Spoiler: There’s a lot…
(By the way, even I think I spent way too much time on this.)
That team that plays in San Antonio has a philosophy that basically means “focus on our team, not theirs” when it comes to preparation. There are obvious things that need to happen on other teams for the Mavericks to accomplish this
insane goal but here are the things that Mavs players need to do first. The Dallas Mavericks will win the 2017 NBA Title if and only if…
DIRK MAINTAINS HIS LEVEL OF PLAY
What more can the Mavs ask of Dirk Nowitzki at this point in his career? He has given this franchise everything, but if this version of the Mavs wants to go back to the mountain top they’ll need someone who’s been there before.
“Maintaining his level of play” can’t really be quantified in specific points per game or rebounds, but if Dirk starts the season shooting under 40% from the field that might be cause for alarm. However, with Harrison Barnes (career 10.1 pts/g scorer), Wes Matthews (14 pts/g), Deron Williams (16.8 pts/g), Andrew Bogut (10.3 pts/g), and a collection of capable bench scorers the Mavs offense should be balanced enough to not require a 2011-like effort from the Big German.
The four “other starters” plus Dirk’s career scoring mark (22 pts/g) add up to 73.2 pts/g. Obviously all of those numbers will fluctuate in some way. Dirk probably won’t average 22 pts/g but Harrison Barnes probably won’t average 10.3 pts/g for the Mavs like he has his last four years with the Warriors. Throw in JJ Barea‘s (8.5 career pts/g), Devin Harris‘ (11.7 pts/g), Dwight Powell‘s (5pts/g), and Justin Anderson‘s (3.8 pts/g) career marks and the Mavericks are over 100 pts/g without counting whatever the Mavs get from Seth Curry, Quincy Acy, Salah Merji, and whoever else stays on the roster.
All that to say, the Mavs should have their most balanced scoring attack in years and a lot of pressure should be relieved from Dirk.
(We thought the same thing when Chandler Parsons aka “The Beautiful One” was brought on board too though…)
Despite such a balanced attack what the Mavericks offense really needs is someone to step in during the last five minutes and either take over or hit crucial shots. Depending on what the Mavs get from Barea, Matthews, and Curry, Dirk is still this team’s best shooter and definitely it’s most clutch performer. If the Mavs offense is as balanced as it should be then Carlisle can save Dirk much like a Designated Hitter in baseball.
Dirk’s not completely alone in that department though, Deron Williams should continue to help in those clutch situations too. Deron shot 50% from the field and 51% from three in “clutch” situations last season. (NBA.com considers the last five minutes of a game where the teams are within five points to be clutch). Speaking of D-Will…
DERON WILLIAMS PLAYS LIKE HE WANTS “MIKE CONLEY MONEY”
A lot of players got paid a lot of money this summer, but a lot more players noticed how much money all of those players got paid. Deron Williams was ironically included in both sets of those players.
D-Will was a free agent this summer and resigned with the Mavericks on a one year deal worth $10 million. Now, $10 million is nothing to scoff at…
…but when Mike Conley is making two and a half times what make there has to be some kind of response. The Mavs should hope that this response includes a giant “contract year” effort from D-Will. It seems like such a long time ago that the NBA community was arguing who was the best point guard in the NBA between Deron and Chris Paul. But it was really only three years ago. Now, there are some kids that can finish college in that amount of time…
(Me not being one of them, hi mom.)
…but ever since his move to New Jersey three years ago Deron hasn’t been the same.
(That’s what it is… Dang you New Jersey.)
If the Mavs are going to make a run at the title they’ll need Deron to give them everything he’s got and maybe revive some play from his Utah days too.
(Some people still really believe in D-Will, like…a lot. “My jump shot is vicious and I’ll drop it in your mouth.” Yuck…)
HARRISON BARNES PLAYS AT AN ALL-STAR LEVEL
Playing at an “All-Star Level” is a vague benchmark but being voted onto the All-Star team or being chosen by the coaches is a fairly arbitrary process for that to be a requirement. There’s also just too many good wings for the threshold to be “Make an All-NBA Team” so settling for “All-Star Level” seemed appropriate.
Harrison Barnes may have completely wet the bed in the NBA Finals this past season but he’s still a solid player with tons playoff experience (more than every other current Mav besides Dirk, Deron, and Devin), and just turned 24 years old this summer.
Barnes’ usage percentage last year was just 15.9%, for reference Justin Anderson’s usage percentage was 15.8% and Zaza’s was 16.2%. Needless to say, Barnes wasn’t getting a ton of opportunities in Golden State. But in Dallas he’ll get every chance to show what he’s capable of, and hopefully that’s a borderline All-Star type player.
THE MAVERICKS BREAK INTO THE 90% CLUB
Recently we published our 90% Club, which you can read about here. In it we explained that the Mavs basically need to break into the top 12 in both Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating to have the best chance at an NBA title.
Last season the Mavericks ranked 10th in Off Rtg and 16th in Def Rtg so it’s the defensive side that really needs some improvement. Coach Carlisle hasn’t been shy about needing his players to “try” on defense and the additions of Barnes, Bogut, and Acy provide just that. Especially if…
ANDREW BOGUT PLAYS THE MAJORITY OF THE SEASON
This provision (as well as the previous one) could also be titled “The Mavs Play Better Defensively” but Bogut should be enough of an upgrade to bring the improvement a top 12 ranking requires. Last season Zaza Pachulia started 69 games for the Mavericks and allowed 52.2% of field goal attempts at the rim (a subpar percentage). Bogut started 66 games for the Warriors and only allowed 45.2% of field goal attempts at the rim, which ranked 11th in the NBA for players that defended at least 100 attempts at the rim.
This figure may be some what of a reflection on team defense because Zaza’s front court partner, Dirk, allowed a similar 52% at the rim. While Bogut’s front court mate allowed 46.6% himself in a similar number of attempts. But Bogut and Zaza’s numbers are fairly consistent over the past three seasons.
(All stats per NBA.com/stats, which is amazing by the way.)
The potential is there for this team to improve defensively but all of that goes out the barn door…
(Mavericks, horses, barn, Farm Synergy.)
…if Bogut misses as many games as he has in the past. Bogut only played in 54% of his games from 2008-2013 which is… not a lot. He has however, played in 67, 67, and 70 games over the past three seasons. But after missing the last two games of the Finals with a knee injury there has to be some concern. He has looked great in Rio though.
WES MATTHEWS RETURNS TO HIS THREE-AND-D WAYS
Last summer Wes Matthews signed a $57 million deal which was raised to $70 million after the departure of “The Center Who Shall Not Be Named.” That second number seemed like an overpay at the time but now Allen Crabbe and Tobias Harris both make more than Wes…
Part of the concern over Wes’ contract was the fact that he was coming off of a torn achilles which is thoroughly documented here.
Even though we saw Wes on the floor from Game 1 through the Playoffs the injury was still an issue. In a live Summer League interview during a game against the Bucks, Mark Cuban said that, “People don’t realize… Wes couldn’t even dunk the ball until there was like 30 games left in the season.” Meaning from October to February Wes Matthews was playing considerably athletically handicapped.
(Pun intended…? Man that was a bad one, sorry Wes…)
A year and six months after that injury Wes should be fully recovered and ready to be exactly what the Mavs need; three point shooting and defense. Even though he was pretty good at that last season.
THE MAVERICKS CHANNEL THEIR INNER 2004 DETROIT PISTONS
In 2001 the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title with the 18th ranked Defensive Rating in The Leauge. This team was the meat of the Three-Peat sandwich the Lakers pulled off in the early 00’s. They’re now one of the exceptions to the aforementioned 90% Club rule, however during the book end years of that run (99-00 and 01-02) the Lakers ranked 1st and 7th in Defensive Rating respectively.
From 99-00 to 00-01 did the Lakers forget how to play defense? They retained 69% of their players from the season before when they led The League in Defensive Rating, so what happened? There are #HotTakes everywhere trying to answer that question, but that was the year the Lakers went 15-1 in the playoffs. Meaning they basically pulled off the biggest “we’ll turn it on in the playoffs” years ever. Should they be included in The 90% Club because their defense had the potential to be top 12? Even though their Net Rating was positive because their offense was so good? No… because #NumberNeverLie…
(That’s two futile hashtags in one paragraph, someone tweet mean things at me if that happens again.)
So they remain one of the two exceptions, the other exception though, that one is harder to explain.
The 2004 Pistons Offensive Rating was 17th in The League and they didn’t benefit from the same “we’re going to turn it on in the playoffs” excuse that the Lakers did. What they did benefit from was a late in-season three team trade where they acquired Rasheed Wallace from the Atlanta Hawks.
(Fun Fact: Sheed only played 1 game for the Hawks, played 42 minutes and scored 20 points. Making him the 411th leading scoring in franchise history. Caw-Caaaw)
The addition of Rasheed changed the dynamic for the franchise and from that point on the Pistons had the 12th ranked Offensive Rating in The League. Now, Rasheed wasn’t Kobe or Shaq at that at any point in his career but he complimented the starting five of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Ben Wallace better than anyone could have. Giving the Pistons their first title since the Bad Boys and giving the rest of the NBA hope that a team without an NBA superstar could win the title.
The Mavericks will need that aspect. Not that Dirk still isn’t a superstar in his own right but ‘07 MVP Dirk isn’t ducking through that door.
(Dirk can’t really walk through most doors)
The 2016 Mavericks cannot and will not win a title if they’re relying on “just turning it on in the playoffs” there isn’t a player on the team they can rely on in that way. They do however, have the potential to do what the 2004 Pistons did and play team basketball effectively enough to upset a few top heavy opponents along the way.
(Did I just convince myself the Mavericks will win the title?!?)
HOPE FOR OTHER TEAMS TO FALTER
Here’s the kicker.
(Time to come back down to earth.)
The 2016 version of the Mavericks can play at it’s most optimal level for the entire season and each individual player can live up to his own potential but they’d still need some help. However you like to quantify it, every championship team catches a few breaks along the way; Draymond Green’s suspension in Game 5 this past season, he 2015 Warriors not having to play the Spurs or Clippers or Kyrie Irving for most of the Finals, and The Harden Trade was probably a break that the whole League caught.
(Shoutout to Harden Trade Truther Bill Simmons)
In the case of the 2016 Mavericks there’s A LOT of breaks they’d need to catch in order to win the title.
AVOID THE INJURY BUG
Just saying “the entire Warriors starting five has to be injured” would be too much of a copout. Injuries can’t really be predicted either, unless you’re an Adidas spokesperson…
…and no one should wish injuries to anyone.
(Guys… come’on, not even him…)
So to get them all out of the way here are the players that the Mavericks need to avoid in the playoffs to win:
Kawhi Lenoard and/or LaMarcus Aldridge
Anyone out of: Marc Gasol/Conley/The Beautiful One
And… Lebron James
HOPE FOR OTHER DOMINOS TO FALL
The Golden State Warriors have to go through almost exactly what the 2011 Heat did, but worse.
The Los Angeles Clippers have to finish the season in another Cursed-Clippers kind of way.
(Am I really that scared of the Grizzlies?)
The Oklahoma City Thunder have to be the 2005 Los Angeles Lakers.
(Other alpha dog leaves, current alpha dog throws up as many shots as he deems necessary.)
Lebron has to miss the Finals for the first time in six years.
(I know I basically already said this, and yeah I know the last time they met the Mavs beat Lebron in the Finals, but this is a “Fully Realized Avatar Lebron”)
BONUS: A LITTLE SETH CURRY MAGIC
In every title run there’s a play that comes off the bench and surprises everyone in a big moment. For the 2011 Mavericks it was JJ Barea…
still here back maybe it could bring the magic… Stop it, I want to talk about Seth Curry.)
For the 2016 Cavaliers it was actually Richard Jefferson and the surprise was actually not that surprising to Mavs fans. For the 2015 Warriors it was Andre Igoudala if that counts…
If the Mavericks are going to win the title they’ll need some of that “off the bench magic” and it will probably come from JJ Barea but there’s bound to be some of this happening too.
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