With the NBA season inching closer and closer (the first games begin on October 20th) the off-season news is starting to slow. Gone are the days of early July, where superstars and free agents cashed in on new deals and rumors were reported every few minutes. The Las Vegas summer league that featured Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr. going head to head seems like a distant memory and now, outside of a few CBA related dates for contracts in August, there really isn’t much going on. The next important date is the start of training camp, which will begin sometime in late September. Let’s take a look at the Mavs current training camp roster and the players from each position group that should be followed closely during camp.
Dennis Smith Jr., J.J. Barea, Seth Curry, Wesley Matthews, Yogi Ferrell, Devin Harris, Gian Clavell, PJ Dozier
Player to watch: Dennis Smith Jr.
Dallas, as of today, looks like they are going to bring 8 guards to training camp. If all of them make the roster, the Mavericks will have 53% of their roster as point or shooting guards. This is unlikely to happen and we will probably see some of the minimum contract players (Dozier & Clavell) get optioned to the G-League or cut. As was the case through summer league and will be through the season, the player to watch during camp is Dennis Smith Jr.. He is the Mavs highest draft pick in two decades and following a very strong summer league showing he looks like he will be the most important foundation piece for the post-Dirk era. After his lone season in college, which featured a team that heavily relied on his scoring ability, seeing how Smith develops the chemistry between his teammates and earns Head Coach Rick Carlisle’s trust to share the ball in his new system will be interesting. In college Smith had an almost 30% usage rate during his 32 games for NC State due to a lack of talent around him. With a variety a shooters at his disposal that features Seth Curry, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, and Dirk Nowitzki, it is hard to believe that he will even come close to his college usage rate. For comparison, Harrison Barnes was the featured player in the Mavs offense last year and he averaged a 25% usage rate during the 2016-2017 season. Being able to get the ball out of his hands should lead to more assists, and as a consequence of the spacing his teammates will create, more opportunities for those explosive dunks we got to see during summer league.
Dirk Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, Dwight Powell, Johnathan Motley, Josh McRoberts, Dorian Finney-Smith, Brandon Ashley, Maximilian Kleber
Player to watch: Dorian Finney-Smith
After starting 32 games for the Mavs last year, Dorian Finney-Smith seems like he would have a comfortable spot within the rotation. However, after a not-so-great Las Vegas summer league showing where he shot 23% from the field and only averaged 8 points per game in 27 minutes, Finney-Smith might be on the bubble in regards to the minutes he got last year. In his rookie season he carved out a spot in the rotation due to his tenacious defense, which allowed him to guard positions 1 through 4. Dallas was comfortable with him on the floor simply because he hustled, rebounded, and hounded other players, even though he was not exactly NBA ready on the offensive end. During the season he shot 37% from the field and 29% from three, much lower than the 42% he shot from three during his junior season at Florida. If you watched him during the summer league he looked somewhat uncomfortable with the ball in his hands on the offensive end. He shot a paltry 19% from three in Las Vegas, making 5 out of 26 of the threes he attempted. Surely that was not what the front office and Coach Carlisle wanted to see in their second year “3 and D” player. Maybe it was because he was more of a “featured” guy in Vegas and his game is not yet ready for that roll. Having guys like Dirk, Barnes, and Smith around him during the season might help with his numbers, but he will need to vastly improve on his summer league shooting if he wants to play as much as he did last year.
Nerlens Noel, Salah Mejri
Player to watch: Nerlens Noel
Dallas only has one player listed as a center on their current roster and that is Salah Mejri. Nerlens Noel is listed as a power forward but since we know he is really a center for the Mavs I am throwing him in the center group. Johnathan Motley, Dwight Powell, and even Dirk can also be lumped into this group for the sake of argument. The player to watch here is obviously Nerlens, for both on the floor and off the floor reasons.
On the floor, Nerlens only played 22 games for Dallas last year after coming over in a trade from Philadelphia, where he spent the first two and a half seasons of his career. He started 12 games for Dallas, averaging 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.15 blocks in 22 minutes. In his last few games Mavs fans got to witness what great things Noel could do for our offense and defense. He brought energy, toughness, and a refreshing and much needed infusion of youth and bounce to Dallas’s center position. Noel defended with intensity and then ran pick and rolls with J.J. Barea and Seth Curry that resulted in alley-oops that I am sure reminded many Mavs fans of the Tyson Chandler days. Getting to see how Noel and his teammates can continue building on the chemistry they had toward the end of last season will be fun.
Off the floor, Noel and the Mavs still have not come to terms on a contract. Noel and his agent are reportedly “unhappy” with the offer from the Mavs and it has been reported that they are still far apart in terms of numbers. Dallas made it known from the beginning of the offseason that they would let him test the free agent market in order to determine his market value. Millions have been given out at this point in the offseason, so the market appears to be pretty dry for Noel. This gives the Mavs an advantage at the negotiation table, as they can match any offer to Noel since he is a restricted free agent. With very little money still available, the Mavs front office is looking incredibly savvy with the way they have handled this situation from a financial stand point. Noel was believed to be able to get a max contract this offseason, but as of now it looks like that is not going to happen. There is a possibility that he plays on his qualifying offer (roughly $10 million) and then becomes and unrestricted free agent next summer. This might be something Dallas wants to avoid, as Noel would actually make less than he did during the 2016-2017 season and then would be able to walk if he chooses to do so in the summer of 2018. Keep an eye on the relationship between Noel and Dallas during training camp and during this season as well. It would be a shame if Dallas lost yet another defensive minded center, especially one that is young and has bounce, over a couple million dollars.
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