Rejoice Mavs fans; the time is here. After a long, exciting off-season, the regular season has arrived! The Mavs will kick off the 2017-2018 campaign at home against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, October 18th. The excitement surrounding this young Mavs team is something the fans haven’t felt in a few seasons. But what is there to expect from Dirk, DSJ, and the rest of this Mavericks team? We tackled season expectations along with DSJ’s rookie season and the future of the Mavericks.
1) What are your Mavs predictions for this season? Record? Playoffs?
Reese Konkle: I think this team will be a significantly more entertaining group than last year’s team for obvious reasons. However, I don’t know if they have enough juice to get an invite to the postseason party. Not that they didn’t get substantially better, because they absolutely did. Unfortunately, though, almost everyone in the West did as well. Which I think will be enough to keep them out. I see about 35-37 wins and a 10-12th place finish out West.
Zack Cunningham: It’s so hard to predict a full season in advance because there are so many unknowns that can occur along the way. The schedule isn’t going to do the Mavericks any favors, and being out West makes the prospect of making the playoffs that much worse. That being said, Dallas has the potential (it all depends on the development of Dennis Smith Jr. and the health of Seth Curry, to name a few) to squeak into the 7th or 8th spot. I predict Dennis makes strides and Nerlens gets plenty of opportunities to showcase his abilities, although they may not always be in a starting situation. My gut tells me 35 wins for Dallas and no playoffs.
Dylan Duel: As a biased Mavs fan, I’m a lot higher on this team than most of the national media members and even the casual sports fans around Dallas. This team got off to a terrible start last year with Dirk Nowitzki virtually missing the first 2 months. Once he was healthy and they gave Seth Curry more playing time, they played pretty well. Even at a playoff quality clip for a portion of the season. Adding Dennis Smith Jr and bringing back essentially the same team will allow this team to get even better under the direction of Rick Carlisle. Playoffs? I can see it, but not betting on it. 40-42. Just a couple games out of the West’s final playoff spot.
Michael Mulford: It really is tough to say. The roster looks very similar to last season, besides the obvious of drafting DSJ and having Nerlens for a full season. It’s one thing to be an optimistic Mavs fan but in the West, you have to be honest with yourself. If the Mavs can get lucky with overwhelming health, a playoff berth isn’t completely out of reach but competing teams would have to get hit by the injury bug to do so. With that said, I’d predict a 36-46 record with the Mavs finishing anywhere from 10-12 in the Goliath in which we call the Western Conference.
2) Which player are you looking to have a breakout season?
Konkle: There are several intriguing choices here. You have Harrison Barnes in his 2nd year as the featured option, Seth Curry getting a full season to run with the starters, and the annual “Can Dwight Powell develop a jumper?” saga, But the easy choice is Nerlens Noel. Part of the intrigue comes from the free agency stalemate in which Nerlens opted to bet on himself and sign the qualifying offer, but him peaking my interest has a lot more to do with his flashes of defensive brilliance. His combination of athleticism, length, and activity on that end are game changing, and his per 36 would indicate there is an all-star in there somewhere. With more burn this year and a better understanding of the system, I expect the big fella to EARN that pay day he’s after.
Cunningham: The obvious choice here is Dennis Smith Jr., but I’m going to go a different route and say Seth Curry and Wes Matthews. They’re both going to be put in much better positions this year and Curry won’t have to wonder if he’s playing 1 or 2 (he’ll be a 2 when he’s healthy) night in and night out.
While I feel Wes is better suited to play shooting guard, him playing off the ball while also being asked to distribute more from the wing in the midst of what should be much-improved spacing for Dallas (compliments of Dennis Smith Jr.), should allow him to thrive on offense. His 3-point shot is just a few years removed from being one of the more lethal in the league and you must figure it improves. Also, his defense for the Mavericks is absolutely critical and I picture another great season from him in that regard.
Duel: The obvious answer is Dennis Smith Jr, so I’ll go in another direction to make it interesting. It took some time for Seth Curry to find his footing last season, but once he proved to be starter-worthy, he really excelled. His preseason injury is a bummer, but I expect him to be a 15+ PPG game scorer when he’s healthy.
Mulford: Besides DSJ, who I think we all expect to have a substantial impact on the Mavs in his rookie season, I’d have to go with both Seth Curry and Nerlens Noel. After finally earning significant minutes for the first time in his career, Curry proved he can score at the NBA level with consistency. Dependent on the severity of his injury, Curry has the chance to enhance his game in a contract year. With Nerlens, after a disappointing summer, I feel like the chip on his shoulder has grown immensely in order for him to earn the contract he thinks he deserves. Will he earn that desired contract? Maybe not to the extent that he wanted but I think he’ll do well for himself next summer.
Also, it’s time for Dwight Powell to take a significant leap in his progression. After the contract he signed last off-season, Powell needs to prove he was worth what was seemed as an undeserving hefty deal by many in Mavs fans. If there’s no growth in his game and jump shot, I could see Powell being a moving piece near the trade deadline.
3) What are your expectations for DSJ in his rookie campaign? ROY? And what player does his game most remind you of?
Konkle: Among all the prospects who entered the league with this class, I’m not sure there is anyone more prepared to contribute than Dennis. He’s already got that ‘stuff you can’t teach’, so this year should be about getting acclimated to the NBA game and the struggles that might come with that. I expect him to average somewhere between 12-16 points and 5-7 assists, which are excellent numbers for a rookie, especially at his position. Will he win rookie of the year? He will absolutely be in the conversation, but I must give the edge to Ben Simmons in Philly. Obviously, he is talented being the top pick in last year’s class, but the fact that he has an entire year in an NBA program is a huge advantage he has on Dennis, regardless of whether he’s played in an actual game or not. As for the player who reminds me most of Dennis, I personally like the Damian Lillard comp. Similar builds, both with explosive athleticism and great scoring instincts, but here’s the catch…. I think Dennis might be the better passer. Yes, he is that talented. (Baron Davis and Steve Francis are good answers as well)
Cunningham: I expect Dennis to make great strides this season, but there will be off nights and learning curves. What will be key is how he responds. Jamahl Mosley said something in summer league that has stuck out to me for months. He mentioned a turnover Smith Jr. had and that, normally, a rookie would have his head down for the next five possessions, but Dennis didn’t sulk for even one possession. That’s key.
Honestly, both Smith Jr. and Lonzo Ball are going to be the most visible in terms of the immediate impacts they have on their teams as rookies. I think people have caught on to just how good Smith Jr. can be and I think he’s got the best chance. Injuries are the wild card here and if he stays healthy, keeps up the amazing passing and shoots a decent percentage from deep, the award is his to lose.
Duel: The rookie will be the kind of player that gets even the casual sports fan to get excites to watch a Mavs game. His on-court maturity has already shown in the preseason and the confidence Carlisle has shown in him can only be a positive. I’d expect him to play at least 30 minutes a game and average somewhere close to 14 points and 5 assists per game. Rookie of the year? We’ll see. Definitely a positive rookie campaign though.
Mulford: I must say to start off, I have been a DSJ fan since he was in high school so when the Basketball God’s blessed the Mavs, I was ecstatic. I expect great things out of DSJ, this season and in the future. Smith Jr. is unlike any point guard that the Mavs have had in recent time. His ability to attack the basket and explode with such athleticism is uncanny. Having a rookie point guard coming into a situation like Dallas with mentors such as J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, and God Shammgod, you couldn’t ask for a better cast to surround DSJ with. Through the make-up of this team, DSJ will have all the chances in the world to be in the ROY conversation. I’d say my top three candidates would be Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons, alongside DSJ. If he avoids the dreaded myth that is Rick Carlisle’s rookie doghouse, which I think he will, the sky is the limit for Smith Jr.
For DSJ’s comp, I like a combination of Damian Lillard and Baron Davis. All three are tenacious guards with great scoring ability. With Lillard, I see a similar confidence and killer instinct in DSJ. I look back at last season when Dennis led N.C. State over Duke at Cameron Indoor for the first time since 1995 compared to the many times Lillard has willed Portland to victories over the years. When it comes to Baron, DSJ has a similar explosive athletic ability as Baron had in his early years in Charlotte. Overall, I think DSJ can match the level at which these two All-Star’s played at along with the potential to become a better facilitator and defender than either Lillard or Davis. Time shall tell.
4) Are there any trades that you think the Mavs should make this season?
Konkle: Any trade that aligns with their current rebuilding timeline makes sense. Which means draft assets and young talent should be prioritized. Especially “buy low” young candidates much like Nerlens last year.
Cunningham: This is an interesting topic. We tend to forget that trades are two-sided. The Mavs may be looking to deal someone but what matters most is if other teams are willing to take on said player in return and, if they are, are they even willing to offer something Dallas wants in return?
Contrary to popular opinion, I strongly believe Dallas doesn’t trade Wes Matthews or Nerlens Noel this season. Despite what people thing about his contract and his recent offensive struggles, the Mavericks view him as an integral piece for both defensive purposes and locker room chemistry. I think Dallas should test the market for Dwight Powell (something that apparently has already been done with little to no interest) and Devin Harris, but that’s not likely to yield anything franchise-altering in the future.
Another wrinkle on this subject is Dallas is flush with cap space and has a ton of flexibility. As of writing this, they have upwards of $12 million in available cap space thanks to Noel taking the one-year/$4.1 million qualifying offer. Presumably, this space will most likely be used (performance pending) to re-up both Noel and Curry next summer and maybe pursue one more big free agent. That being said, Dallas also has some interesting trade exceptions available courtesy of the Josh McRoberts deal that could help the Mavericks land a player mid-season. Keep an eye out for Jabari Parker if his return is pushed back past February.
Duel: I wouldn’t expect the Mavs to be too active on the trade front this season. I think they genuinely like the young talent they’ve assembled and want to give it the chance to grow together. Plus, they’re one of the few teams projected to enter next summer with a boatload of cap space. Adding on a big-name player in-season will only eat into that and possibly prevent them from retaining the likes of Nerlens Noel and Seth Curry next summer.
Mulford: Trade wise, I’d be surprised if Dallas made a big splash, as I expect Donnie and company to be realistic about the team’s chances this season. Any trade the Mavs make will be one that doesn’t hinder their payroll for the future. Being one of the handful of teams who could have cap space during the summer, it’s important to keep all options open, as Curry and Noel will be on the unrestricted market. I could see the Mavs shopping Dwight Powell. With close to $29 million left on his deal over three years and inconsistent play, I would be very open to the Mavs front office sending Powell somewhere he can strive while Dallas acquires expiring contracts in return.
5) Ultimately, what does a successful Mavericks season look like in your mind?
Konkle: This Mavs season is all about in-house improvement. So, to all the folks with that “playoffs or bust” mindset, I ask you to disregard what their record might be at seasons end, and to track the youngster’s progress over the course of year. That is the priority and that is how success should be measured this season. This team is talented, but their best players are just pups. The lumps they inevitably take this year will pay dividends later on down the road.
Cunningham: This is all about development. Dennis Smith Jr. is now the focal point and he needs to experience as much such success as he can even if that means making the playoffs only to get obliterated by the Warriors in the first round. There should be no #teamtank arguments this year because this incoming 2018 draft class, while great at the very top, isn’t anywhere near as deep. Should Noel decide to move on, the prospect of a Mohamed Bamba or DeAndre Ayton taking over the big man role is tantalizing, but there’s too much uncertainty with the draft to throw a season out the window too early.
Duel: A successful 2017-2018 Dallas Mavericks season has a decent number of upset wins over the league’s elite teams, sees Harrison Barnes continue to prove his doubters wrong, and has Dirk Nowitzki on the court for at least 75 games. Contending for a playoff spot would be a bonus.
Mulford: A successful season for the Mavericks comes with progression and growth from our young core, which specifically contains Barnes, Curry, Noel, and DSJ. This is really the only time in Mark Cuban’s stint as owner that the Mavs have truly been in some sort of rebuilding mode (even though Cuban and Carlisle won’t admit to it). At this point for the team, Dirk is on his last leg and it’s time for the Mavs to continue building the roster with young players for the future. If the Mavs make the playoffs, great. But if they don’t, that’s okay too. Another lottery pick couldn’t hurt. Overall, this season is about the development of our young core and of course, cherishing every little moment we have left of the Big Daddy Tall Baller from the G.
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