the playoffs. While a second-round appearance is not out of the question, they’re not on the same echelon as teams like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.

FIVE GUYS THINK

The Mavericks made some big changes this offseason – the biggest being the signing of small forward Harrison Barnes to a four-year, $94.4 million contract. I’m generally on board with paying above market value in order to sign a young player who still has significant room to improve. However, even with an inflated salary cap, this is a lot of money for a player with a career 11.1 Player Efficiency Rating and an 8.6 PER for last season. Sure, Barnes’ numbers could jump up now that he won’t be sharing the court with several star players like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but even when he was featured more heavily on offense he failed to show that he could be a primary option on another team. Despite the obvious concerns with Barnes, adding him and Andrew Bogut and bringing back Deron Williams gives the Mavericks a lot of experienced veterans to work with. The Mavericks don’t have elite talent, but with Rick Carlisle running the show, they could make some noise in the Western Conference this upcoming season — though it’s unlikely that they’ll be in the mix to win the championship.

2nd Place – Southwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

Dallas walked away from their extensive offseason efforts with a couple of former Golden State Warriors players to make up for losing out on yet another crop of elite free agents. Harrison Barnes came at a hefty price, but he and Andrew Bogut should help Dallas hold court as one of the West’s toughest outs, just as they were a year ago. Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams are a year older, but there’s still a ton of talent on the team and Rick Carlisle is still the head coach. They’re not winning a ring, but they shouldn’t be a top lottery team, either.

3rd Place – Southwest Division

– Joel Brigham

The Mavericks powered through to another playoff appearance last season, but sooner or later they won’t have the luxury of riding the back of future Hall of Fame forward Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas has had a tough time acquiring another superstar talent to usher in the next phase of Mavericks basketball, but did lock in forward Harrison Barnes in free agency to a four-year deal worth nearly $100 million. Barnes has always had the “potential” halo attached to his name, but in Dallas he’ll get a chance to break out of the shadow of being a role player and jump into a more prominent role. We know Dallas is going to be a well-coached and mentally tough bunch, but the franchise is relying on Nowitzki to do much of the heavy lifting, which limits their ceiling.

4th Place – Southwest Division

– Lang Greene

I like what the Mavericks did this summer. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Now, as long as Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t subject us to a season-long retirement the way that Kobe Bryant did, I’ll be happy. As the sun sets on arguably the greatest international player in NBA history, the days of competing for championships in Dallas are over, but that doesn’t mean the future is bleak.

With Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut joining Wesley Matthews, the Mavericks have a semblance of a nucleus. I have known Barnes for a few years and know how tough being demoted in favor of Andre Iguodala was for him a few years ago. His relatively poor showing during the Finals is likely to drive him to want to prove that he belongs and that he has the type of potential that everyone saw in him when he was coming out of North Carolina.  As for Bogut, he is truly an impactful player and one of the best passing centers the league has seen. Bogut has had health concerns, but he and Barnes’ true contributions flew under the radar in Oakland. Now, in Dallas, I expect that they will help push the Mavericks back toward the top of the division – just not this season. Even without Tim Duncan, nobody will threaten the Spurs in the Southwest. But after them? There’s no reason to think the Mavs won’t be playing meaningful games well into the Spring.

2nd Place – Southwest Division

– Moke Hamilton

I think the Mavericks find themselves in the same position they’ve been in over the last few years – talented enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to legitimately contend for a championship. I think it was smart of them to grab Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, but there are still a lot of question marks surrounding this team when you look at the injury history of their players, their collective age and how the pieces fit together. I expect Dallas to make the playoffs once again, but I’m not sure they can make any serious noise once they get to the postseason.

3rd Place – Southwest Division

– Alex Kennedy

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Dirk Nowitzki

Even at 38-years old, Nowitzki is still one of the most talented scorers in the league. He led the Mavericks last season at 18.3 points a game — perennially a clutch seven-footer with a jump shot. Nowitzki doesn’t really need to jump much at all to get his shot off with his crafty, unorthodox footwork and high release. Dallas rewarded Nowitzki with a two-year, $50 million contract (team option on second season), in part to reward him for taking less money in recent years to help the team try and build a contender.

Top Defensive Player: Wesley Matthews

The Mavericks always seem to be greater than the sum of their parts defensively. Nowitzki has never been known as a defender, but Carlisle game plans well against the competition. Matthews is arguably the team’s best one-on-one defender on the perimeter, although he needs to show he’s fully back to form after tearing his Achilles’ tendon two seasons ago. Bogut is also a smart, capable defender when the team is going big. The Bogut-Nowitzki combination may have problems defensively against small-ball lineups.

Top Playmaker: Deron Williams

There was a time when Williams was a top assist man in the league. While his numbers have dipped, last season the veteran point guard led Dallas at 5.8 assists a game. J.J. Barea is one of the better backups in the game, second on the 2015-16 Mavericks with 4.1 assists a night. While Raymond Felton departed for the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent, the team has additional depth at guard with Devin Harris and Curry.

Top Clutch Player: Dirk Nowitzki

Nowitzki will go down as one of the most clutch players of his generation. When the game is on the line, the Mavericks go to the former NBA Most Valuable Player, and he often delivers.

The Unheralded Player: Justin Anderson

The Mavericks have not embraced much of a youth movement over the past few years outside of adding Dwight Powell, but in June of 2015, Dallas drafted Anderson with the 21st overall pick. As a rookie, he averaged just 3.8 points while playing 10.7 minutes a game. Anderson needs to improve his jumper, but has great potential as a perimeter defender. More importantly, the Mavericks need to find pieces to build around once Nowitzki finally retires. The team should make room in the rotation to help make sure Anderson develops as a player.

Top New Addition: Harrison Barnes

Not necessarily the consensus, but for the sake of the Mavericks, who invested almost $95 million in the forward, Barnes needs to be the team’s best new addition. Barnes was a valuable part of the Warriors’ run the past two seasons, but he fell flat in the NBA Finals. Playing with Team USA this past month, Barnes wasn’t even in the regular rotation. The hope is, with a bigger role – and sacrificing fewer opportunities to players like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – Barnes will thrive with more responsibility in Dallas.  That certainly remains to be seen.

– Eric Pincus

WHO WE LIKE

  1. Dirk Nowitzki

Nowitzki will be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Enjoy whatever he has left to offer on the court.

  1. Coach Rick Carlisle

Carlisle gets the most out of his roster. The Mavericks will win a lot of games against younger, more talented on-paper teams, partly because of Carlisle’s gamesmanship from the bench.

  1. Wesley Matthews

In addition to being a tough, physical defender, Matthews was a regular scorer with the Portland Trail Blazers. In his first year back from injury, he averaged 12.5 points a game for the Mavericks, shooting just 38.8 percent from the field. Expect Matthews to be more efficient this coming season.

  1. J.J. Barea

When Barea gets going, the Mavericks can be a bear stop. Carlisle seems to trust his reserve point guard, especially late in games. Barea isn’t even six-feet tall, regardless of how he’s listed, but he’s quick, smart and clutch.

– Eric Pincus

SALARY CAP 101

The Mavericks used space under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to invest in Harrison Barnes, Deron Williams, Andrew Bogut (via trade) and Dwight Powell, among others.  Once over, the team used Dirk Nowitzki’s Bird Rights to pay him $25 million for the coming season. Dallas also used its $2.9 million Room Exception to sign Seth Curry. Now with at least $109.6 million in salary, the Mavericks have 14 guaranteed players with a spot available for Dorian Finney-Smith, Nicolas Brussino, Kyle Collinsworth, Keith Hornsby or Jameel Warney.

Dallas could have as much as $38 million next summer, based on a projected salary cap of $102 million. That presumes the Mavericks take the rookie-scale option on Justin Anderson, and that the team opts out of the second year on Nowitzki’s deal. Both Bogut and Williams will be free agents next summer, while just $1.3 million of Devin Harris’ $4.4 million is guaranteed for 2017-18. The Mavericks do not have the cap room necessary to restructure and extend Bogut’s contract.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Young teams do a lot right over a 48-minute game, but when it comes down to close out a game, they’re often exposed. The Mavericks are that well-coached, veteran team that will win tight contests, simply because they know how to do so. The team will need to adjust to personnel changes, but the projected starting group of Williams, Matthews, Barnes, Nowitzki and Bogut is a very solid five. Barea, Powell and Harris off the bench, along with players like Quincy Acy, Anderson and Curry is a very solid rotation. The Mavericks will put up points this season and collectively, they’ll get enough stops to win more games than not.

– Eric Pincus

WEAKNESSES

The Mavericks continue to be a good enough team — a squad that make the playoffs (thus bypassing the draft lottery) but doesn’t get beyond the first round. The team isn’t especially young or athletic, although players like Barnes and Anderson help that cause to an extent. Even if the team is in a “win now” posture for the close of Nowitzki’s career, they’re not quite strong enough to compete against the best teams in the league.

– Eric Pincus

THE BURNING QUESTION

Is Harrison Barnes more than a role player?

When a team like the Warriors can boast players like Draymond Green, Curry and Thompson, along with veterans like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, a young, evolving player like Barnes can get lost in the shuffle. Barnes was a featured part of the Warriors’ “death” small-ball lineup as they set an NBA record last year with 73 wins. Unfortunately for Golden State, their quest fell short after taking a 3-1 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Barnes was not good as the Warriors lost those three straight games to close the year. He seemingly lost his confidence and couldn’t hit a wide open shot. Is that how Barnes should be defined? What about his contribution to the championship run a year earlier, along with the record-setting 2015-16 season?

As one of the Mavericks’ best players, perhaps Barnes will step into a featured role — showing all that he held back in Golden State. At $22.1 million for the coming season, Dallas is banking on Barnes flourishing away from Golden State.

– Eric Pincus

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NBA Saturday: Kuzma Is The Main Attraction In Los Angeles

Kyle Kuzma, not Lonzo Ball, is the rookie in L.A. that is turning heads around the NBA.

Dennis Chambers

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Out in Los Angeles, there is a dynamite rookie first-round pick lighting it up for the Lakers, invoking memories of the days when the purple and gold had homegrown stars.

That’s Kyle Kuzma. He was the 27th pick in the NBA Draft. Twenty-five picks after Lonzo Ball, the rookie that first sentence would have presumably been about had it been written three months ago.

Ball’s early season struggles are well-noted. He’s missing shots at an all-time bad clip for a rookie, his psyche seems a bit rattled, and he isn’t having the impact most Lakers fans would have hoped he would from the jump.

All of that has barely mattered, though, in large part to the show Kuzma has been putting on just 16 games into the 2017-18 season. In Friday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kuzma put up 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, the most by an NBA freshman so far this year. That performance was Kuzma’s sixth 20-point game of the young season, another rookie best. And to top it all off, Kuzma was the first rookie to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound plateau since none other than Magic Johnson, back in February of 1980.

Kuzma’s path to the NBA was much different than Johnson’s, though, along with his rookie counterpart Ball. Those two prospects were highly-touted “superstar potential” guys coming out of the college ranks. Kuzma? Well, he was a 21-year-old junior out of Utah who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his last year and was a career 30 percent three-point shooter as an amateur.

The knocks on Kuzma began to change during the NBA Draft process and came to a head for the Lakers when long-time scout Bill Bertka raved about his potential.

“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”

The Lakers took a chance on the 6-foot-9 forward who had a rare combination of a sweet shooting stroke to accompany his low-post moves that seemed to be reminiscent of players 20 years his senior.

Fast forward from draft night to the Las Vegas Summer League, and everyone could see with their own two eyes the type of player Los Angeles drafted. The numbers were startling: 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 48 percent from beyond the arc out in Sin City for Kuzma, all capped off by a Summer League championship game MVP.

Summer League stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but what Kuzma did in July was proved he belonged.

Through the first month of Kuzma’s rookie campaign, when the games are actually counting for something, all he’s continued to do is prove that his exhibition numbers in Vegas were no fluke.

After his 30-point outburst, Kuzma now leads all rookies in total points scored (yet still second in scoring average), is fourth in rebounds per game, third in minutes, and third in field goal percentage.

By all accounts, Kuzma is outperforming just about every highly-touted prospect that was taken before him last June, and sans a Ben Simmons broken foot in September of 2016, he would be in line for the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today.

Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brett Brown had more than a few nice things to say about Kuzma.

“He’s a hell of a rookie,” Brown told NBC Philly’s Jessica Camerato. “That was a great pick by them.”

Brown went on to commend Kuzma for being “excellent” Wednesday night, when prior to his game Friday against the Suns, Kuzma set a career-high by scoring 24 points.

For all of the praise and the scoring numbers Kuzma is bringing to the Staples Center, his Lakers team sits at just 6-10 on the season, and has been on the wrong end of a number of close games so far this year.

While that’s good for second in the Pacific division right now, behind only the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t likely that type of success (or lack thereof) will get the Lakers to the playoffs. So, despite all of the numbers and attention, Kuzma isn’t fulfilling his rookie year the way he had hoped.

“It is cool, but I’m a winner,” Kuzma told Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters. “I like to win, stats don’t really matter to me. I just try to play hard and I want to win.”

Few projected the type of impact Kuzma would have this early on in his career, and even fewer would have assumed he’d be outperforming the Lakers’ prized draft pick in Ball. But surprising people with his game is nothing new to Kuzma.

From Flint, Michigan, to Utah, to Los Angeles, Kuzma has been turning heads of those that overlooked him the entire time.

With one month in the books as the Los Angeles Lakers’ most promising rookie, Kuzma has all the attention he could’ve asked for now.

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Kelly Olynyk Strengthens the HEAT Bench

David Yapkowitz speaks to Kelly Olynyk about his early showing in Miami.

David Yapkowitz

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The past few years, Kelly Olynyk carved out a nice role for himself as an important player off the Boston Celtics bench. He was a fan favorite at TD Garden, with his most memorable moment in Celtic green coming in last season’s playoffs against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With Boston pushed to the limit and finding themselves forced into a Game 7, Olynyk rose to the occasion and dropped a playoff career-high 26 points off the bench on 10-14 shooting from the field in a Celtics win. He scored 14 of those points in the fourth quarter to hold Washington off.

He was a free agent at the end of the season, and instead of coming back to the Celtics, he became a casualty of their roster turnover following Gordon Hayward’s decision to sign in Boston. Once he hit the open market he had no shortage of suitors, but he quickly agreed to a deal with the Miami HEAT, an easy decision for him.

“It’s awesome, they got a real good culture here,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “The organization is great, the city is great, the staff from the top down they do a good job here.”

Olynyk was initially the HEAT’s starting power forward to begin the season. In their opening night game, a 116-109 loss to the Orlando Magic, he scored ten points, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out three assists.

The very next game, however, he found himself back in his familiar role as first big man off the bench. In that game, a win over the Indiana Pacers, Olynyk had an even stronger game with 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Throughout the first eight games of the season, Olynyk was thriving with his new team. During that stretch, he was averaging a career-high 11.4 points per game on a career-high 55 percent shooting from the field and 60. 8 percent from downtown.

“I’m just playing, I’m just playing basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “They’re kind of letting me just play. They kind of let us all just play. They put us in positions to succeed and just go out there and let out skills show.”

For a HEAT team that may not be as talented on paper as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference, they definitely play hard and gritty and are a sum of their parts. Night in and night out, in each of their wins, they’ve done it off the contributions from each player in the rotation and Olynyk has been a big part of that. Through Nov. 16, the HEAT bench was seventh in the league in points per game with 36.6.

In a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 5, Olynyk was part of a bench unit including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington that came into the game late in the first quarter. The score at that point was 18-14 in Miami’s favor. That unit closed the quarter on a 16-6 run to put the HEAT up double digits. After that game, head coach Erik Spoelstra recognized the strength of the HEAT bench.

“Our guys are very resilient, that’s the one thing you’ve got to give everybody in that locker room, they’re tough,” Spoelstra said. “This is all about everybody in that locker room contributing to put yourself in a position, the best chance to win. It’s not about first unit, second unit, third unit, we’re all in this together.”

In Boston, Olynyk was part of a similar group that won games off of team play and production from every guy that got in the game. They were also a tough, gritty team and Olynyk has recognized that same sort of fire in the HEAT locker room.

“It’s a group of hard-nosed guys that can really grind it out and play tough-nosed basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “We can go a lot of places. We just got to stick together and keep doing what we do. We can compete with anybody and we just got to bring it every single night.”

At 7-8, the HEAT currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Olynyk has seen a bit of a decrease in playing time, and likewise in production. He’s right at his career average in points per game with 9.5, but he’s still shooting career-highs from the field (54 percent) and from three-point range (47.4).

It’s still very early, though, and only one game separates the 11th place HEAT from the 8th place Magic. The HEAT are definitely tough enough to fight for a playoff spot, especially with Olynyk around helping to strengthen their bench.

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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