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
- Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki will be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Enjoy whatever he has left to offer on the court.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
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
NBA Daily: Trail Blazers Come Up Short and Now Search For Answers
The Portland Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the Playoffs and now face tough questions, writes James Blancarte.
The playoffs have been a wild ride so far. On Sunday, all three Eastern Conference playoff games were exciting matches that featured star players stepping up in the clutch. As a result, each series is tied up, two games each. The other game of the day featured the San Antonio Spurs, who stayed in control and never once allowed the Golden State Warriors to take the lead. The Spurs managed to get a win against the defending champs despite missing their best player and now their head coach indefinitely.
For the Portland Trail Blazers, there was no such Game 4 turnaround. In fact, with the Spurs win, the Trail Blazers have the lamentable distinction of being the only team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. This is just one way to describe how disappointing and surprising this playoff series loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was for Portland. Many NBA observers and Pelicans fans were quick to point out that every ESPN NBA personality chose the Trail Blazers to win the series, as did select writers of the Basketball Insiders team.
The Trail Blazers’ players and front office also made it clear how surprised they were at the result. Forward Evan Turner shared his surprise.
“Obviously finishing so quickly wasn’t definitely the plan and to a certain extent it was shocking,” Turner said.
General Manager Neil Olshey chimed in as well.
“Nobody expected [the playoff sweep] to happen. It did. We had our chances in Game 1, we had our chances in Game 2. Clearly Game 3 was a setback,” Olshey stated when describing his surprise at how the series ended. “Stunned, I think disappointed.”
Credit should be given to the Pelicans and their ability to fully harness their talent and impose their will in the series. Turner was effusive in praising the talent and ability of the Pelicans.
“Unlocked Jrue is pretty dangerous and we all see how Rondo plays. He’s a homerun hitter but he is always solid. He can mess around. He’ll get two or three triple doubles. Anthony Davis is a problem,” Turner said.
When asked how he felt about the playoff exit, starting center Jusuf Nurkic stated that he is beyond disappointed.
“I mean, the way I finish the season, I feel shame. The way we have a season, like a team and group, and being in position to be third in the West, and finish like this, is not good,” Nurkic stated. “It’s not something you should be proud of, because all you do through the year, fight for playoff and to be in position to have a good postseason.”
Despite the early exit, many within the organization were quick to highlight that they continue to see the regular season in a positive light, including Head Coach Terry Stotts.
“I thought we had a very good regular season, I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season,” Stotts stated.
Damian Lillard shared a similar sentiment when reflecting on the season as a whole.
“I think I’ll always remember the way [the season] ended. But I won’t forget the kind of season we had. You can’t ignore the fact we won a division title in a division where there was some great teams,” Lillard stated. “We came out on top.”
Still, the success of the regular season makes the playoff result that much harder to grasp and deal with for some. Nurkic again didn’t hold back when comparing the success of the regular season with the team’s playoff failure.
“Very surprised,” Nurkic stated. “You definitely didn’t see the team who we are in the playoffs.”
Explaining why the Trail Blazers came up short against the Pelicans is no easy task. Clearly Portland’s attempt to feature its two premiere guards failed as the Pelicans were able to clamp down on Lillard and McCollum effectively in each game. Complicating matters further was the inability of the Trail Blazers to effectively utilize Nurkic on both ends of the court. However, there was at least some praise to be heaped on the backup bigs, Zach Collins and Ed Davis.
“I think Zach played really well for us,” Olshey stated. “He had an impact defensively.”
Also, Al-Farouq Aminu was able to do his part as an acceptable defensive option against Davis while spreading the floor with his outside shooting
Regardless, Turner shared his assessment that the team failed to have an adequate game plan for a scenario where their two best players are neutralized.
“One thing that may help, it’s no jabs or anything, but building the identity outside of our two strong scorers,” Turned stated. “[W]e sometimes go downhill when a team fully focuses on a lot of attention on our stars […] But I think we might need certain plays, certain structures that kind of prepare just in case that occurs.”
With their postseason concluded, the Trail Blazers are suddenly left trying to answer questions with no easy answers. Who, if anyone, is to blame for what happened? So far, many head coaches have been let go and unsurprisingly some speculation has turned toward Coach Stotts. Stotts, when asked, focused on the team and deflected any analysis of his performance.
“I’m not going to evaluate the job I did,” Stotts said.
Lillard, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise of his coach.
“Coach Stotts has done a great job from day one. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight,” Lillard said.
For now, there does not appear to be strong rumblings about Stotts. With the offseason just beginning for the team there is still time to reflect and assess what went wrong. Additionally, the team has to resolve what to do regarding its own free agents. No name looms larger than Nurkic, who despite his poor showing, represents one of the team’s top talents and expressed his guarded optimism regarding a return.
“I want to be here, it’s no secret,” Nurkic stated when asked if he wants an extension in Portland. “Yes, definitely.”
Nurkic ended the thought by stating, a bit ominously, that he did his part and a deal may or may not get worked out.
“My agent and people here are going to figure out the rest, or not,” Nurkic said.
Complicating the desire to retain Nurkic is the team’s financial situation as the team is currently over the cap and under obligation to center Meyers Leonard, who has struggled to stay in the rotation and is earning roughly $21.8 million over the next two years.
“It’s our job to be measured and not to overreact. [Because] when you overreact is when you make mistakes,” Olshey stated.
Lillard was quick to emphatically shut down the notion of splitting up him and McCollum when asked if that would be a good idea.
“I mean, I don’t agree with it. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard declared.
When asked what the team plans to do going forward, Olshey expressed optimism but tried again to pay credit to the season’s effort overall.
“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade the roster as we always do but we also aren’t going to lose sight of the success throughout the course of the season,” Olshey said.
“I don’t have all the answers for you today,” Olshey surmised. “A lot of times you don’t know where your help is coming from.”
The Problem With ‘Championship Or Bust’
Should an NBA Title be the only measuring stick when we’re talking about a team’s success?
In this day and age, there’s a constant need for instant gratification. It goes for everything, really, but especially for sports.
Before the 2017-18 NBA season kicked off, the general outlook on the league was that the regular season would be a waste of time. People dubbed the Golden State Warriors as clear-cut repeat champions. Other then that franchise, there were maybe one or two others that could put up a fight with such a juggernaut.
While that story has yet to play out, others are developing quickly.
The all-of-a-sudden dangerous New Orleans Pelicans are the only ball club to have advanced to the second round of the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are deadlocked in a tied series with an Indiana Pacers team that everybody seemed to believe was lottery-bound before the year began.
After falling nine games under .500 in late January, the Utah Jazz have caught fire and are up two games to one against the league’s reigning league MVP and a re-constructed Oklahoma City Thunder roster. We’d be remiss to leave out the sensational play of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the Philadelphia 76ers continue to show how dominant they’ve been in a hard-hitting affair with a gritty Miami Heat bunch.
The start to this postseason trumps last season’s already. There is a competitive fire within the majority of these encounters. It’s all on the line to prove who will be the best of the best.
And having said that, there can only be one that takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
One. That’s it. In the last 18 years, there have been a total of eight different organizations that have earned the right to call themselves champions. All things considered, it’s not that many.
But there’s a giant misconception about parity in the NBA that needs to be thwarted.
This league is filled with talent, top to bottom. Just like in any sport, you have the basement dwellers still trying to right the ship. Whether it be coaching, injuries, or inexperience—they’re attempting to find their way. That’s why those players are sitting at home in late April.
Then there are those who are not merely spectators, but are involved in the remaining field of 15 teams (sorry, Portland Trail Blazers). Of course, in their minds, there is a common goal of winning a title, as it should be.
However, is it fair to quantify the success of every one of these franchises simply based on whether they accomplish that goal or not? Heck no.
Are we supposed to just forget about the progress made from end-to-end? What if — hear this out — both teams have talent and one just beat the other?
Building championship basketball takes patience. There has to be some semblance of playoff experience involved. Continuity is a must have. You might not want to hear it, but the postseason is where the seeds are planted, where the understanding of the stage really starts.
There can be a collection of young players who have been teammates for years, but have never taken part in the playoffs before. Sometimes there can be a team that’s full of veterans that have been there, but they may not have played together as a collective unit. Each one of them has a different background in a different setting.
It’s a whole different beast at this point. Some are so naive to see how elevated and intense the environment really is, so they assume a team that loses a few games isn’t championship material. Newsflash: Not one team in the history of the NBA has gone 16-0 in the playoffs.
And then, the ones who fall—whether it be in The Finals, conference finals, or in first two rounds—those organizations didn’t accomplish anything. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
So in this basketball world we live in where everything has to be a 20-point victory with zero losses and it’s “championship or bust” as the measuring stick, take a step back and appreciate the work it took to even get to the postseason.
Win or lose, many of these teams are building towards bigger things in the future. These experiences will make that clear in the years to come.
NBA DAILY: Who’s the Next Donovan Mitchell?
Donovan Mitchell provided elite value at the back end of the lottery. Who might that player be this summer?
The entire reason that so many non-playoff teams worked so diligently to blow their seasons was to get the best odds possible for the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Watching LeBron James (a former first overall draft pick) do what he’s done to the league for the last 15 years, the desire to land a top pick is understandable. Ben Simmons, the heir apparent and likely Rookie of the Year, also was a first overall draft pick a couple of seasons ago.
In fact, of the 38 former first overall picks dating back to 1980, 28 of them would evolve into All-Stars, and it seems like only a matter of time before Simmons is added to that list, too. A higher percentage of top picks have been named All-Stars than any other slot in the draft. Numbers don’t lie. There is no pick more valuable than the very first one.
Donovan Mitchell is good, too. Like, really good. He’s so good that there’s just as strong an argument for him as this season’s Rookie of the Year as there is for Simmons. Mitchell, though, was not a first overall pick. He was picked 13th, at the back end of the lottery.
He isn’t alone in landing elite value for teams picking outside of the lottery’s top half. Devin Booker was picked 13th in 2015. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th selection in 2013. In 2011, Klay Thompson was picked 11th, while Kawhi Leonard was chosen with the 15th pick that same year. Paul George went 10th overall in 2010.
In other words, there are plenty of really good prospects every summer to give late-lottery teams hope. They might not generate the same hype as the guys vying for that top overall selection, but they’re also clearly a lot better than the tiers of players that start coming off the board in the 20s and 30s. All-Stars lurk in the 10-to-15 range of the draft, especially in a loaded class like the one we’re looking at this summer.
That begs the question: who is this year’s Donovan Mitchell?
Here are three possibilities:
Back in November, a series of unfortunate circumstances in a game against Minnesota led to a mass ejection of Alabama players that resulted in just three players being allowed to play the final ten minutes. Sexton was one of those three players and led a Crimson Tide rally despite the lopsided Minnesota power play. ‘Bama outscored the Gophers 30-22 in those final 10 minutes despite being down two players, and Sexton finished the game with 40 points. That’s how good he is.
Of course, he could slip in this draft if only because there are so many flashier names ahead of him. It appears as though seven players (DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marin Bagley, Michael Porter, Mo Bamba and Trae Young) likely will be drafted before him, which puts him in a category with guys like Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Miles Bridges, and Kevin Knox. Sexton probably will fall somewhere in that range, which means he would fall somewhere between the eighth and 13th pick.
He is competitive, charismatic and incredibly driven, so there’s a really good chance he does well in interviews and workouts and shows how elite he is. On the other hand, if he falls to the Sixers or Hornets or Clippers, some non-tanking team could end up with one of the biggest stars of the draft.
Coming into his sophomore season, Bridges was considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball, and while that is still true to a certain extent, his stock dropped a bit this past season while several players—including his teammate Jaren Jackson, Jr.—saw their own stocks rise.
Despite a minor loss in momentum, Bridges is one of the most NBA-ready players projected to be selected in the lottery. He’s still young enough to have a high ceiling, but he’s older and more physically mature than a lot of the other players vying to be drafted in his neck of the pecking order. He does nearly everything well, from ball handling to rebounding to shooting, and he can play both ends of the floor. His athleticism is his calling card, and that added to everything else he does well makes him a lock for some measure of NBA success.
He has his flaws, but he’s probably an All-Rookie First Teamer that will be selected after ten players that aren’t. That makes him a potential steal on the back-end of the lottery.
This time last year, Porter was a 17-year-old kid deciding whether or not to reclassify and play at the University of Missouri with his older brother Michael Porter, Jr. and under his father Michael Porter, Sr., who is a member of the coaching staff there. Obviously big bro is a high lottery pick, but the younger sibling was the 11th rated prospect in his high school class (the one with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett) before reclassifying.
He has declared for this summer’s draft but hasn’t yet hired an agent. If he stays in, he’ll be the youngest player in the draft, and mid-first round is where teams start gambling on the uber-young players with mountains of potential rather than older, more proven college players.
In Porter’s case, that could mean a mid-to-late first-round team ends up with a tremendous bargain, even if it takes him a few years to grow into himself. He’s 6-foot-11 but is incredibly smart and well-rounded on offense. He shoots threes (he hit 110 of them as a freshman at Mizzou), but he’s know for his vision and passing more than anything. That’s a modern-day stretch-four or stretch-five if ever there was one, and getting him a year before his time could be a way for a team to steal a deal in the middle of the first round.
With the playoffs in full swing, most observers are focused in on the battles for conference supremacy. For many of the NBA’s other teams, though, the draft preparation process has begun.
In short order, we’ll see which teams end up snagging the next Donovan Mitchell.