After having one of their most active offseasons in recent years, the Dallas Mavericks seem to have their roster all figured out.
They made their big trade with the New York Knicks, re-signed parts of the old guard and brought in some new blood as well and now look primed to put all the pieces together.
All this activity of course wasn’t just for fun. The Mavs are serious about improving upon last season, hence spending $46 million on Chandler Parsons.
But improving on 49 wins isn’t a walk in the park. The Mavs did tie for second in offensive efficiency during the regular season and then pushed the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
For an aging team that missed the postseason the previous year, that’s about as good a result as anyone could expect.
With the moves the Mavericks have made, it’ll no longer be all good in Dallas if they barely make the playoffs. The pressure is on to get some serious results, and it will all depend on how the old meshes with the new.
The New Faces
According to the Dallas Mavericks’ official roster, there will be eight new faces on the bench next season. And at first glance, they seem eclectic. There isn’t an obvious skill they all share or a common style of play.
Let’s be honest, it’s not as if Al-Farouq Aminu and Raymond Felton have a lot in common.
But of course this team isn’t just pulling random pieces out of a hat, they’re too smart for that. And upon closer examination, there are some common threads that run through the new players.
The first is athleticism.
Between Chandler Parsons, Al-Farouq Aminu and Tyson Chandler, the Mavs added three big-time athletes to their rotation. Parsons can fly up and down the floor, Aminu is a rebounding monster and Chandler moves extremely well for a 7-footer.
And this holds true to a lesser degree with some of the other signings. If Raymond Felton can get back to his old ways, he provides quickness from the point, and the same goes for Jameer Nelson. Eric Griffin might be just a bench player, but his explosiveness took center stage during summer league games.
This athletic characteristic was almost entirely absent from last year’s team. Outside of Monta Ellis and Brandan Wright, there really weren’t any players capable of making those “wow” plays.
Now the roster has more than it’s fair share.
But this is the Mavericks, so they didn’t just bring in athletes. The other common thread linking this class of acquisitions is basketball IQ.
Take it from the horse's mouth. In an interview with KTCK-AM 1310 in Dallas, Mark Cuban said targeting smart players was key for this offseason.
I think one of the reasons we were able to give San Antonio such a run is that we had a high basketball IQ and we were able to make adjustments that they didn’t expect. I think if our basketball IQ was a little bit higher, then we should have beat them — we could have beat them, we would have beat them — and that’s what we were looking for this summer: guys with high basketball IQs, guys who can play multiple positions, guys who were unselfish and were willing to move the ball and guys who could hit an open shot.
In other words, the Mavericks tried to get younger while staying smart. Oftentimes those two can be mutually exclusive, but it sounds like Cuban believes they’ve found some middle ground.
Bringing in a veteran with a little juice left like Richard Jefferson seems to satisfy the criteria, and the point guards Felton and Nelson also fit the bill. Chandler Parsons plays smart, unselfish offense and Greg Smith has a heady post game.
If Cuban’s right about his new guys, then Head Coach Rick Carlisle certainly has plenty with which to work.
A New Style
With a retooled roster comes a revamped system.
Adding athletes and multipositional players while keeping the team IQ high should allow the Mavs to play the mismatch game like few teams can. But as ESPN Dallas’ Tim McMahon wrote recently, their roster should also allow them to really run.
The Mavs ranked in the middle of the pack in pace last season, averaging 95.7 possessions per game, almost six fewer than the team that played at the fastest tempo. Carlisle hopes the remodeled Mavs, a team he believes is built to run, will be among the leaders next season.
“We want to play faster,” Carlisle said. “We’re going to have to do it by playing with our depth and playing with intelligence. We should be able to do that because we’ve got a lot of high-IQ players.”
We just went over how the Mavs added athletes without sacrificing IQ, and that kind of roster makeup works perfectly with a quicker pace. They can push the ball but won’t fall victim to the bad shots that often come with an up-and-down style.
Now, this new direction might seem weird considering the Mavs’ best player is the 36-year-old Dirk Nowitzki who was never a fill-the-wing on a break kind of player. But outside of the one-legged fadeaway, Dirk’s most recognizable shot is that trailing three-pointer. So with an improved pace, he should be seeing more of those types of looks.
And it’s not as if the holdovers aren’t equipped for a faster pace. Monta Ellis is one of the fastest players in the league, and Devin Harris isn’t far behind. Brandan Wright runs the floor very well, and Jae Crowder can easily fit in this new style.
So a quicker game won’t exile the returning crop. And fast breaks often force mismatches, another thing this team is built to handle.
If the Mavs can do it well, running more will play dividends.
From a pure talent standpoint, this team is a huge upgrade over last year’s 49-win squad. So the logic holds that their record should improve. But of course, this is the Western Conference we’re talking about. The conference where 49 wins got you only the No. 8 seed.
The good news is that the conference is mostly the same. There weren’t any huge moves, and maybe the biggest move out of the West was Kevin Love leaving the conference to join the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The big teams tinkered, but the major moves didn’t involve the top dogs in the West. In fact, Dallas probably improved the most out of any team in the conference.
They’re still anchored by Nowitzki, Carlisle has more toys to play with and the franchise got back to their winning ways last season. There are lots of reasons to be optimistic about this year, but since it’s the Western Conference, don’t expect this team to blow everybody out of the water.
It’ll be mayhem at the top, yet this team will be there.
Conference Standing: fourth in the West