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Dallas Mavericks 2017-18 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Dallas Mavericks in an interesting 2017-18 transitional season.

Basketball Insiders

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With a similar roster and young talent continuing to develop in preparation for the post-Dirk Nowitzki era, the Mavericks are in the middle of a rebuild while also being a team that’s hungry to compete. Returning the majority of their core from last year, they’ll look to move past a disappointing season and into a better direction.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

In some ways, when I look at the Mavs, I see a team in almost the same predicament as the Sacramento Kings. The Mavs have seemingly lost their way over the past few years, but are still widely considered to be a well-run team led by an intelligent front office. Unfortunately for them, the golden era of the franchise is behind. As Dirk rides off into the sunset, the hope for Mark Cuban is that Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and Dennis Smith, Jr. can prove themselves capable building blocks to help his team get to the next level out West.

Obviously, I would have included Nerlens Noel in that conversation, but history has shown us that players seldom accept a one-year qualifying offer only to re-sign with their incumbent team the following season. Fortunately for the Mavs, they will enjoy the benefit of Noel attempting to prove himself worthy of a max deal this coming season. I doubt it’ll be enough to make them competitive in the tough Southwest, though, and am sure this season will be the first time the Mavs fail to qualify for the postseason in consecutive years since they failed to do so in 1999 and 2000.

5th Place — Southwest Division

— Moke Hamilton

The days of Dirk Nowitzki dominating for the Dallas Mavericks are gone, but by early accounts, the next face of the Mavs franchise is already in the building. Dallas selected point guard Dennis Smith Jr. with the ninth overall pick in June’s draft, and the uber-athletic North Carolina State product put on a show during the Las Vegas Summer League.

While much of next season will be spent battling to keep themselves out of the Southwest Division’s basement, Dallas appears to have a nice core of young players to finally bridge over into the post-Dirk era. Smith, along with Harrison Barnes, Nerlens Noel and Seth Curry, all look to have the makings of formidable group in the coming years.

However, that won’t be next year. The Mavs still have plenty of holes on their team and are stuck in a division where the four other teams will all be fighting their hardest for a playoff spot. In due time, though, Dallas.

5th place — Southwest Division

— Dennis Chambers

There are two things I feel fairly confident about this year when it comes to the Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki is more mascot than player at this point, and Dennis Smith, Jr. is going to be the Rookie of the Year. It’s a weird year of transition this season as the team moves away from an all-time Hall-of-Fame talent and sort of begins something of a rebuild in earnest, but it’s a transition year that should see some good wins, if not a ton of them. Dallas plays in the harder conference, which doesn’t bode well for their playoff hopes, but that doesn’t mean it won’t still be an interesting year. Enjoy Nowitzki while he’s there, and gear up for the Dennis Smith experience. It’s all going to be fun, playoffs or not.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Joel Brigham

The Mavs have spent years walking the tightrope between the end of the Dirk Nowitzki era and the start of a new one, and this year could follow a similar path. The Mavs may have found the steal of the 2017 draft in NC State guard Dennis Smith Jr., who impressed throughout summer play. They’re also still stocked with solid veterans like Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes and even Seth Curry, though it’s questionable whether this kind of core on top of Nowitzki and the young Smith will be enough to really push for a playoff spot out West. Nerlens Noel also returns to the fold, though issues in the rookie extension process and his subsequent signature of Dallas’ qualifying offer could mean this is his last year in town. Barring an additional move or two, the Mavs feel like they’ll be just short of the group that competes for those final few seeds in the West – though we should never count out Rick Carlisle. Unfortunately, the Mavs feel like the favorites to finish last in the Southwest.

5th Place – Southwest Division

-Ben Dowsett

The Dallas Mavericks have some nice players in Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Nerlens Noel, Seth Curry and the exciting rookie Dennis Smith Jr. However, this team doesn’t have the elite talent or depth to make a serious playoff push, which means this year is more about developing the young core players and laying the groundwork for long term success. Dirk Nowitzki is on the tail end of his career, but he is still capable of putting together some impressive performances. For Mavericks fans, this season should be about developing players like Smith Jr. and enjoying the final stage of Nowitzki’s hall of fame career. However, it should be noted that with Rick Carlisle at head coach, the Mavericks are always a threat to outplay expectations. While that isn’t likely to translate into a playoff berth for Dallas this upcoming season, it’s something to consider.

5th Place – Southwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Harrison Barnes

After signing a four-year, $94 million max contract with the Mavericks, it was obvious the franchise was putting a lot of stock into Barnes as their next superstar. The first season of his career for Dallas went pretty much as anticipated for a starter transitioning into a “go-to guy.”

Depending on who you ask, he even exceeded those expectations. Strictly as a scorer, the Mavericks can count on Barnes to put the ball in the basket. His 19.2 points per game led the way by far for a team that was lacking offensive production to put it lightly. He’ll need to work on snatching up boards and sharing the wealth more to be considered an all-around player, but things are looking up for the 25-year-old going into year two.

Top Defensive Player: Nerlens Noel

By acquiring Noel at the trade deadline in February, Dallas general manager Donnie Nelson addressed a desperate need and came through with flying colors. For most players in the NBA, it takes a minute to get used to a new system and different teammates. That was not the case for the 6-foot-11, 228-pound Kentucky alum.

Noel hit the ground running as soon as he arrived. His athleticism and constant activity brought a new dimension to the Mavericks on both ends of the floor. Noel’s leaping ability makes him a dual-threat as a shot blocker and rebounder. Expect him to really come through playing a full season with this team, especially since he’s betting on himself to earn a maximum contract next offseason.

Top Playmaker: Seth Curry

Up until last summer, Curry was a journeyman guard who had played for four teams in three years. His breakout season with the Mavericks may have finally been what he needed to stay put with a franchise or find a home for the long term, at the least.

Similar to his brother in The Bay, the 27-year-old is a three-point assassin. On nearly five attempts per game, “the other Curry” shot 42.5 percent from the perimeter. His skill set isn’t limited or one-dimensional, either. He has the skills to create his own shot as an efficient scorer. Just like Noel, he is also pegged for a solid campaign in a contract year.

Top Clutch Player: Dirk Nowitzki

Father time is undefeated, but Dirk Nowitzki isn’t being put out to pasture quite yet. The golden boy of Dallas has plenty left in the tank to contribute. It’s all about staying on the court and taking care of his body this year. He missed 28 games last season, which is the least he’s played since 2012-13.

Make no mistake about it, though: If there’s a high-leverage situation at the end of a game in a two-to-three point affair, Nowitzki’s getting the look. And in all likelihood, that vintage fade away mid-ranger basketball fans are all too familiar with will go through the net.

The Unheralded Player: Dwight Powell

Powell probably won’t cut it as an every day starting big in this league, but off the bench, he is constantly full of energy and makes a huge difference. Each and every night he hits the floor, you know you’re getting 110 percent of his effort.

The 26-year-old center is aggressive hitting the glass, giving Dallas second chances on the offensive end. He’s solid at finishing inside and has great leaping ability. Hopefully, the addition of Jeff Withey doesn’t take away from his playing time too much because he’s really blossoming into a good rotational player.

Best New Addition: Dennis Smith Jr.

Smith made this past July’s summer league his personal coming out party, displaying his versatile skill set and incredible 48-inch vertical on multiple occasions. Averaging 17.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game, he was named to the All-NBA Summer League First Team due to his efforts.

Picked by his fellow peers in the 2017 NBA Draft class as the pre-season favorite for Rookie of the Year, all eyes are on Smith to be the future of the Mavericks. The confidence is there. The natural ability is obvious. It’s on him to deliver, and chances are the former N.C. State star won’t disappoint.

– Spencer Davies

WHO WE LIKE

1. J.J. Barea

Riddled with injuries all throughout the 2016-17 season, Barea was never able to truly get a feel for his game. Towards the end of the year, his presence was felt, but the veteran was also fighting for consistent playing time due to the emergence of the young Dallas guards. With a fresh start going into the upcoming campaign, things should return to normal for the 33-year-old to be able to play a significant role for this team.

2. Rick Carlisle

Last year had to be a taxing one on Carlisle, who experienced his worst season as a head coach in his 15-year career. Considering the conditions, from roster turnover to debilitating injuries, the Mavericks tried to grind through to the best of their abilities in an extremely difficult Western Conference. Things won’t get any easier going into next season, but at least they’ve got a sense of direction with a good mix of veteran and young talent. If anybody can bounce back from adversity, it’s an elite basketball mind like Carlisle.

3. Yogi Ferrell

Due to a depleted roster and unforeseen circumstances arising in Dallas, the 23-year-old Ferrell was thrown into the proverbial fire with just 10 games of previous professional experience under his belt. Carlisle stuck him into the starting lineup immediately after signing a 10-day contract and looked like a genius for doing so. From that point on, Ferrell showed that he shined when the lights were shining brightest. He earned Rookie of the Month honors for February and turned that temporary deal into a permanent one because of his hard work. There is no indication that he’ll take a step back in his sophomore year with better talent around him.

4. Salah Mejri

For somebody that doesn’t touch the ball too much, Mejri is extremely successful underneath. He’s had limited playing time, but when asked to step in for the Mavericks, he’s done his job well. He’s your more traditional big that stands there and contests shots, picks up the slack on the boards and scores inside. Of course, with his size, it’s difficult to keep Mejri in a lineup going with the speed of today’s game. Heading into his third season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get more playing time, though.

5. Josh McRoberts

It’s no secret that the majority of McRoberts’ career has been plagued by setbacks left and right. Following a frustrating tenure with the Miami Heat, a fresh start is just what McRoberts needs. The last time he was truly impactful as a vital piece of a team was in 2013. To put that in perspective, that was on the Charlotte Bobcats, who hadn’t yet re-branded at the time. However, if McRoberts is able to stay immune to the injury bug, he’ll make an impact with the reserves. It’s a welcome addition to a club that needs a dual-threat frontcourt option.

– Spencer Davies

SALARY CAP 101

The Mavericks have had the choice this summer to either stay over the $99.1 million salary cap or drop under. To date, they have stayed above by virtue of multiple trade exceptions (the highest at $1.5 million), their $8.4 million Mid-Level Exception and $3.3 million Bi-Annual Exception. Dallas could get to roughly $17.5 million under by waiving non-guaranteed players and renouncing their exceptions. Twelve players have fully guaranteed contracts, with seven hoping to earn one of three open roster slots. The favorites are Devin Harris with $1.3 million locked in, Jeff Withey $350,000 and Dorian Finney-Smith at $100,000.

Next summer, the Mavericks could get under the cap by about $51 million, provided Wesley Matthews opts out of his final year at $18.6 million. Dallas also has a $5 million team option on Dirk Nowitzki. Throughout the 2017-18 season, Nerlens Noel can block any trade, since he re-signed with the team on a one-year qualifying offer of $4.2 million.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Aside from ranking fourth in the NBA with an 80.1 percent conversion rate at the free throw line and defensively only allowing 100.8 points per game, there wasn’t too much good last season for the Mavericks as a whole. Looking ahead, there’s plenty to look forward to. For one, they’re starting the season out with a healthy squad, which was a battle for the entire previous year. Secondly, having a dynamic back court coupled with Noel in the starting lineup should allow the pace to increase and scoring opportunities to open up for everybody, an area where they ranked dead last in the league. Carlisle isn’t one to throw in the white towel because of one sub-par season. Dallas probably won’t be seeing the postseason, but they’ll compete in every game as their young core continues to mesh.

– Spencer Davies

WEAKNESSES

There’s inexperience with all of this young talent on the roster. Luckily for the Mavericks, they’ve got Nowitzki, Barnes, and Barea with meaningful postseason games under their belts. As the three-and-D wing, Wesley Matthews will have to step things up if he wants to keep his starting job. What also isn’t working in Dallas’ favor is a very crowded West. To say making the playoffs will be difficult is an understatement.

– Spencer Davies

THE BURNING QUESTION

How will Rick Carlisle handle the logjam at guard?

It’s a great problem to have, but there’s some serious thinking to do in how these rotations will shake out for the backcourt. With Ferrell and Curry breaking out last year, you’ve got to give them the platform to contribute.

But at the same time, what about Barea who is a consistent option? Devin Harris was one of the best defensive players on the team post-All-Star break (99.6 DRTG on/110.7 DRTG off). Let’s not forget you’ve got a potential budding face of the organization in Smith. He absolutely has to see the floor. It will be interesting to follow along throughout the season with this situation because there has to be an odd man out at some point.

– Spencer Davies

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors

Jesse Blancarte

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With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.

Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.

Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.

Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.

The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#27 – Robert Williams III – Boston Celtics

With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.

Ben Nadeau

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With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.

Although there were early week rumors that the Celtics might try to trade up, they’ve ultimately elected to find a difference-maker at the end of the first round instead. For a team that nearly reached the NBA Finals despite debilitating injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Boston’s roster didn’t need a wholesale change on draft night. But at No. 27, they’ll be more than happy to leave with the mysterious-but-talented Williams.

Last year, Williams was viewed as a potential first-rounder before he returned to Texas A&M for his sophomore year. In 2017-18, Williams averaged 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds on 63.2 percent from the field, fueling the Aggies to a 22-13 record. During this current pre-draft process, Williams looked poised to become a mid-first-round selection once again — but his stock faded as the big night got closer. In fact, Williams even decided to watch the draft with his family, even though he was a green room invitee.

His stock has undoubtedly dropped as of late, but this may end up being the steal of the draft — naturally, he dropped right into general manager Danny Ainge’s lap. Williams, 6-foot-10, is a freak athlete that’ll bring a new look to an already fearsome defensive unit in Boston. At A&M, Williams won back-to-back SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and averaged 2.5 blocks per game. Of course, he’ll get the opportunity to learn from the hard-nosed Al Horford, a five-time All-Star and the defensive linchpin for Boston — a win-win situation for all.

Williams, 20, joins an extremely young core in Boston that also includes Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, among others.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#26 – Landry Shamet – Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers select Landry Shamet with the 26th overall pick.

Dennis Chambers

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With the 26th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select guard Landry Shamet of Wichita State.

Shamet, if he is able to fulfill his potential, should provide the Sixers with some much-needed shooting, as their rotation was noticeably starved for another deadeye sniper.

A career 43.7 percent three-point shooter, Shamet sank 44.2 percent of his shots from downtown last season, and he did so while firing nearly six attempts from deep a game. Sliding Shamet at the guard position alongside franchise point guard Ben Simmons allows for another weapon at Simmons’ disposal.

Standing at 6-foot-5 and 21 years old, Shamet has the size to play either guard spot in the NBA (especially given Philadelphia’s lengthy and versatile lineup). Along with his shooting ability, Shamet also led the American Athletic Conference with 166 assists last season. With Markelle Fultz still a question mark for Philadelphia, Shamet provides a secondary ball-handler and playmaker, whether in the starting lineup or in the reserve unit.

The first round of the 2018 NBA Draft was a whirlwind for the Sixers, and they ultimately land two guards of very separate varieties: an upside-laden athlete in Zhaire Smith, and a skillful “veteran” rookie whose skillset is established.

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