2016-17 record: 33-49. 11th in the Western Conference.
Transactions: There are multiple avenues that a team that’s hit the end of its competitive cycle can take. In the NBA we’ve mainly seen “The Process” style dramatic tear down and rebuilds popularized by the Philadelphia 76ers and currently being undertaken by teams such as the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks.
The Mavericks however have taken a different approach. Instead of tearing everything down and starting over, they’ve gradually made themselves younger via different moves and finding some diamonds in the rough. The result is a younger team featuring talent like former Warrior Harrison Barnes, forward Dorian Finney-Smith, undrafted sensation Yogi Ferrell, big man Dwight Powell, swingman Justin Anderson, the younger Curry brother, Seth, and Nerlens Noel to go around with veterans like future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki, Wesley Matthews and Devin Harris.
To that end, the Mavs give their fanbase an exciting team that may not make the playoffs, but is competitive and entertaining to watch night and night out. In that sense, the Mavs soft rebuild is much easier and enjoyable than the complete blowing it up approach that we’ve become accustomed to.
Sometimes the journey matters as much as the destination and GM Donnie Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle seem to grasp that concept better than anyone.
As a result, the Mavericks off-season was not one of huge signings or major trades but one that kept the franchise going in the right direction and adding pieces and positioning it financially for future success.
The first move of the Mavs off-season was an indication of its relative inactivity as they shipped journeyman point guard DeAndre Liggins and power forward Jarrod Uthoff to the Houston Rockets for cash considerations so Liggins could be included in the mammoth deal that landed the Rockets Chris Paul.
Being at the periphery of a huge deal probably frustrated the Dallas fanbase, who are likely still conditioned to landing big names given that this team won a title in 2011 and was still going for it just a few seasons ago when it was making deals for the likes of Rajon Rondo and then thought it had DeAndre Jordan signed away from the Clippers just a few short years ago.
But those same fans likely took solace in bringing back Dirk Nowitzki for what could possibly be the last season of his Hall of Fame career. Dirk and the Mavericks agreed to opt out of the second year of the two year $50 million deal he signed last season to instead sign a two year $10 million one. I’m not usually a fan of guys passing up money, but it’s really a deal that symbolizes the type of relationship that Dirk has had with the Mavs his entire career.
Nowitzki remains unselfish to the end – even to his own detriment. Even at the age of 39 years old, Dirk has a lot to offer a team in terms of his ability to stretch defenses at the 4 or 5 with his still-excellent shooting and beautifully soft touch. Instead he takes a discount that will allow him to retire this season or perhaps be rewarded by the Mavs if he chooses to return for one more as both the player and the team can opt out to renegotiate.
Dirk could have chosen to chase another ring on his contender and they would have lined up to take on his skill-set. Instead he remains on a rebuilding Dallas franchise.
Keep in mind that this is a man who even at the end of his career should be able to name his price. Dirk literally invented the concept of the stretch four. He ranks first all-time in three pointers made by a 7 footer with 1,780. Second place is Andrea Bargnani with 627. That’s how far above everyone else the big German is.
He is also by far the best player in the history of the franchise. Dirk has amassed 201 win shares, which is 8th in NBA history and not only is it first in the history of the Dallas Mavericks, it’s so far ahead that if you combined the next three players totals (Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper and Jason Terry) they don’t equate Nowitzki’s total.
Dirk’s new contract gave the Mavs the financial flexibility to take on Josh McRoberts salary from the Miami Heat and gain a second round pick and cash considerations in exchange for centre A.J Hammons and gain more cap space going forward when McRoberts’ deal comes off the books at season’s end which could allow Dallas to be a player in the loaded 2018 free agency class.
In McRoberts, the Mavs get a reclamation project who has played in just 81 games over the past three seasons due to a litany of injury issues. When healthy, he does offer spacing off the bench in the front court as he shot 41.9% from three point range for the Heat last season. He’s also a skilled ball-handler for big man and at 6’10”. 240 brings a nice physical presence as well.
Dallas also added German forward Max Kleber (who is from Dirk’s hometown!) to a two year minimum and undrafted standout Baylor centre Johnathan Motley to a two-way contract. Motley fell out of the draft due to a meniscus tear that required surgery but is an intriguing prospect at 6’9” with a 7’4” wingspan and a 9’0” standing reach. He will be a player to watch as his length will certainly give him a decent role in Rick Carlisle’s rotation.
There some intrigue in the off-season with Nerlens Noel’s restricted free agency saga. The Mavs had offered the 23 year old big man a 4 year, $70 million contract but he turned it down in order to seek a max deal which caused Dallas to rescind their initial offer and keep it off the table for the rest of the summer. As a result, Noel took a one year $4.1 million qualifying offer in hopes of finding max money that may or may not be available next summer.
Noel gambling on himself, however, could pay off dividends for the Mavericks as he felt he was getting short-changed due to the injury issues that impacted his early career and lead him to ask for a trade away from the Philadelphia 76ers in the first place in order to be given a chance to prove himself elsewhere.
He made an immediate impact in Dallas early on, averaging 8.6 points, 6.8 boards and 1.1 blocks over 22 minuted of average playing time in 22 games. Noel is poised to take on a bigger role on the Mavs this season and is only just beginning to reach his potential as an athletic defender and rim protector.
It would be tough for the Mavericks to lose Noel for nothing as a free agent next summer, but both sides have assumed a lot of risk with the current situation.
2017 NBA Draft: With the 9th pick in the NBA draft the Dallas Mavericks scored huge by selecting Dennis Smith Jr out of NC State
Smith somehow fell to the Mavs due to concerns over NC State’s lack of success and a perceived lack of maturity. Some scouts thought that when the going got tough as the Wolfpack limped to a 15-17 record that Smith checked out. Yet now he’s on the perfect squad to help him overcome either of those issues with a top flight coach in Rick Carlisle and one of the greatest players of all time in Dirk Nowitzki to learn from.
Smith is by far the most athletic guard taken in the draft. He is strong, explosive and can score in any situation. He’s going to carve defenses up with his slashing and then finish strong at the rim and be an absolute nightmare for whoever is guarding him with his ability to operate at different speed and elite-level ball handling skills. His handle and footwork are second to none and he is able to take contact at the rim with his 6’3”, 195 pound frame which will see him go to the line a lot.
In many ways, Smith’s game is more suited for the NBA level than it was at the college level. He put up 18.1 points on 45.5% shooting as well as 6.2 assists, 4.6 boards in his one-and-done year and followed it up with a dominant 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals in the NBA Summer League while he thrilled audiences with his electrifying plays.
He looked like a superstar and will be one in Dallas. This is a top five level talent who fell into the best possible situation for him. It’s a match made in basketball heaven.
I don’t often do individual award predictions but if I was going to place a bet on who will win Rookie of the Year, I’d put my money on Dennis Smith Jr.
Outlook: The Mavericks are going to a fun team to tune into on League Pass this season. Largely because of two players on the opposite ends of their careers. Dennis Smith Jr poised to take the league by storm in his rookie year and Dirk Nowitzki is potentially entering the last season of his storied career.
But beyond the current face of the franchise passing the torch to the future one, there is a lot of young talent on this squad that you will want to pay close attention to.
Among them is Harrison Barnes who will look to improve upon the leap he took last season with a bigger role on the Mavs after coming over from the Golden State Warriors once their acquisition of Kevin Durant made him expendable. The forward thrives in his featured role in Dallas as he played a career high 35.5 minutes per game and put up a career best 19.3 points per game on 46.8% shooting and added 5 boards.
When Dirk went down with an Achilles strain, Barnes took over as the Mavs top option and really thrived in the role. He was the Mavs top scorer 37 times last season after managing that feat only six times in four seasons with the Warriors. It will be interesting to see what kind of leap the 25 year old will make in his second full campaign in Dallas.
Speaking of the Warriors, their two time MVP’s little brother, Seth Curry, emerged as a key piece of the Mavs rotation last season and really showed that Dell’s three point stroke went to both sons as he shot 42.5% from downtown. Curry really established himself as a bonafide starter in the NBA as he started in 42 games (during which he averaged 14.7 points) and averaged 29 minutes overall last season which was the fifth most on the team. His shooting and ability in the pick-and-roll make him a huge offensive asset while his defense and ability to read plays really helped him find a home in Dallas. Expect the Mavs to deploy Curry at both guard positions and to find quick chemistry whenever he’s on the floor with Smith Jr.
YogiMania should continue to run wild in Dallas. Yogi Ferrell took the NBA by storm when he joined the Mavs on a 10 day deal back in late January. In his first two appearances with the Mavericks, he hit two free throws in crunch time to seal a 105-101 upset victory against the Spurs and then put in 19 points as the Mavs knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers. The play that perhaps personified what Ferrell brings to Dallas more than anything else was when blocked Philadelphia 76ers Jahlil Okafor who is 11 inches taller than the 6’0” Ferrell. He followed that up by scoring 32 points including 9 threes in a victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. That was just his first four games.
Given that he was an undrafted free agent who had been cut by the Brooklyn Nets earlier in the season, nobody could have seen his performance coming. Sometimes it’s all about circumstance. Ferrell averaged 11.3 points on 41.2% shooting including 40.3% from three point range and added 4.1 dimes and just over a steal per game.
He is incredibly unselfish on offense and displays a willingness to run plays instead of looking for his own opportunities. On defense, he’s a tenacious pit bull. It is that focused, determined defense and team first mentality that endeared him to Rick Carlisle and will ensure that the 24 year old is a big piece of the Mavs attack going forward.
On the second unit, Ferrell will likely play a lot with second-year forward Dorian Finney-Smith and 31 year old Tunisian big man Salah Mejri to form Dallas’ best defensive tandem. Finney-Smith in particular has shown sings of being able to develop into an elite defender and is certainly capable of defending any wing position.
Veteran Wesley Matthews is still lethal from three and he Smith Jr., Nowitzki and Barnes will be able to shoulder the load on offense with Curry and Ferrell bringing the scoring touch on the second unit. The Mavs, however, will struggle at times with a lack of consistent offense on the wing behind Barnes and in traditional units, McRoberts and Dwight Powell won’t be able to make up for Dirk’s scoring should he miss any time.
I really think that Nerlens Noel will win in his decision to gamble on himself and play himself right into a big deal next season. Hopefully to the Mavs that it’s in Dallas but they will reap the rewards of a driven young player with the potential to be an elite rim protector and will also grow his offensive game with increased touches and growing confidence as a result.
Still this is a team heading in the right direction. Unfortunately the West is a complete and utter bloodbath right now with all-stars Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap moving into the conference from an already weak East and other teams further along in their building and developing process which likely leaves the Mavericks out of the playoff picture again.
Even though they don’t project to make the playoffs, Dallas will compete most nights and there is is a lot to like about this team. Smith Jr alone will be worth the price of admission on League Pass most nights.
Smith Jr’s emergence and the potential end of Dirk Nowitzki’s career will make Dallas one of the more compelling teams around the league as one legend ends and another begins.
Prediction: 34-48. 12th in the Western Conference.