As the NBA off-season comes to a close, the Dallas Mavericks enter into training camp with a renewed purpose for success. Following back to back seasons of purposeful losing (tanking), the Mavericks expect to compete for a playoff spot in the vaunted Western Conference. This is a look at the 2018-19 Dallas Mavericks season preview.
Countdown to Tip-Off: Dallas Mavericks Season Preview
At the NBA All-Star break, last season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was a guest on Julius Erving‘s podcast, House Call. With Dr. J. never one to mince words, Cuban said the following: “I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again. This was a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me.”
What Worked Last Season
The emergence of rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr.,while not shocking to most, was quite the revelation. Smith averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 assists per game with an Effective Field Goal percentage (eFG) of 44.6 percent. While the numbers ultimately weren’t phenomenal, his athleticism most certainly was, and the combination of both earned Smith All-Rookie honors. Dirk Nowitzki, the stalwart and 19-year veteran, started 77 games (tied for third amongst Maverick players). Nowitzki averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game with an eFG of 54.7 percent while playing 25 minutes per contest.
The Mavericks’ leading scorer was Harrison Barnes. Barnes, in his second year since his move from the Golden State Warriors, was consistent but not spectacular. Much is expected of Barnes considering he signed a max-deal with the Mavericks. So while he scored a team-best 18.9 points per game, Barnes has his critics.
Here we go folks. Noel back screens, down screens, ball screens and then dunks it. I am here for Rick Carlisle ATO's. pic.twitter.com/BDb7bgKmin
— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) February 28, 2017
The star of the Mavericks is unequivocally Head Coach Rick Carlisle. Carlisle in his 11th year as he continued to get solid performances from unexpected sources. Guard Yogi Ferrell and center Dwight Powell were key to the Mavericks rotation and contributed manfully to the effort. What made Carlisle special was his ability to demand professionalism from his players even though they were being beaten. The infamous clip featuring Carlisle yelling at ejected center Salah Mejri remains legendary. After Mejri’s bad behavior, Carlisle yelled at him “You have two f****** points, get the f*** out of here”. This type of strong, leadership combined with the tactical supremacy hold the Mavericks in good stead.
What Needs Improvement
Simple answer, more talent. To compete successfully in the NBA, talent is key. While Smith showed positive signs throughout last season, it’s clearly evident he has significant development steps to take. There are questions about what position (point guard or shooting guard) will Smith play. To say Nowitzki is a shell of the player he was is an understatement. Nowitzki has been a turnstile defensively at center. Mejri has minimal offensive skills, combined with last season being Powell’s best season. A team where Barnes is your best offensive weapon is not presently a playoff team, much less a championship contender. Most significantly, the Mavericks received little production from wing players, therefore an upgrade is badly needed there.
Good news. When the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings possessing the top two picks in this years draft, the team selecting third most likely has the chance to take the best player in the draft. That meant the Mavericks only had to make a deal with the Atlanta Hawks for the third pick. True to form, both the Suns and Kings drafted contrarily thus the most accomplished and talented player remained available.
That player is Slovenian sensation and Real Madrid star Luka Doncic. Doncic is a 19-year-old phenom at 6’7″, 225 pounds. He was the best player in the second best league in the world. Here are a few of Doncic’s accomplishments; MVP of ACB and Euroleague in 2017-18. Doncic alongside Miami Heat point guard Goran Dragic led Slovenia to its maiden EuroBasket Championship in 2017. Real Madrid, Doncic’s club team, won both Liga ACB (Spanish top tier league) and EuroLeague titles in 2018. The Mavericks organization is equipped to deal with foreign players. Here’s the proof, what’s the name of Dirk Nowitzki’s last European club team? Exactly.
DeAndre Jordan was another major Mavericks off-season addition. Everyone remembers the emoji battle of 2016. Fast forward to today and the Mavericks finally getting their player. Though offensively challenged, Jordan is a defensive stalwart. Jordan is also above average in every offensive advanced analytical category. He averaged 12 points and 15 rebounds per game last season. With a player efficiency rating of 20.2 last season, Jordan boasted positive numbers in Offensive and Defensive rating 125 and 105 respectively. His Value Above Replacement Player (VORP) rating is higher than any Mavericks player on the roster. That says it all.
The Mavericks also drafted guard Jalen Brunson in the second round and signed Australian sharp-shooter Ryan Broekhoff to add depth on the wing.
While the Mavericks made significant moves to improve it flawed roster, there are still questions. Will Nowitzki and Jordan play together? Is Nowitzki ultimately the sixth man? Does Barnes take a positive step and embrace being the team leader? How long does it take for Doncic to adjust to the pace and physicality of the NBA? Does Smith continue his upward trajectory progress-wise? Under coach Carlisle, this team plays hard. Preparation is not an issue.
The Western Conference grew stronger with the arrival of LeBron James to the Los Angeles Lakers. What does it all mean? No playoffs for at least another season. When all is said and done, expect the Dallas Mavericks to be significantly better than last season. However, in a division that includes the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies, the Mavericks will finish no higher than fourth.
Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki reacts during a basketball friendly match between Alba Berlin and Dallas Mavericks in Berlin on October 6, 2012. The game is part of the NBA Europe Live tour. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/GettyImages)