Early Predictions for Dallas Mavericks' Starting Lineup Next Season
The Dallas Mavericks faced an interesting dilemma this offseason. As touched on by Bryan Gutierrez of ESPN Dallas, the Mavs' brass was big on continuity this summer. But at the same time, the team wanted to improve markedly to make the most of Dirk Nowitzki's closing years.
Bringing back the same older team yet making large gains over last year seem like mutually exclusive ideas.
But as much as they could, the Mavs tried to do both. Though it was almost a given, the 36-year-old Nowitzki re-signed, and Devin Harris also re-upped for four years. But Vince Carter went to Memphis and it looks like Shawn Marion will also be heading somewhere else.
Using the Mavericks' official roster and adding in Jameer Nelson and the almost-official signing of Al-Farouq Aminu, Dallas will have six new players for the upcoming season. That would be almost half of the 13-man active roster.
It's not a complete roster overhaul, but it's also not exactly the 2014 Mavs all over again.
And with new faces come new starters. That five-man unit won't be the same for the 2014-15 season, and the expectations will be different. On paper this team looks better, but keep in mind that the Mavs are coming off a 49-win season.
Hopefully the results for this group match the talent.
Point Guard: Raymond Felton
Before everybody goes and rips on Raymond Felton for being, shall we say, less than in shape, let’s see what kind of a player he is.
First, we’ll look at the bad. Anyway you slice it, Felton’s 2013-14 wasn’t good. His minutes, shooting percentages, points and assists all dropped off from the previous season. And while his numbers have dropped, his weight (205 pounds) appeared to have done the opposite. Not a good sign from a 30-year-old point guard.
There’s good news, though. He’s one year removed from being a key cog in a 54-win New York Knicks team, on which he was a definite plus at the point guard position. He was great at getting that offense going, and he definitely qualifies as one of those “fallen angels” the Mavs love so much.
So a bounceback from Felton isn’t out of the question. Though 30 isn’t young, he also should still be able to perform at the peak of his powers.
And when he was doing that, Felton could fit with the Mavs. He ran the pick-and-roll well, used his quickness and thick frame to get in the lane and could even shoot it a bit at 36 percent from three.
Using Dirk as a pick-and-roll partner will also help Felton’s game. As Grantland’s Zach Lowe outlined in January, Nowitzki’s shooting opens up lanes for the ball-handler. With a minimal show from the big man, Felton will have a better time getting to his sweet spots on the floor.
And unlike Jose Calderon before him, Felton might actually finish at the rim occasionally.
Whether Felton’s play dropped off last year due to his own issues or a rough Knicks situation, he has skills that Dallas can use. As long as he regains some form, he can be a dynamic point guard. It’s a gamble, but he could be a nice running mate with Monta Ellis if all goes well.
Shooting Guard: Monta Ellis
With his first season as a Maverick under his belt, Monta Ellis’ outlook with the franchise seems very different than when he was brought in last year.
Something of a consolation prize after Dallas whiffed on bigger names, Ellis seemed like a desperation signing. In Milwaukee he was maligned for poor shot selection and an inefficient style. Talented sure, but he wasn’t thought of as much of an offseason acquisition.
Now, he’s an essential part of a Dallas Mavericks team that’s looking to make the playoffs for the second straight season. His wild shots were tamed, his passing ability was highlighted, and he became the team’s second-leading scorer (19 points per game) while shooting 45 percent from the field.
That’s quite the turnaround.
He hasn’t totally kicked his bad habits, though. He still takes the occasional low-percentage shot, and his shooting from deep isn’t great at 33 percent. But he became a new version of Jason Terry for the Mavs as Dirk’s pick-and-roll partner.
Expect more improvement from Monta coming up. It probably won’t be as drastic as last year, but little changes are great.
An uptick in jump-shooting efficiency, better decision-making or progress on defense would all be small improvements but very welcome ones. And given his overhaul last season, any one of those are in the realm of possibility.
And with the additions of Raymond Felton and Chandler Parsons, Monta may not have to be as ball-dominant this year, which means he could be getting more catch-and-shoot opportunities. And according to NBA.com's player tracking data, Ellis shot 50 percent from three on 2.3 catch-and-shoot attempts per game.
However the offense changes, it seems Ellis will still be a great off-guard option for head coach Rick Carlisle and the Mavs.
Small Forward: Chandler Parsons
When it became apparent Carmelo Anthony wasn’t coming to Dallas, the Mavs had three other options on the table.
One was Luol Deng. He’s capable on offense but makes his biggest impact on defense. Another was Trevor Ariza. He had one of his best years last season and is a balanced two-way player. Lastly there was Chandler Parsons—the most dynamic offensively of the three but also the most challenged on the other end of the floor.
In the end, Dallas went after Parsons. And unlike in the past with free agency, the Mavericks got their man.
Parsons will be a nice fit with what the Mavs run on offense. He’s a good shooter, hitting 37 percent on 4.7 attempts from downtown last year. Parsons is also an underrated passer at four assists per game, and some young wing athleticism is welcome on this roster.
He’ll be another floor-spacer, but most of all another offensive threat. He’s adept at driving and dishing, and has one of the best pump fakes in the league. Most importantly, his offensive game is well rounded, which is perfect for the 3 in Carlisle’s system.
That part isn’t the issue. The question mark is why a 6’9”, 25-year-old athletic wing isn’t more of a defensive asset.
The effort is there. He ran three miles per game, fourth most according to NBA.com. It’s not an empty stat either: Parsons is a guy who plays hard, and it shows when you watch him.
Considering his age and the way he plays, Parsons should be a good defender. He won’t be an elite stopper, but he shouldn’t be as bad as he is. Maybe a little coaching from Carlisle is all he needs, but considering Shawn Marion is most likely gone, it’s important that Parsons improves in this area.
If he can improve on defense, he’ll be a huge success. But even if he doesn’t improve too much on that side of the court, his varied offensive game will be a major upgrade for the Mavs.
Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki
Even at age 36, Dirk Nowitzki continues to amaze.
Despite being ancient by NBA standards, Dirk carried the offense, averaging 21.7 points while being ever so close to a 50/40/90 shooting season. He still has his arsenal of fakes and fadeaways, and the jump shot looks as smooth as ever.
But going into his 17th NBA season, it’s obvious that, as great as he is, he just can't do heavy minutes at this point in his career.
Dirk played more down the stretch to secure the eighth seed, and he wasn’t the same in the playoffs. His scoring dropped to 19.1 points per game, and his shooting line looked positively awful. He was 42.9 percent from the floor, 80.1 percent from the line and 8.3 percent from three.
Let’s reiterate that. He went one for 12 from deep in seven games against the San Antonio Spurs. His field-goal percentage dropped by 7 percent, and his free-throw percentage dipped by almost 10 percent.
He got tired at the end. Who can blame him? He was sucking wind with his hands on his knees against the Spurs, giving everything he had, but it wasn’t there.
And the Mavs know that. So they committed to upgrading the supporting cast. Dirk simply can’t be the man for 37.6 minutes per night as he was asked to be in the playoffs.
He can still be very effective; there’s no doubt about that. He’ll just have to play fewer minutes to keep his legs fresh.
This isn’t the end—nobody panic. We won’t see a huge drop-off from Nowitzki this season. But don’t expect him to be on the floor all the time either.
Center: Tyson Chandler
Not counting Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler might the Mavericks’ most important player.
If he’s 2013-14 Tyson Chandler, he’s a bust. But if he plays like he did from 2010-13 with the Mavs and Knicks, he’ll be perfect.
Last season was his worst year since he was ravaged by injuries with Charlotte in 2009-10. He wasn’t himself on defense, and he played in only 55 games due to injury. It was something of a lost season.
But for the three seasons before that, he was amazing. Extremely mobile for a 7-footer, Chandler used his huge frame to protect the rim but also showed enough mobility to bother guards on pick-and-rolls. There were few defenders like him in the league, which was why he earned 2011-12 NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors.
It all depends on which Chandler the Mavs get. If it’s the good version, the Mavs will have themselves the anchor of their defense, the guy who can make up for the shortcomings of the rest of the starters. And that will be immensely valuable.
Obviously, Dirk isn’t much of a defender. He’s older, and that side of the floor was never his strong suit. Monta Ellis has a bad defensive reputation, and Parsons and Felton aren’t plusses on that end either. So having Chandler be the captain and man in the middle is essential.
And Chandler isn’t useless on offense either. He might not create his own shot, but he understands spacing and before last year he strung together three seasons of over 63 percent shooting while averaging only 1.3 turnovers per game.
It’s a worthwhile gamble, especially considering Chandler has had success in Dallas before. If he’s back to his old ways this season, the Mavs may have hit the jackpot.