Will PG Issues Derail the Mavs?

The Dallas Mavericks are coming off a surprising campaign, as they managed to make the playoffs as a sixth seed, despite a roster riddled with holes and injuries.  This year, the Mavs project as a middle-of-the pack Western Conference team, but one that is much improved over last year’s squad.  The Mavs can never be counted out, as they are led by one of the league’s best coaches in Rick Carlisle.  So what does 2016-2017 have in store for the Mavs?  Let’s meet the roster.

PG: Deron Williams, Grade C.  On the surface, it appears Deron Williams is coming off a bounce back year after a few seasons in the wilderness with the Brooklyn Nets.  Williams increased his scoring and field goal percentage from 13.0 to 14.1 and 38.7% to 41.4% respectively.  However, the advanced stats tell a different story.  Williams’ offensive rating, defensive rating, and PER all decreased last season.  On top of that, Williams failed to finish the season (again), appearing in just 65 games.  Williams is far too erratic to be counted on as a reliable starting point guard, and in a league driven by elite point guard play, that doesn’t bode well for the Mavs.

SG: Wes Matthews, Grade B.  Mark Cuban’s prized free agent from a season ago did not live up to his contract billing in 2015-2016.  But we’ll give Matthews a pass, as he was coming off an Achilles tendon tear.  Matthews could be an x-factor because it remains to be seen if his wayward 2015-2016 season is merely a fluke, or if Matthews has lost his magical shooting touch.  To that end, Matthews’ scoring and field goal percentage plummeted last year, as he averaged a mere 12.5 PPG and shot a measly 38.8% from the field.  Both of these are way down from his career average of 14.0 PPG and 43.5% shooting.  Expect Matthews to regain his image as the shooting star he established in Portland and bounce back this year.

SF: Harrison Barnes, Grade B+.  Barnes was Mark Cuban’s big fish this offseason, as Barnes signed a max contract for four years and $95 million.  In reality, Barnes is probably not worth that money, but after Cuban whiffed on landing Hassan Whiteside, he had to spend his money somewhere. Nevertheless, Barnes is undoubtedly an upgrade over former small forward Chandler Parsons.  Barnes possesses a more diverse offensive game than Parsons, as Barnes can post up effectively and can also shoot the three.  More importantly, Barnes has much more defensive versatility than Parsons, as Barnes can guard both 3’s and 4’s, and he can do so at a high level.  The biggest question mark with Barnes is will his abysmal performance in the Finals and an otherwise down season, translate into this season?  Or will Barnes be able to turn the page and showcase his tremendous talents?  One thing’s for certain though:  Barnes will be a focal point in the Mavs offense, as he no longer has to play second fiddle to the likes of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.  ESPN’s 538 expects Barnes to greatly improve, as it predicts his WAR to increase from 2.0 to 2.9, and his +/- to increase from -0.2 to +0.4.

PF: Dirk Nowitzki, Grade A.  With Tim Duncan out of the league, Dirk Nowitzki is the new ageless wonder.  Nowitzki has seemingly not lost a step as he progresses into his late 30’s and is now staring at 40.  Last year, Nowitzki appeared in 75 games, averaging over 18 PPG, and shooting nearly 45% from the floor.  Nonetheless, Nowitzki’s shooting percentage has been on the decline the last several years, down from 49.7% two seasons ago, to 44.7% this past year.  Additionally, the advanced stats paint a picture of a declining player with age, as Nowitzki’s offensive rating and PER have decreased each of the past three seasons.  Even though Nowitzki’s production isn’t as great as it once was, it’s still pretty damn good.  And let’s not forget he still as durable as ever.  Nowitzki has been the Mavs rock for nearly two decades, and expect that to continue to be the case next season.

C: Andrew Bogut, Grade C+.  Over the last few years in Golden State, Andrew Bogut’s offensive game became extremely marginalized.  This was mostly due to Steve Kerr’s small ball philosophy which curtailed Bogut’s playing time.  Bogut is still a terrific defensive player, as he provides excellent rim protection.  In addition, Bogut has played extremely well in this year’s Olympic Games, on both ends of the floor, so maybe his renewed offensive ability can carry over into the season.  The biggest red flag with Bogut is his health, as he missed the final two games of the Finals with a knee injury, and missed a handful of games this past year with back issues.  But if Bogut can stay healthy and can show an improved offensive game, he’s certainly better than this C+ grade.

Bench, Grade B.  The Mavs have an intriguing bench.  Hoping to catch some lighting in a bottle, the Mavs took  a flyer on Seth Curry, signing him to a very team friendly two year pact to back up Wes Matthews.  Curry displayed flashes of brilliance, an instant reminder of his brother’s game, and the Mavs are hoping it carries over into this year.  The Mavs also feature returning bench players J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri.  Barea and Harris are proven veterans who have all hit their ceilings, but the younger Mejri and Anderson can still expand their games.  Nevertheless, with too many wildcards on the Mavs pine, it’s hard to see this bench unit being one of the upper echelon units in the league.

Coaching Staff, Grade A.  Led by Rick Carlisle, the Mavs staff is one of the best and most respected staffs in the league.  Even though the Mavs didn’t have the season they wanted to last year, Rick Carlisle’s performance may have been his best.  Last year’s Mavs squad was beleaguered by injuries, and quite frankly, not a very good team.  But that didn’t stop Rick Carlisle, as he guided the Mavs to a 42-40 record, and the sixth seed in the west.  Even though they lost in five games to the Thunder, it’s a testament to Rick Carlisle’s greatness as a coach that the Mavs made it that far.  With Carlisle’s prolific ability to maximize the most out of his roster—no matter how depleted it may be—the Mavs always have a chance.

Bottom Line, the overall team grade: B.  In the top heavy Western Conference, the Mavs project as a middle of the pack team once again.  They are certainly better than last year, but they still don’t have the firepower to compete with the Clippers, Spurs, and Warriors.  Expect the Mavs to make the playoffs again, but don’t expect them to go past the second round.

photo via llananba