The Dallas Mavericks are trying to make the playoffs after a 24 win season, but in order to do that, they will need to address some very big questions before the season starts for that to even be a possibility.
Dallas had a very eventful offseason where they drafted great young pieces as well as adding Deandre Jordan in free agency. The coaches and front office feel that these acquisitions will allow them to jump all the way from the NBA lottery just a few months ago to pushing for the playoffs. This optimism is infectious as we barrel into the abridged preseason, but in order for this optimism to meet up with reality, the team needs to answer some very specific questions before the season starts.
What type of offense is this now?
The Dallas Mavericks have been in the bottom of the league in pace for the past few years and much of that was due to the talent on the floor. 2 years ago, our starters included Deron Williams, Andrew Bogut and Dirk which meant our starters moved at slower pace due to age. This past year, we got younger by adding Dennis Smith Jr. and infusing some blue chip youth throughout the roster. However, we’d often get behind and Carlisle would slow things down to a grinding pace to keep us from getting any further behind. To illustrate that, we were 12th in the league for points scored against us (105.4), but 28th in the league for points per game we scored (102.3).
This year, things should be different. Dennis is no longer unseasoned. Luka, although a rookie and not known as a “blow by” type of player has the ability to see the floor and move the ball. DeAndre subs in for Dirk which allows the offense to flow up and down the floor rather than waiting for Dirk to make it back down the floor and set the offense up 8 seconds into the possession. We should be much faster and actually run Carlisle’s flow offense correctly again with young legs and smart players on the same page.
Who is going to score all the points?
Harrison Barnes was our best scorer last year with 18.9 PPG followed by Dennis Smith Jr. who scored 15.2 PPG. Both are respectable numbers, but not necessarily from your 1 and 2 scorers on a team, especially not in what is now the completely loaded Western Conference. Additionally, we lost some of our most reliable three point scoring options with the departures of Yogi Ferrell, Doug McDermott and Seth Curry (from 2 years ago) who all brought 9-12 points per game each. That’s 20-30 points per game you are now missing.
DeAndre should fill in points at center and at least match Dirk’s output of 12 PPG, if not exceed it, so that will help with Dirk probably producing similar numbers from the bench. Luka should come in and at least contribute 12 PPG and I hope that both Dennis and Harrison up their point totals by a point or two this season with more ball movement. If Ryan Broekhoff can contribute efficiently from 3 point land, and the rest of the bench unit remains as productive as they were last year, we should score much more towards the league average in points per game.
What is Dennis’ role?
Everyone who looks at the acquisition of Luka Doncic immediately questions what it means for Dennis Smith Jr. He played off the ball for a decent bit of last year, but excelled as the primary ball handler. Now that Luka will at least be sharing those duties as a “Point-4”, is Dennis’ role going to let him excel off the ball or will it stifle him?
Dennis has not lost the ability to slash and cut to the basket. Now he can do it even faster while Luka either lobs it to him or passes into the lane giving Dennis more than a whole step ahead of his defender. He should also have more space on the floor with so many scoring options leading to more open looks. Dennis might not be the sole floor general on the floor, but he has skills outside of passing and finding teammates that will allow him to succeed. The key to it all is figuring it out quickly so that the team benefits from it rather than struggle while he adjusts.
Who will close out games?
The Mavs essentially have a starting 6 with Dirk, but you can only ever have 5 guys on the court at once. Carlisle has already spoken about his starting five of Dennis, Luka, Wes, Barnes and DeAndre and having Dirk come off the bench. That is great for starting games, but what about closing them?
Carlisle has no problem subbing in situationally whether we need scoring or a defensive rebound, but we lost over 35 games last year by 5 points or less. What is the solution this year? We have better talent on the glass with DeAndre, so he’s in. Barnes has been our GO-TO guy so far, but he hasn’t always been as clutch as we’d like. In Europe, Luka was known for his clutch-time heroics and Dennis will be there to push defenses. How do you leave the 6th all-time leading scorer on the bench in the clutch who shoots over 40% from 3 and over 45% from the field? Guess Wes is sitting unless we need the defense. It will be interesting to see how Carlisle subs in and solves close games.
How do we start the season strong?
In 2016, we started by going 3-14 through November, including a lovely 8 game losing streak in there. In 2017, we went 5-17 through that same time frame with 2 wins in the first 16 games. Neither season started in a way that gave any hope of salvaging the season after the first month. Before mid-November we all started looking at potential draft picks. If the front office wants to fully make their trading our first round pick next year worth it, we need to start strong to avoid bottoming out so early. This is why the team needs to figure all this out during the preseason, even with it being a shorter one. We have to come out looking like a team READY to compete, not a team still gelling over the first month of the season.
Our regular season schedule starts with 4 reasonably winnable games with Phoenix, Minnesota (probably sans Jimmy Butler), Chicago and Atlanta, followed immediately by probable playoff teams of Toronto, Utah, San Antonio and Los Angeles, so the Mavs really need to come out and sweep those first 4 teams, otherwise, they could be facing a sub .500 record before we even get to November…BUT if they sweep those four and steal one or two, all of sudden this team’s playoff dream seem valid and we can root for playoffs not ping pong balls.
We get our first taste of honest to goodness Maverick basketball Saturday vs the Beijing Ducks, including the first look at Luka Doncic in blue and white inside the American Airlines Center. Hopefully this game will give us a glimpse at where the team is in answering these questions, but we still have a few more weeks to iron them out. We’re back, folks!
PHOTO: Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images