Last season, the Dallas Mavericks won 50 games and finished as the seventh seed in the insanely competitive Western Conference. They were eliminated in the playoffs by the Houston Rockets in five games.
Then, Dallas had a rough summer. DeAndre Jordan obviously committed to the team and then backed out of his deal, leaving the Mavericks in a very tough position. Still, they were able to acquire players like Wesley Matthews, Deron Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Samuel Dalembert and JaVale McGee among others. However, they lost key player free agent Monta Ellis, who signed with the Indiana Pacers. Will this Mavericks squad be able to crack the top in the brutal West? If so, can they advance past the first round?
Basketball Insiders previews the Dallas Mavericks’ 2015-16 season.
I feel bad for the Mavericks. Had they been able to secure DeAndre Jordan, we’re talking about them as a solid playoff team in the Western Conference. But since Jordan backed out of his verbal agreement and left Dallas with few free agency options, I just don’t think the Mavericks have enough talent to be a playoff team in the brutal West. A starting lineup of Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews (coming off of an Achilles’ injury, which many players never fully recover from), Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Zaza Pachulia just doesn’t seem like a postseason team to me. There are a lot of holes on this Mavs squad. Like I said, this isn’t really Dallas’ fault; it’s just unfortunate how this summer played out for them because now they find themselves in a tough position without enough talent to keep up in a loaded conference. They may be able to sneak into the postseason as the eighth seed, but I think that’s their best-case scenario.
5th Place – Southwest Division
Had DeAndre Jordan ended up in Dallas, we’d all probably be having a different conversation about their title aspirations – but as it stands, the Mavericks do not look like a particularly formidable team. Deron Williams and Dirk Nowitzki are much closer to retirement than their peak years, Wesley Matthews is coming back from an Achilles injury and the center rotation is a fascinating hodgepodge of players past their prime and the enigmatic JaVale McGee. It’s not all bad, obviously. Chandler Parsons is still a really good young player, and J.J. Barea and Charlie Villanueva have been good for the team as reserves. Still, they play in a really tough division and it’s impossible to lose talent in a tough division and replicate team success. It’s probably going to be a long year for the Mavs.
5th Place – Southwest Division
The Dallas Mavericks could be the odd team out in the Western Conference this season. This summer, they lost out on DeAndre Jordan in free agency – a signing that could have taken them to the next level – when he decided to return to the Los Angeles Clippers after much drama. They did add defensive stopper Wesley Matthews who, like Chandler Parsons, is returning from injury. Following the failed Rajon Rondo experiment, the Mavericks added a new point guard in Deron Williams. While some teams are going smaller, they signed legitimate centers JaVale McGee and Samuel Dalembert as well as acquiring Zaza Pachulia. Health and chemistry will play major roles, as they did last season. The Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki, have talented pieces. But as other teams improved in the West, the Mavericks may find themselves on the outside of playoff seedings.
5th Place – Southwest Division
The Mavericks are desperately attempting to regain a spot among the league’s elite. However, the team has been unable to land a marquee free agent the past few seasons. From Dwight Howard to Chris Bosh to DeAndre Jordan, all have decided to sign elsewhere in free agency after listening to Dallas’ pitch. At the moment, it appears future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki won’t ever get a shot at a second ring, but the Mavericks are always well coached and should at least be in the hunt for a playoff berth.
5th Place – Southwest Division
JaVale McGee and Deron Williams are not filling the void that DeAndre Jordan left when he rescinded his agreement to sign with the Mavericks, and with Dirk Nowitzki continuing to age, I am really not sure if the Mavs are a playoff team, much less a contender. From a strictly basketball perspective, I like the thought of Williams playing pick-and-roll basketball with Nowitzki and finding Wesley Matthews behind the arc for some three-pointers. Matthews is just as deadly an outside shooter as Joe Johnson, so we at least know that Williams knows how to play with such a threat. I guess Williams emerges as the most important player on the roster for me because, for the most part, you know what you’re getting with Nowitzki and Matthews. Williams will attempt to drink from the Fountain of Youth (like Pau Gasol seemingly did last year) and resurrect his career. If he plays anywhere near his immense potential, the Mavs may do something this season. If not, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pelicans, Suns and/or Jazz beat them out for the final few playoff spots out West.
5th Place — Southwest Division
Top of the List
Top Offensive Player: Dirk Nowitzki
Who else than Dirk? He’s seventh place all-time in points scored in the NBA (not counting the ABA) and is second-highest among active players (trailing Kobe Bryant). He’ll likely even pass Shaquille O’Neal at some point this season for sixth place, as he trails O’Neal by just 477 points. With Nowitzki entering his 18th season in the league, the case could have been made for newcomer Wesley Matthews to lead the team, but given the uncertainty surrounding him coming off of an Achilles injury, Nowitzki seems like a safe bet.
Nowitzki had a productive 2014-15 campaign, averaging 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He finished second on the team in scoring last season, behind Monta Ellis’ 18.9 points per game. The team will still revolve much around Nowitzki on offense, especially now that Ellis is gone. It’ll be interesting to see if his role changes any with Deron Williams now in the fold and when Matthews returns to 100 percent. The Mavericks will have more offensive weapons once they’re fully healthy, so the team may not need to rely too heavily on Nowitzki. He is one of a few players who gave his team the hometown discount (he’s owed just $8,333,334 this season) in order to help the front office assemble a talented roster, and this might be one of the more competitive squads they’ve had in the last few seasons.
Top Defensive Player: Wesley Matthews
The loss of Tyson Chandler to the Phoenix Suns is going to sting for a while. He was by far the team’s best defender last season, and his departure is going to open up a huge weakness for the Mavericks. But, with Chandler now gone, Matthews figures to take over as the team’s best defender. He arrives on a Dallas team not stacked with defensive-minded players, so he’ll likely be the team’s best option on that end of the court. While he comes in as a solid defender, his chances of becoming the best on the team rest largely on how he returns from his Achilles injury. This injury is among the worst that a player can suffer, and many individuals have struggled to return to form after coming back from this injury.
Matthews averaged 15.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals last season for the Portland Trail Blazers. Perhaps the biggest stat backing up Matthews’ case as best defender is his defensive plus-minus last season. He turned in a 2.27 defensive real plus-minus (DRPM), which puts him at 41st in the league. The DRPM is a player’s estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance, which is measured in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions. To compare, Chandler’s DRPM was 14th in the league at 3.54. Matthews’ 2.27 DRPM was the best on the Trail Blazers. He’s not the fastest defender, but he’s strong and is a reliable option throughout the course of the game.
Top Playmaker: Deron Williams
Perhaps no player in the NBA stands to benefit more from a change of scenery than Williams. Last season, the veteran point guard had his lowest production since his rookie campaign as he averaged 13 points, 6.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Williams will now have the opportunity to start over and return to form as one of the more productive point guards in the league – just as he was a few seasons ago. This season will be his chance to prove to everybody that he still has a lot left in the tank, as he’s set to enter his 11th year in the league.
Williams will also have the luxury of reuniting with his old teammate Wesley Matthews. The two played together for the Utah Jazz in the 2009-10 season, which was Matthews’ first year in the league and Williams’ last full season in Utah. The two have remained in touch and having that previous connection should help both players make a smooth transition to their new team. The Mavericks don’t necessarily need Williams to go out and dominate every game, but if he can run the offense and get his teammates involved, he’ll be a great addition.
Top Clutch Player: Dirk Nowitzki
During his time in the league, Nowitzki has become one of the most clutch players in the NBA. Over the years, we’ve seen him hit numerous clutch shots from all over the court, from three-pointers to layups to free throws after drawing contact. As he’s often double-teamed in crunch time, he’s even had clutch passes to find open teammates for easy baskets. Since the 2005-06 season, he’s ranked in the top 24 in total points scored during the last five minutes of games when the Mavericks were either ahead or behind by five points. While he’s faded down the list in recent years, he finished in the top seven in that same category from 2005-06 until 2010-11, and was even second in 2009-10. He’s established himself as a reliable option during late-game situations for the Mavericks and has proven more often than not that he’ll come up with some sort of big shot or play.
The Unheralded Player: Zaza Pachulia
Oftentimes when we think about unheralded players, we think of individuals who don’t get nearly as much love as they should. The first player who came to mind when looking at the Mavericks’ roster was Zaza Pachulia. This is a guy who has made a career out of being a tough center that doesn’t back down from anyone (as he showed against the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs). Pachulia obviously wasn’t the team’s top choice for center, but acquiring him from the Milwaukee Bucks for a second-round pick proved to be an underrated move this summer.
He’s been in the league for 12 seasons now and has averaged seven points per game over the course of his career. Last season with the Bucks, he averaged 8.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals. His 2.4 assists per game were good for seventh-best among all centers and his 1.1 steals per game ranked fourth-best. He could also be a candidate for the top defensive player on the team should Matthews need more time to return from his injury. Pachulia finished last year as having the 17th-best DRPM at 3.42, which was the highest of any current Mavericks player. He’s going to bring consistency to the lineup, and that alone should make head coach Rick Carlisle happy.
Best New Addition: Wes Matthews
We had this space locked in for DeAndre Jordan weeks ago, but we know how that story ended. Instead, we’ll shine the light on Matthews. We’ve already discussed his potential to become the team’s best defender. But overall, Matthews brings the most to the team out of the new additions. The team certainly has witnessed a lot of turnover this summer, as they’ve added Matthews, Deron Williams, Samuel Dalembert, Jeremy Evans, John Jenkins, JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia. Matthews is perhaps one of the biggest question marks on the team due to his return from his injury, but he’s the best acquisition if he’s healthy. He’s said in recent weeks that he’ll be ready to go for the Mavericks’ season opener, which would be excellent for Dallas, but that’s no guarantee.
The signing of Matthews represented one of the most risky moves of the summer given the uncertainty with his return. It became even riskier when Dallas decided to upgrade his deal to a max contract worth $70 million over four years once Jordan backed out of his deal. However, Matthews is still a player who has proven to be one of the best two-way guards in the league. As mentioned above, he averaged 15.9 points last season with the Blazers and averaged 2.9 three-pointers per game at a 38.9 percent clip. He’s emerged as one of the best shooters in the league and has improved his shot each year since entering the league in 2009. During his rookie year, he averaged just 0.8 threes made per game, and has improved that number each year culminating in his 2.9 makes per game last season. The potential is there for Matthews to be a huge-impact player, and the guard is ready to prove to everyone that he can be the same player who was very effective before his injury.
Who We Like
Chandler Parsons: We like Chandler Parsons in what could turn out to be a contract year (if he opts out of the final year of his contract, worth $16,023,000, next summer). He’s a player who does a lot of things well, but not any one thing great, which is why he was left out of the previous section. It’s very possible this could be his last year in Dallas if he opts out, believing he can command a higher offer in free agency with the salary cap rising significantly. Since it seems likely Parsons will be playing for a new deal, he could have a huge season. He will be coming off of a knee injury, so he could be hampered at the start of the season, but if he can remain healthy this next season could be big for him. He’ll be entering just his fifth year in the league and the prime of his career. He averaged 15.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists during his first year in Dallas. He figures to see an even bigger role with Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis leaving the team, meaning the potential for All-Star-type numbers could be there. With Nowitzki in the latter years of his career, Parsons could challenge him to be the team’s best offensive weapon.
J.J. Barea: The Mavericks opted to re-sign fan-favorite J.J. Barea this summer on a team-friendly deal that will pay him $16 million over four years. It may seem like a risk to give a 31-year-old a four-year deal, but a $4 million annual salary will be very small in the NBA’s new economic environment. Barea has solidified his place as the team’s backup point guard behind Deron Williams. He may even get a few starts this season depending on how healthy Williams can be. He is very capable of stepping in and producing should he need to take on a bigger role. In 10 starts last season, he averaged 11 points, 4.6 assists and 3.6 rebounds. Barea should be ready to go from the start of the season after playing exceptionally well for the Puerto Rican national team in the FIBA Americas tournament. He even had a 37-point, nine-assist, seven-rebound performance against the Dominican Republic to indicate just how ready he is for the upcoming campaign. He was a key member of the Mavericks’ 2011 championship team and knows how to get the job done in the postseason. With Barea returning, point guard is arguably the team’s strongest position.
Devin Harris: Harris could be in for a bigger role this season given the uncertainty with Wesley Matthews. He’s been a starter for much of his 11-year career, but played the last two seasons in Dallas in a reserve role. Harris averaged 14.2 points, 5.1 assists and 2.9 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, which could be a preview of what he’ll bring this season as he’ll likely fill in as a starter at times for Matthews. Last season was the first in which Harris was healthy and it showed. He’s been injured throughout his career and appeared in at least 70 games last season for the first time since his 2010-11 campaign. Although he’s lost a step since his first few years in the league, we like Harris this season in the sixth man role and as a possible fill-in starter.
Rick Carlisle: One huge advantage that the Mavericks hold is having Carlisle at the helm of the team. He’s been one of the best sideline generals in the league during his 13 seasons as a head coach. He’s guided his teams to over 600 wins, and has a career 59 percent win percentage. Under Carlisle, the Mavericks have been a great offensive team, as the team finished fifth last season in offensive efficiency. The problem lies on the defensive end, which Carlisle has admitted will be a point of emphasis during training camp. Last season, the Mavericks ranked 18th in the league in defensive efficiency, but the team knows they’ll need to improve on that end of the floor to compete in the stacked Western Conference. It’ll be interesting to see how Carlisle runs the offense this season with last year’s leading scorer Monta Ellis gone. Matthews and Parsons figure to see a large role in the offense once they are healthy and we’ll see how Carlisle uses Williams. Carlisle has proven that he can integrate new players into the system and make everything work, and this season should be no different.
Jeremy Evans: One player who we like that could have an improved season is Evans. It would seem likely that Evans stands to benefit in a new situation this year. He’s been a player who has averaged just 10.8 minutes per game during his first five seasons in the league, but could see an increased role in his first year in Dallas. He’s a player that can spark the team off of the bench with his energetic play. His vertical is 45 inches and he has plenty of highlight-reel dunks to his name. The Mavericks brought Evans in on a low-risk, minimum deal and could see tremendous value in Evans this season if he outperforms expectations.
The biggest strength for this team is their experience, since they have so many veterans. In fact, the team has the fourth-highest average age in the NBA, with only the Miami HEAT, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs boasting a higher average. Players like Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Devin Harris, Samuel Dalembert and J.J. Barea have all been in the league for at least nine seasons and represent some of the key contributors on the team. While they may represent one of the oldest bunches in the league, they all have playoff experience and have had success in the league. With a lot of younger teams making the jump to playoff status, the Mavericks are an experienced team that don’t make a lot of mistakes, which is an advantage over some of the younger teams in the NBA. The team persuaded Nowitzki to take a pay cut to ensure they can stay competitive, and thus have opted to field a more-experienced squad to try to win one more ring for him. In terms of on-court strengths, as previously mentioned, Dallas had the fifth best offense in the NBA last year (scoring 107.2 points per 100 possessions).
It’s been much discussed to this point that the team’s overall health will be a big question mark this season. Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons likely won’t be ready to participate when the Mavericks’ training camp opens on Monday and it’s still unclear at this time whether they’ll be ready once the regular season starts on October 28. They represent a huge portion of the offense for next season and their overall health will dictate largely how the season can go. After those two players, Devin Harris will likely have health concerns attached to his name as well as he’s had a history of various injuries (even though he was mostly healthy last season). Then, obviously, Dirk Nowitzki’s health could be an issue as he’s set to enter his 18th year in the Association. On court, the Mavs must improve their 18th-ranked defense (allowing 103.7 points per 100 possessions).
The Burning Question
Can the Mavs stay healthy enough to be a playoff team?
It’s a question that’s going to remain on everybody’s mind throughout the season. It’s clear that the team has enough talent to compete in the West, but that means several key players must stay healthy. While the news that Matthews and Parsons will be extremely limited in training camp isn’t necessarily a surprise, it is a concern due to the injuries that both players are recovering from. If the team can stay healthy and their key players can contribute at a high level, the Mavericks could be an underrated team in the West this season. A playoff berth isn’t out of the question, and neither is a postseason run if everything goes Dallas’ way.
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