This is the time of year most NBA fans crave. Their favorite team has yet to lose a game and their new off-season acquisition/up-and-coming rookie is going to have an All-Star year.
I promise that on the inside I feel like that too. But as I’ve read more and more of the Mavericks blogosphere, a morbid pessimism has overtaken me.
A lot of my concern stems from the amount of 50/50 propositions there are on this team. How you view the team comes down to how you view the collective of all of the individual coin flips.
Coin flips like, will Wesley Matthews return stronger another year removed from a devastating injury? Will Harrison Barnes get over whatever funk he is in? Can Deron Williams play a year without injury or play anywhere near his prime? Can Justin Anderson take the next step as a 3 and D player? And the most important coin flip of them all, will this finally be the year where Dirk Nowitzki just completely falls off?
Matthews and Williams are similar coin flips. Williams will have to do two things for the Mavs: drive the ball and make threes. I’m more optimistic about the second one.
Matthews essentially needs to improve the same skills as Williams over last year’s performance while maintaining his defensive efforts. He often looked out of place last year and needs to find a more solid role in the offense.
With Dirk you can either believe that while he may continue to be a liability on defense, his offense will still be a central part of the Mavericks scoring.
Or you can take the pessimistic view, being that Dirk is ready to slide down the cliff of mediocrity at any moment. Like a dormant volcano that the locals have been telling stories about for eons, this is the year it finally melts down the entire city. All that will be left standing is a lottery pick.
In reality, Dirk has not shown many signs of letting up offensively. Besides the dip to 36.8 percent shooting behind the line last year he remains a very efficient shooter. While his minutes and points per game may slide, I believe he will remain as efficient a scorer as ever and will continue to provide great offensive spacing.
Rick Carlisle’s ability to figure out the line ups and rotations certainly is no coin flip but this season will provide new challenges. Among Carlisle’s first riddles to solve will be the case of Harrison Barnes. Barnes needs to find his place on this team as well as remove himself from the funk he has been in since last season’s playoff run with the Warriors.
I am currently choosing to be optimistic towards the uncertainty of Barnes’ ability to rise out of his current situation. I’m not as optimistic that he will find a comfortable role on the team. During the preseason games he has been put in far too many pick and roll situations as the ball handler. Barnes will have more success as a screener and playing in more off the ball situations. Ultimately, I want Matthews and Anderson rolling off screens set by Barnes. I don’t want Harrison Barnes coming off of screens set by Dwight Powell. That’s a nightmare.
My solution would be to arrange more lineups with Barnes at the four while Dirk is on the bench. This would allow for lineups like Curry, Barea, Anderson, Barnes, and Mejri which I believe to be an upgrade both offensively and defensively from what the Mavericks have had the past few years coming off of their bench. Although this would mean having Barnes be the last one subbed out, I believe more minutes in a less ball-centric role will help Barnes adapt to the offense.
All of these coin flips overlap each other in some way or another but none like with the potential season of Justin Anderson. In fact, one of the only reasons why moving Barnes to the four makes any sense is because of Anderson’s potential upside.
There’s every reason to believe Anderson will continue to improve, especially from beyond the arc where he shot 26.5 percent last season. Anderson should see extended minutes over last year when he was a rookie and will need to squeeze every last ounce of productivity out of his time for the Mavericks to be successful.
Having not even gone through the whole roster, you can begin to see just how much is up in the air when it comes to the Mavericks potential success this upcoming season. Never before as a fan have I felt this uncertain at the start of a season about where my favorite team stands among the rest.
And I’m okay with that, even if it tends to make me more optimistic about this team than I should be.