2016/17 Record: 33 – 49 (11th in the Western Conference)
2017/18 Salaries: $90,484,649 (Under The Cap Team) – full DAL salary cap situation – here.
Incoming Draft Picks: GSW ’19 2nd, MIA ’23 2nd.
Outgoing Draft Picks: MIL ’18 2nd (56-60), GSW ’19 2nd (56-60), PHI ’20 2nd.
One day soon Dirk Nowitzki will be standing next to Mark Cuban, both with beaming smiles. On this day Dirk will be in plain clothes, standing next to the Mavericks owner at halftime as he watches his number 41 jersey being hoisted to the rafters of the American Airlines Center. It would be the finale to a twenty-year plus love story.
Nowitzki enters this season as only the second player to play for twenty consecutive seasons with the one club. The other is Kobe Bryant, and like Kobe, his final years are on teams that won’t be competing for a Championship, and instead are in some form of roster redevelopment. The hope for Mavericks fans will be that there is a candidate on the current roster which they can fall head-over-heels for post-Dirk.
Thankfully, there is a prime candidate; the newly drafted stud Dennis Smith Jr.
DSJ fell to the Mavericks at nine in the NBA Draft, as the fifth Point Guard selected. Athletically, DSJ ticks all the boxes, even after returning from an ACL injury in his Senior year of High School. The questions that were asked, and no doubt contributed to his draft stock falling, were about consistency. There was the mind-blowing 32 point, 6 assist game against Duke, but there were also games against lesser competition where DSJ failed to fire. The question of consistency for young players often follows them if they play on teams devoid of any other talent. The same labels were painted on Ben Simmons when he suited up for LSU, and Markelle Fultz, when he led a putrid Washington Huskies team that lost their last 13 games in Fultz’s Freshman year. For DSJ at North Carolina State, this was certainly the same case.
Smith Jr. projects as a scoring Point Guard at the NBA level, which is always a rather hazardous minefield. Former NBA players such as Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis and Baron Davis have slightly tarnished its reputation. It is Baron Davis whom Dennis Smith Jr.’s game can best be compared to, a strong bodied and uber athletic PG who attacks the rm with relentless tenacity. DSJ will join the likes of Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker in trying to re-position the scoring Point Guard reputation as a positive one.
With great responsibility – which Smith Jr. will no doubt have as the likely starting PG for Dallas – comes great expectations. Whilst we can only guess at Smith Jr.’s production, we can use his College record and the recent Vegas Summer League to see where he fits in with his contemporaries. Take a look at the below stats for previous PG Rookie of the Year winners in their last (and sometimes only) College season.
Malcolm Brogdon: 18.2ppg, 4.1rpg, 3.1apg, 1.4tov, 7 WS
Michael Carter Williams: 11.9ppg, 5.0rpg, 7.3apg, 3.5tov, 3.5 WS
Damian Lillard: 24.5ppg, 5.0rpg, 4.0apg, 2.3tov, 8 WS
Kyrie Irving: 17.5ppg, 3.4rpg, 4.3apg, 2.5tov, 2.4 WS
Tyreke Evans: 17.1ppg, 5.4rpg, 3.9apg, 3.6tov, 7.2 WS
Derrick Rose: 14.9ppg, 4.5rpg, 4.7apg, 2.7tov, 6.6 WS
Combined: 17.4ppg, 4.6rpg, 4.6apg. 2.7tov, 5.8 WS
When compared to the above, DSJ’s College numbers stack up:
Dennis Smith Jr. 18.1ppg, 4.6rpg. 6.2apg, 3.4tov, 4 WS
Smith Jr. backed up the hype in his play at the Las Vegas Summer League where he averaged 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 26 minutes of action over six games and was named in the All NBA Summer League First Team. Scouts loved his play, and he demonstrated that his explosive first-step would continue to allow him to get to the rim against high level defences, albeit Summer League defences, a sore need for the Mavericks.
Last year’s Dallas squad were relatively poor offensively. The Mavs finished 16th in 3 PT%, second-last in FG% and 23rd in ORtg, and no doubt a huge reason for this was their inability to score in the paint. The Mavs were dead last in percentage of points in the paint and third last in percentage of points from the Free Throw line.
This is where Smith Jr. can make the most impact in his Rookie year, following a College year where he got to the line six times a game, and a Summer League where he found his way to the charity stripe over seven times. The ability to get into the paint off the bounce will also help draw in the defence, providing the likes of Seth Curry (42.5 3PT%), Yogi Ferrell (40.3 3PT%) and the 7-foot German better looks from long-range.
DSJ’s game should also help Harrison Barnes, whose shooting dropped from his time at the Warriors after taking over as Dallas’ main-man in 2016-17. Barnes was the epitome of Dallas’ offensive woes last season, himself only attempting 3.6 FTA’s per game, which would rate him worse than all bar Klay Thompson (2.8 points per game) in the top 40 scorers in the NBA last season.
On the flip side, Barnes will provide help and support during those times when the DSJ isn’t firing on all cylinders, easing the pressure on the Rookie and potentially taking over some of the shot creation responsibilities. Despite the expected impact Smith is set to have on this Dallas squad, he is still very much a young player that will – like all young players that enter the League – have to find his own way in the NBA. The presence of Barnes will no doubt help, and Mavericks will also be able to rely on veterans J.J. Barea and Devin Harris for guidance, who combined have 24 seasons of NBA experience.
The biggest perceived weakness in Smith Jr.’s game is his defensive attitude. Smith at times demonstrated the potential of a lock-down perimeter defender, but never demonstrated the consistency required to perform on that end of the ball at an NBA level. Should this continue through his Rookie campaign, he will thankfully have defensive stalwarts at the wing and Center positions in Wesley Matthews and Nerlens Noel that he can rely on for support.
Ultimately, that is why the Dennis Smith Jr. and Dallas love story seems so likely to flourish. The Mavericks’ squad perfectly complements Smith Jr.’s game, providing the sharpshooting role players around him, offensive players that can take the load off on poor nights and defensive help to cover up his weaknesses in that area. He in turn perfectly compliments them, with his ability to get to the rim likely helping alleviate some offensive woes of past seasons, and putting key players in better positions to impact the game.
It is unlikely that Dirk and Dallas will have a fairytale ending this season, whether this season or next will be his last. Whenever he does decide to walk away the great love story between Dirk and Dallas will come to a close. Yet, the next love story is just beginning in Mav-land, with Dennis Smith Jr at its centre.
Projected Starting Five:
Projected Depth Chart:
Overall Offseason Grade: B+
2017/18 Prediction: 36-46
Dallas have been remarkably quick in establishing their rebuild core, taking just two offseasons to join Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel together. The Mavericks also have some handy veterans and some emerging role players that when joined by Coach Rick Carlisle could see them being surprisingly competitive this season. However, the Western Conference is just way too deep for a developing team to make the Playoffs. Expect the Mavericks to find themselves in the late lottery.
Player to Watch: Wesley Matthews
Since signing with the Mavericks in 2015/16, Wesley Matthews has produced to the level that would be expected, and with Barnes being added last offseason and Dennis Smith Jr. in this one, he has become somewhat of a forgotten man. His shot hasn’t been falling as consistently, with his two years as a Mav coinciding with his only career dip in FG% below 40%. Matthews is entering the third year of a four-year deal, at 30 years of age, and as the second highest paid player on the roster, this could be a somewhat make-or-break season for him. If Matthews cannot perform to the level required, he could quickly become surplus to Coach Carlisle’s requirements, but he could well be too tough to move.
Four Key Questions:
1. How do the Mavs fill out their roster and depth chart?
The depth chart of the Mavericks is top heavy, with Guards and Wing depth very shallow; two of which are on non-guaranteed contracts (Devin Harris and Dorian Finney-Smith). It is likely that Coach Carlisle will employ a multiple Point Guard line-up at times, but that still won’t solve the roster balance issues. The Mavericks still have a Two-Way contract position to fill, and have three Guard and Wing players entering Training Camp on non-guaranteed deals – PJ Dozier, Maalik Wayns and Gian Clavell – that could fill it. Yet it could be Brandon Ashley, traditionally a Power Forward with the ability to make the three-ball and the ability to guard multiple positions that could win out if he could transfer to a Wing role.
2. Which Power Forward can stand up?
Josh McRoberts was a very handy role player for the Charlotte Hornets before he took his talents to South Beach in the 14/15 season. Unfortunately, he was only able to play 81 games in three seasons for the Heat, and did not play up to the four year, $22.65 million contract he signed. After being traded to Dallas, the Mavericks hope that his assets as a stretch Power Forward could somewhat save his reputation. On the other hand, there is Dwight Powell, who signed a four year, $37 million contract last offseason in what some would deem a bizarre move. If he can continue to improve – especially in his his long range shooting and break that 30% threshold – Powell would add to the relatively weak offensive depth the Mavs sport at the PF and C positions. Mark Cuban is holding out hope.
3. Can Harrison Barnes take the next step?
The Mavs were the biggest winners of Kevin Durant signing with Golden State in Free Agency last season (other than the Warriors themselves), when they signed Harrison Barnes to become their new number one option. His first year in the role, whilst not poor by any stretch after a 7.5 points per game statistical jump, still fell shy of the threshold of 20 points a night for franchise pillars. Barnes however, did finish fourth in the NBA for FG% in the last five minutes for those who played more than ten games, proving his worth in the crunch. Can Barnes continue to improve and break that 20 point-a-night barrier, and further speed up the Mavericks’ rebuild?
4. Will Nerlens Noel’s offseason gamble pay off?
The biggest flaw in the Mavs’ new core of DSJ, Barnes and Noel will be in keeping it together. The Mavericks offered Restricted Free Agent Noel a four year, $72 million offer which was rejected as Noel sought a maximum contract. Dallas was unwilling to oblige, as were every other NBA team, ultimately forcing Noel to re-join the Mavericks on the qualifying offer. Unrestricted Free Agency will now await at the end of next season, and it will have to make the Dallas front office in some ways quite nervous. It’s certainly a gamble by Noel, but the potential break-up of the Mavs core just may be the leverage that Noel’s agent, Rich Paul will use to get his client paid. What is working against that is the early indications that Noel will come off the bench, with Dirk Nowitzki slotting to the Center position, which could increase the difficulty in Noel’s quest to get that brinks truck payment.