After spending the last two years rebuilding, Dallas came up as one of the biggest winners of the 2018 off-season. They did this primarily by making two moves. First was trading the fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft (Trae Young) along with a 2019 first-rounder for European sensation Luka Doncic, a prospect who many believe could be the best player in what was believed to be a very loaded draft. The second was signing big-time center DeAndre Jordan, a walking double-double still very much in his prime.
By adding these two, Dallas once again has playoff ambitions while also building a good future to go off of with Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. Along with those two, Dallas brought back plenty of familiar faces in free agency, including Dirk, Salah Mejri, and even Devin Harris just months after trading him to Denver. Some of the players they lost included Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell, Seth Curry, and Nerlens Noel. However, the impact of losing them does not come anywhere close to the potential impact Jordan and Doncic could have on the team.
The one fly in the ointment is that as good as the Mavericks should be this season, they still play in a Western Conference that has many teams hoping to make the playoffs. No matter how Dallas’ season turns out, it’s very admirable of them to go down swinging as the Dirk Nowitzki era comes to a close. That being said, let’s take a look at what the Dallas Mavericks could look like this season.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
Will this finally be the year of the swan song for Dirk Nowitzki? After what seems like several straight seasons that could be his last, the legendary German forward will indeed be back for another year. True to form, the Mavericks have continued to toe the line between rebuilding and competing with Dirk still in the league, and their 2018 offseason was much of the same. While they obtained another major core piece for the future in a big draft day trade for Luka Doncic, they also went out and signed DeAndre Jordan for a mammoth one-year deal in the hopes of competing out West once more. If Doncic’s game translates to the NBA right away and second-year point man Dennis Smith Jr. has a leap or two in him, this team could sneak up on a few people and threaten for the final couple playoff spots. More likely, though, is gradual development from the youngsters, some fun games, but another lottery finish for the Mavs.
5th Place – Southwest Division
Following a dismal year in the Big D, all eyes are on the Mavericks to make a quick turnaround. The hype train for Luka Doncic is picking up speed with each day, as the Slovenian sensation looks to find his niche alongside Dennis Smith Jr. and company. Harrison Barnes’ confidence has continued to grow at the power forward position. Mark Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson lured DeAndre Jordan to Dallas to be the team’s interior presence on both ends, as well as a rim runner in transition. Considering their division and that this is the first time we’ll see some of these guys play together, though, it’s tough to say they will get out of the basement of the Southwest.
5th Place – Southwest Division
– Spencer Davies
Dallas got the best of both worlds this summer. Mark Cuban and co. want Dirk Nowitzki’s last year(s) in the NBA to be meaningful while also wanting to build a promising future. Trading for Luka Doncic and signing DeAndre Jordan did just that. With them aboard, Rick Carlisle has more malleable talent to work with. Jordan’s the first rim protector/elite rebounder the Mavericks have had since Tyson Chandler, and Doncic could potentially be Dirk’s heir. Add them to Dallas’ already astute roster, and the postseason is in their sights again. At this point, that’s all they can ask for as Nowitzki’s retirement nears.
4th Place – Southwest Division
– Matt John
The Mavericks have kept no secret of their desire to completely rebuild and after two passes through the draft, they have collected two impressive first-round talents that should line up with some the middle tier players they have nabbed during the rebuild. Its unlikely the Mavericks jump into the playoff discussion in the West without one of those guys becoming an All-Star level guy this season, but the Mavericks have a great foundation to build from and that should be overlooked. They may not be in the postseason but they will be significantly better this year.
4th Place – Southwest Division
– Steve Kyler
The Dallas Mavericks have at least one more season with Dirk Nowitzki and clearly want to make the most of it. Dallas traded for the rights to Luka Doncic, who projects to be a capable contributor as early as this season. The Mavericks also signed DeAndre Jordan to a large one-year deal. With an interesting mix of veterans and talented youngsters, the Mavericks have a shot of competing for a playoff seed if everything breaks right this season. If Dennis Smith Jr. takes a significant step forward in his development and finds some chemistry with Doncic, Dallas’ offense could be surprisingly potent this season. This is especially true if Jordan meshes quickly and becomes a consistent lob threat for Smith Jr. and Doncic.
5th Place – Southwest Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Harrison Barnes
It was difficult to choose between Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr. here. Smith had quite the electric rookie campaign last season, and he could very well take this label away from Barnes by season’s end. For now, the reason why Barnes gets the nod is his efficiency. On 15.7 attempts a game, Barnes averaged a team-high 18.9 points a game on 44.5 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from distance. Compared to Smith who, on only one less attempt a game on average, shot 39 percent from the field and 31 percent from distance.
Smith has the higher ceiling than Barnes at this point, but until he proves to be a reliable shooter, Barnes gets the nod as he is the Mavericks’ most proven scorer. It feels so sleazy to say that because for the last 15-plus years, it was undeniable that Dirk fit this label.
Top Defensive Player: DeAndre Jordan
This would seem obvious. Dallas’ defense was slightly below league average – 17th in defensive rating (109.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) – so adding someone with the resume that DeAndre Jordan has should give them a boost. However, a closer look at some of Jordan’s stats could say otherwise. Jordan averaged 0.9 blocks a game, his lowest average since his second year in the league when he was playing half as many minutes. His Defensive Real Plus-Minus was only slightly better than average at 1.32, and the Clippers’ defense was 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when he was off the court.
So why pick him as the top defensive player? Rick Carlisle. Remember that when the Mavericks acquired Tyson Chandler in 2011, his value was pretty low. Hence why they got him for peanuts. When Carlisle was done with him, Chandler got a four-year, $58 million contract the following summer. If there’s anyone who can get Jordan back to his NBA All-Defensive 1st team form, it’s Carlisle.
Top Playmaker: Jose Juan Barea
Surprised? A fair argument could be made for Luka Doncic or Smith. But, until we see how Doncic does at the NBA level and until we see how much Smith improves his playmaking, the team’s top playmaker currently is JJ Barea. Barea is and always has been the glue since donning the Mavericks’ uniform. In just 23.2 minutes, Barea led the team with 6.2 assists a game last year. Better yet, Dallas’s offensive rating was 4.8 points per 100 possessions better when Barea was on the court, which also was a team-best for all players who stayed on the team for the entire season.
By next year, Doncic or Smith will probably supplant Barea in this category, but for the time being, let’s appreciate that Barea continues to be one of the league’s premier bench players even at 34.
Top Clutch Player: Harrison Barnes
Take note that Dallas was not exactly great in the clutch last season. In games decided by five points or less, they only won five of 23 games. In the 41 games that were classified as clutch by NBA.com, Barnes’ net rating was -34.3.
Since Barnes is the team’s most proven scorer at the moment, he currently takes the mantle as its top clutch player. As bad as Dallas was in close games, Barnes averaged 2.2 points in 3.5 minutes on 43 percent shooting from the field in games that were classified as clutch last season. It’s fair to mention that he had that nice buzzer beater against Memphis last season. He’s not ideal, but he’s somebody.
The Unheralded Player: Dwight Powell
Originally a throw-in when the Rajon Rondo trade was completed, Powell has slowly worked his way into becoming a solid rotation player for Dallas as a rim-running energy big. His traditional statistics from this season speak for themselves: 8.5 points, 5.6 rebounds on 59 percent shooting including 33 percent from three-point land were all career-highs. However, it’s the advanced metrics that prove how valuable this guy is.
Dallas was overall +5.6 in overall net rating with Powell on the floor, with their offensive rating being +3.2 on offense and their defensive rating being +2.4. Powell had a Real Plus-Minus of 2.43, good for ninth among centers, and totaled 5.82 win shares, good for fifteenth among centers. Now that he’s Dallas’ third/fourth big, Powell’s services should serve the Mavericks very well in their playoff hopes.
Best New Addition: DeAndre Jordan
Long-term, Dallas’ best new addition will probably wind up being Doncic. Presently, DeAndre Jordan will be the more integral part of Dallas’ success. There’s already been plenty said about what Jordan could do for the Mavericks defensively, but the one area where Jordan is going to help the most this season will be on the boards.
Jordan’s blocks may have taken a hit last season, but his rebounding was still as good as ever. Jordan averaged a phenomenal 15.2 rebounds a game last season, a career-high. Last season, Dallas tied for 24th in the league in team rebounding averages, corralling 42.9 a game, while also allowing their opponents to nab a league-high 47.5 rebounds a game. Jordan will solve that problem practically by himself.
Dallas should also be excited for Jordan’s improvements from the charity stripe. Jordan shot 58 percent from the free throw line last season, which isn’t good, but a major improvement compared to his entire career. It may, in fact, be good enough to not force Dallas to bench Jordan in crunch time. Even if it’s been three years in the making, Jordan should make Dallas very happy this season.
WHO WE LIKE
1. Rick Carlisle
It’s been a rough couple of the years for one of the league’s best coaches. From all the drama behind the scenes with Rajon Rondo and Nerlens Noel to DeAndre Jordan reneging the team, both Carlisle and the Mavericks have been through a lot, but that’s over now. With Jordan and Doncic onboard, Carlisle now has plenty of lemons to make lemonade with. Now that his roster has both talent and depth again, don’t be surprised that, if and when the Mavericks find themselves in the playoff hunt, Carlisle will be making another run at Coach of the Year.
2. Dennis Smith Jr.
Everything that Dennis Smith did last year was exactly what many expected from him, as both his strengths and his weaknesses were on full display. Smith is a super athlete with good passing instincts and fantastic energy, but his spacing leaves much to be desired. A fair amount of Dallas’ success hinges on his improvement this season, a challenge that Smith appears to relish. DSJ doesn’t have to be Stephen Curry for both he and Dallas to succeed. All he needs to do is capitalize on such a promising rookie year under the tutelage of Coach Carlisle.
3. Wes Matthews
Matthews has done everything he can to regain his form after his devastating Achilles injury three years ago. He hasn’t been able to get it back entirely, but he has tried his best since arriving in Dallas. At 32 years old and on the last year of his contract, you better believe Matthews will be playing his heart out this season. Matthews is still a reliable floor spacer – 38 percent from three for his career – and he still tries his best on defense. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, his efforts should fit well with Dallas’ goals.
4. Dirk Nowitzki
You thought we’d forget about good ol’ Dirk? No chance in hell would we forget about the best Maverick of all time! At 40 years old, Dirk won’t be much more than a role player for Dallas. That’s all that can be expected of him at this point. Dirk stands out because he’s one of the few players in the NBA that stuck with his team through the thick and thin in a league where loyalty is going extinct from both players and general managers alike. That’s what makes Dirk’s final years so riveting to watch. With any luck, he’ll also have a great influence on Luka Doncic’s future as a pro.
This is the most well-rounded roster the Mavericks have had since the one they assembled in 2014 (before they acquired Rondo). The Mavericks have a team that is built to compete both now and in the future, led by one of the league’s best basketball minds in Rick Carlisle. They have young talented building blocks in Smith and Doncic. They have star talent and pseudo-star talent in Jordan and Barnes respectively. They have experienced vets in Dirk, Matthews, Barea, Powell, and Devin Harris among others. Ironically, Dallas’ biggest strength may be that they don’t have a weakness to exploit. If all goes right, they may be the one team nobody in the West will want to face in the playoffs.
As well-rounded as they are, the Mavericks’ weakness is that they don’t have an elite player on their squad. They had one in Dirk, but he’s way past his prime. They could have two in Smith and Doncic, but their primes are years away. It took Dirk a few years to become a star, and it took a few more years for him to evolve into the legend he is today. This is a league where talent rules supreme no matter what changes are made. Dallas has admirably done what it can to build a winning team in Dirk’s last ride, but their absence of a star could really hurt their chances in the postseason.
THE BURNING QUESTION
What is Dallas’ long-term plan?
It appears that this is the team that Dallas wants to run with as Dirk fades into the sunset. Whether this team is what Dallas wants past Dirk’s retirement is another story. That’s the impression I got when they gave Jordan a one-year deal instead of a long-term contract. A lot of Dallas’ future rides on how they do this season. If this experiment works, then Dallas should do everything in their power to keep the team together. If it fails, Jordan and/or Matthews may not stay. If the Mavericks can’t replace them, they may opt for a full rebuild, which could affect Carlisle’s desire to stay as head coach. This team is more likely to succeed than it is not to, but after this season, the future is up in the air.
NBA Daily: Are The Kings Destined For The Playoffs?
As the season starts up again after the All-Star Break, Jordan Hicks looks into the Sacramento Kings and what it will take for them to end their playoff drought.
Sacramento Kings fans should be incredibly happy regardless of how this season ends.
For the first time in what seems like forever they have a promising young team that is not only winning games, but maintaining a certain form of consistency doing so. With the foundation of youthful stars like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Marvin Bagley III, how can Kings faithful not be hyper-optimistic?
The Kings are geared for success over the course of the next few years, but could their time come sooner than that? Do they actually have a shot at making the playoffs this season? The trade deadline acquisitions of Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks, two vets that can make an instant impact, make it seem like they believe their time is now.
Breaking things down, the question becomes – what actually needs to happen for the Kings to make the playoffs this season? The simple answer is to win games.
What have they been doing thus far to put more ticks in the W column? Shooting the three efficiently jumps out. They are currently fourth in the league in three-point percentage at 37.7 percent. While this number is oddly similar to last season’s percentage, they are shooting about seven more threes per game.
Sacramento is also playing incredibly quick basketball. They are second in the league in pace (the number of possessions per 48 minutes). Some could argue that this doesn’t always translate into a positive outcome, but for Sacramento it does. They are leading the NBA in fastbreak points at 21.7 points per game and are sixth in the league at points in the paint. Their defense is translating into offense as well, as they are second in the league at points off turnovers.
While their strengths are definitely elite, they clearly have weaknesses, too. They sit in 18th for both offensive and defensive rating, good for a -1.2 net rating. They are an abysmal 28th in free throw shooting.
Apart from Willie Cauley-Stein – who likely isn’t a major part of their future – they lack an elite rim protector. This leaves their defense prone to giving up more points in the paint. They are currently 26th in the league at opponent points in the paint. The lack of rim protection clearly correlates with their inability to grab defensive boards. They are tied for last in the league at opponent second-chance points.
One would assume that if the Kings simply tighten up their defensive focus that they would be able to close out strong and make the playoffs. They are currently ninth in the West, only one-and-a-half games behind the Clippers who just traded away their best player in Tobias Harris and two-and-a-half games behind the Spurs, who are somehow putting together a strong season despite losing Kawhi Leonard via trade and Dejounte Murray to injury.
As the season gets deeper, however, the Kings won’t be the only team tightening things up for a final playoff push. Every other team will likely be doing the same thing. While the Kings are just a small shot from the playoffs, both the Lakers and Timberwolves are nipping at their heels as well.
The Warriors, Nuggets and Thunder have done enough to separate themselves from the pack, to a degree at least. So that essentially leaves eight teams fighting for the remaining five slots. You can likely write off the Clippers, as they traded away their star player for future assets, and quite possibly the Timberwolves, as they may not have enough depth on their roster. This leaves the Kings and Lakers. If history has taught us anything, it’s that LeBron James likes to play in the postseason.
Sacramento has 24 games left to play this season. Their next two are at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. If they can somehow manage to squeak out one win in that stretch that will keep them above .500 and still fighting for a spot. After that stretch, 11 of their final 22 games are against teams projected to make the playoffs. Apart from two games against the Knicks, one against the Suns, and one against the Cavaliers, none of the remaining 11 games not against playoff teams will be “gimmes.”
Their final three are away against Utah, home against New Orleans and away against Portland. For sure they will be battling with two (and potentially three) of those teams for playoff positioning.
As far as the Lakers – who after their head-to-head win Thursday are a game behind Sacramento and two games out of the playoffs – their schedule isn’t much easier. 15 of their final 24 games are against projected playoff teams. That victory over Sacramento at Staples could actually end up being incredibly important for who makes the playoffs and who loses out.
Whether or not the Kings make the playoffs is anyone’s guess. If Fox and Hield play elite ball to close out the season, that will definitely increase their chances. Strong play from deadline acquisitions Burks and Barnes will also play a huge role in the Kings’ final push.
Like previously mentioned, Kings’ fans should be happy either way. This is the brightest the team’s future has been in well over a decade.
But the Kings likely won’t settle for “promising” or “up-and-coming.” They want success now, and making the playoffs will give them the reward that they’ve been working so hard for.
How The NBA Became The Most Betting-Friendly League In American Sports
The NBA has become synonymous with betting conversations during the Adam Silver era, with the league frequently being at the forefront of those discussions. Compared to the other professional sports leagues in the United States, the NBA has not only appeared to be the most progressive with regard to the topic, but it has also looked like the league that is the most likely to get further involved in the industry.
Of course, the league has placed a focus on sports betting, given that they have a vested interest in the continued legalization of that. They have mentioned that they would like a cut of NBA wagers placed, with the industry’s growth in the United States being something that the league could see improving the bottom-line.
Whether or not the NBA gets a piece of the action from a financial perspective, it is still surprising to see a major professional sports league in the United States willing to entertain the conversation at all. By comparison, the NFL has been largely afraid to discuss sports betting, while Major League Baseball has banned its all-time leading hitter for life for gambling-related offenses.
And it isn’t as if the NBA is only interested in gambling in the context of betting on NBA games. The league has relationships in the daily fantasy sports industry as well, with visibility for brands in that space seen in NBA arenas as well. And the NBA-subsidized WNBA is also a part of this betting-friendly basketball landscape, most notably in the form of a team named after a casino.
The Connecticut Sun is that team, as they play in the home of a popular casino in their area. Both the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury play in a venue named after a casino as well. And it is the casino industry that the NBA may conceivably expand into as their relationships in the betting industry appear to be growing in both quality and quantity. With the growth of online casinos, it isn’t impossible to envision the NBA encouraging its fans to compare the best casino bonuses to increase its market share in this growing industry.
Of course, with the betting renaissance that is going on in the United States at this time, the league is making sure that everyone knows that its integrity is not to be questioned. The league has made clear that they are going to ramp up the enforcement of its betting policies, to make sure that players aren’t compromising the game’s integrity. That move by the league is a smart one, as it makes sure that fans know that there is no reason to question the sport even if the league embraces betting.
The NBA is seeing progress across the sport, from its on-court evolution that prioritizes ball movement and long-range shooting, to its off-court stances on betting. Unlike the other major American sports, that willingness to evolve is part of what has caused the popularity of the NBA to skyrocket in recent years.
NBA Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe
Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.
Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.
No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.
And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.
“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”
While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.
Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).
He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).
It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”
Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.
And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.
A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.
“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”
Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.
And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.
The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.
“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”
Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.
“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”
Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”
So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.