The Mavericks are coming off their worst ever season in the Mark Cuban era. They finished just 33-49 as they appeared to tank when it was clear they were not going to make the playoffs for just the second time this century.
But that decision looks to have paid immediate dividends in terms of their eventual draft pick, Dennis Smith Jr., who is far and away the highlight of Dallas’ offseason and could be the bright spot in what could be another trying campaign.
Arrivals: Dennis Smith Jr., Johnathan Motley, Josh McRoberts, Brandon Ashley, PJ Dozier, Jeff Withey
Departures: Nicolas Brussino, AJ Hammons, DeAndre Liggins
The last time the Mavs landed inside the top ten in the draft, they parlayed their pick into franchise legend Dirk Nowitzki. And with Dirk now on his last legs, they managed to get his potential successor as the team’s next star in Dennis Smith Jr.
The NC State product was once considered a top-five talent, but an ACL injury and a somewhat underwhelming lone season in college saw him drop down to the Mavs at ninth int he draft. After an eye-opening performance during Summer League, Smith has the potential to be the steal of the draft.
The Mavs didn’t have too many other notable additions apart from Smith. They picked up a couple of undrafted rookies in Johnathan Motley and PJ Dozier who may not amount to anything, absorbed Josh McRoberts’ contract from the Miami Heat for a future second-rounder, and added journeyman Jeff Withey.
They also retained the services of Nowitzki, who signed a new two-year deal, as well as big man Nerlens Noel, whom they acquired before last season’s trade deadline. But instead of locking up to a long-term deal in restricted free agency, Noel declined the Mavs’ contract and opted to take the one-year qualifying offer, which will make him an unrestricted free agent next summer.
The Mavs possess some terrific spacing thanks to good shooting at the guard spots (Wes Matthews, Seth Curry, Yogi Ferrell) and, of course, arguably the greatest shooting big man of all-time in Dirk Nowitzki at the four. That fine spacing should open up the pick-and-roll for Dennis Smith and Nerlens Noel, who has the potential to be a very good roll man.
The Mavs also have one of the best coaches in the league in Rick Carlisle. Carlisle has consistently gotten much more out of limited Mavs rosters in recent years. He managed to manufacture a good defense (allowing the fourth-least points per game in the NBA last season) from last year’s team despite Dirk Nowitzki’s limitations and few other truly above-average defenders on the roster.
Dallas should improve a bit more on the defensive end of the floor with a full season of Noel, who is a lot more mobile than last year’s big men, Andrew Bogut and Salah Mejri, and can be a good rim protector as well.
The Mavs don’t have too much depth to call upon in the frontcourt. The 39-year-old Nowitzki can’t consistently play big minutes anymore, and their options behind him (Dwight Powell, McRoberts) aren’t very inspiring.
They’re just as shallow at small forward. Dorian Finney-Smith and Matthews are the only viable options to back up Harrison Barnes, and Finney-Smith still hasn’t shown he can provide much of anything offensively.
That lack of depth was also evident in Dallas’ awful bottom-ranked scoring offense last season and anytime Nowitzki and/or Barnes is off the court this year, creating consistent offense could continue to be a struggle.
Meanwhile, even with the presence of Noel, Nowitzki’s lack of mobility will be a big reason why the Mavs will likely continue to struggle on the boards. They finished dead last in the league in rebounding last season.
Player to watch – Dennis Smith Jr.
Smith made quite a first impression in Summer League, where he was arguably the most electric player to feature. He averaged 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 2.2 steals and made it to the All-Summer League first team.
More than the numbers, though, Smith displayed some of the jaw-dropping athleticism that was reminiscent of a young Derrick Rose, which made him such a joy to watch.
It’s not a lock that Smith will be quite as impressive in his rookie year. He still has a fair number of flaws, particularly in terms of his shooting and defense, and Carlisle famously likes to ride his point guards hard.
But even if he does go through some growing pains that are pretty routine for a rookie NBA point guard, there should be just enough highlight-reel plays to make watching Smith all worthwhile this season.
It’s not looking good for Dirk’s chances of making it back to the playoffs one last time before he bows out. Even with an exciting rookie in Smith, the Mavs are probably going to fall well short of the playoff hunt once again this season as they go around 36-46.
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