At last, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief — the season is finally upon us. Yes, a little earlier than usual but we will take it either way. The Dallas Mavericks 2017-2018 campaign tips off tonight at the American Airlines Center against the Atlanta Hawks.
Expectations are mixed for this bunch. As many of you who are reading this know, last year was quite the struggle for the Mavericks. The team failed to reach the playoffs for just the 2nd time under the ownership of Mark Cuban. After a 33 win season, priorities within the organization were thereby altered. The franchise has finally decided to switch gears from a veteran-laden bunch to a team built around youth and potential. Fans need to be on tankathon alert at all times.
So tonight’s the night, we now get our first opportunity to see what this years team is all about. Without further ado let’s go through the position-by-position matchups that will ultimately define how tonight’s game transpires.
Spread: Mavs -6
Over / Under: 198
Dennis Smith Jr. (6-3, 185, Rookie) vs. Dennis Schroder (6-1, 172, 5th Year)
The Mavericks keys have been handed over to their rookie stud point guard, Dennis Smith. Smith fell into the Mavs laps with the ninth overall selection in last June’s draft. During the team’s draft night press conference, Rick Carlisle told the media, “Before anybody asks, I would project him at this point in time as a starter. But he’s going to have to earn it. And he understands that. This is a historic night for us.” So far, Smith has earned the right to take over the Mavericks starting duties after excelling in both Las Vegas Summer League and preseason action.
The key for Smith is to try to downplay his emotions. It’s imperative for him to try just to go out there relax as much as possible, and let the system dictate his reads. Yeah, easier said than done.
He’ll be matching up with another Dennis, a young, up-and-coming point guard fresh off a breakout playoffs during last seasons playoffs. The 24-year-old German raised his game to new heights during the early rounds of last seasons Eastern Conference playoffs. He appeared in 6 games; the German point guard averaged 24.7 points and 7.7 assists in 35 minutes per game. Keep a close eye on this matchup with he and Dennis Smith. Especially in pick-and-roll situations. The Hawks will look to run Schroder through an array of high pick-and-rolls, putting him in position to create with the ball in his hands. As positive as things have been on the court for Schroder, he’s managed quite the opposite off the court.
Dennis Schroder arrives in Dallas amidst some legal issues as he was arrested for battery outside of an Atlanta hookah bar in late September. The investigation is still on-going, but it’s not the type of behavior you want from the current face of your franchise. In some cases, athletes who face off-court difficulties use their time on the court as a vehicle to clear their head. Schroder is clearly the best player on a Hawks team that appears to be a bottom-feeder in a bad Eastern Conference. This point guard matchup is set to be the marquee matchup of the evening.
Yogi Ferrell (6-0, 180, 2nd Year) vs. Kent Bazemore (6-5, 200, 6th Year)
The Mavericks suffered an underrated blow to their starting lineup last Saturday as the team announced that Seth Curry would be out indefinitely due to a stress reaction to his left tibia. The Mavericks are set to be extra cautious with Curry. The injury forces head coach Rick Carlisle to go to his bag of bench goodies earlier than he would like – it’s likely that he will insert 2nd-year undrafted free agent Yogi Ferrell into the starting lineup.
Ferrell allows the Mavericks to stay true to their newly minted space and pace identity. With both Yogi and Smith in the backcourt, the Mavs are set to have two playmaking point guards that can operate in the pick-and-roll as well as efficiently shoot from outside the arc. The tandem will face challenges on the defensive side of the floor as both players physical profiles are undersized against shooting guards.
Fortunately for the Mavs, the Hawks opposing shoot guarding, Kent Bazemore, rarely operates from the post. Per tracking provided by Synergy, Bazemore spent the highest percentage (25.6 percent) of his possessions as a spot-up shooter. It’ll both be interesting to see how and whom the Mavericks decide to defend Bazemore with – and how Bazemore approaches that matchup. Will he dare try to overpower one of the Mavs smaller guards in the post?
Advantage: Moderate edge Atlanta Hawks
Wes Matthews (6-5, 220, 9th Year) vs. Taurean Prince (6-8, 220, 2nd Year)
It appears the Mavericks will slide Wes Matthews down a position into the small forward role this season. The Iron Man will inherit the opposing team’s best perimeter players on a nightly basis. This year could be a make-or-break type of year for Matthews within the organization. If things go south early on for the Mavs, Matthews could be dangled as trade bait. At this point, he should pick up his $18.6 million player option for next year – which will muddy Dallas’ somewhat clean cap sheet next offseason. Do the Mavericks try to get off Matthews contract and deal him? My guess would be no, but we’ll see. Matthews is now almost 2-years removed from his horrific Achilles tear. His playmaking this preseason took significant strides, often pump faking off the three-point line attacking the free throw line area and making advanced passes from that area.
Prince is a physical small-forward who isn’t shy about spreading the floor and attempting three-pointers. During his rookie season, Prince appeared in 59 games, averaging a shade over 16 minutes per contest. Head coach Mike Budenholzer opted to ramp Prince’s minutes up down the stretch last season; he ended up averaging over 30 minutes in 6 games as a starter in the playoffs, averaging 11.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists on 56 percent shooting. Prince shot 2.3 threes per game in the playoffs, converting just 29 percent of those shots.
The Hawks are hoping Prince’s playoff experiences from last season will help propel his game to a higher level this season. The Mavericks are certainly going to have their hands full with this matchup due to the size of Prince, but with Matthews veteran experience, the Mavs should be slightly favored in this matchup.
Advantage: Slight edge Mavericks
Harrison Barnes (6-8, 210, 6th Year) vs. Ersan Ilyasova (6-10, 208, 10th Year)
It’s no secret, Harrison Barnes is the Mavericks best player. Barnes who came over from Golden State on a max deal proved he was worth every penny of his massive contract from last season. The Mavericks hope the same continues this season.
Much like last season, a significant portion of the scoring load will be fed to Harrison Barnes. After his first year in a Mavs uniform, all signs point towards he’s willing to accept any challenge thrown his way. Barnes will get his fair share of Dirk’s old patented isolation opportunities. Last season Barnes isolated 24.5 percent of his possessions averaging 0.932 points-per-possession which ranked him in the 70th percentile, per Synergy. Barnes continued to work hard this summer, in hopes to tighten up his ball-handling – which should allow him to drive to the lane more efficiently. Barnes averaged 19.2 points per game last year and shot just 3.6 free throws per game. Barnes looked ultra-aggressive this preseason attacking the paint and attempting to get the free throw line. It’s easy to imagine Barnes averaging 1-2 points higher than his 19.2 average last year – just from getting to the free throw line more often. The Hawks’ Ersan Ilyasova will have his hands full with Barnes. Don’t be surprised if Budenholzer decides to cross-match Ilyasova and Prince.
Dirk Nowitzki (7-0, 245, 20th Year) vs. Dewayne Dedmon (7-0, 245, 5th Year)
Dirk’s appearance tonight will mark the beginning of his 20th season in a Mavericks uniform. 20 years with one team is crazy, only one other player, Kobe Bryant, has achieved that accomplishment.
Dirk’s game has aged into a stretch 5 in today’s NBA. He stretches the defense out to their breaking point thanks to his superb outside shooting. Watch Dirk on offense; he is the catalyst to most of the offensive plays by setting high screens at the top of the key. Dirk’s screens still implore danger on the defense. He’s struggled with his shot at times over the past couple of years – which will interesting to monitor early on. Dirk has been one of the most efficient mid-range shooters of all-time, look for that to continue.
Defense is where things have gotten a little shaky for Dirk. Carlisle may try to go to a zone at times to keep Dirk within the painted area. Due to the lack of athletism at this stage of his career, the Mavs want to keep Dirk off the perimeter defensively. If the Mavericks do decide to go the zone – they must get out to the corners. Dirk has been getting sealed by the opposing big men all preseason. Communication is key if you decide to implore a zone. Luckily for the Mavs, Dedmon is an ideal matchup for Dirk due to his inability to shoot from the outside. Dedmon signed a one-year “prove it” contract with the Hawks, it’ll be fascinating to see how aggressive he is on the offensive end versus Dirk.
The Mavs bench unit has the potential to be a very dangerous unit this season. When Curry gets healthy and presumably enters the starting lineup, Carlisle may bring in three guards with Devin Harris at the small forward position.
The key to the Mavericks bench unit will be Nerlens Noel. Noel will presumably be the first player off the bench, entering in for Dirk around the 7-8-minute mark within the 1st quarter. Noel must bring energy and lockdown defense to the table for the Mavericks. He has developed excellent chemistry with both JJ Barea and Dennis Smith on the rim-running pick-and-roll alley-oops.
The Hawks will strut out DeAndre’ Bembry, John Collins and Mike Muscala off the bench. Budenholzer will also rely on Marco Belinelli and Luke Babbitt for shooting.
With the Hawks regular season wins total set at 25.5 by Vegas, it’s safe to say the Hawks are set to be one of the worst teams in the NBA.
Prediction: 104-98 Mavericks
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