By Darreck Kirby
Last season the Dallas Mavericks amassed just 33 wins against 49 loses to complete one of their worst seasons in recent memory. To put things bluntly, the roster Dallas walked into the season with provided little hope to fans eager to see the return of playoff basketball in Big D. The starting lineup of Derron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki, and Andrew Bogut was never going to set the league on fire, and it resulted in the Mavs getting off to one of their worst starts since the 90s. Things were so bad, in fact, Dallas ultimately took out a flier on a kid named Yogi Ferrell and opted to revamp its young core by trading for the 23-year-old rim protector, Nerlens Noel. Sure the moves teased the possibility of Rick Carlisle’s squad sneaking into the playoffs, but in the end there just wasn’t enough depth or, frankly, talent, to overcome an abysmal 9-21 start. Dallas would get the number 9 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and land the electric point guard, Dennis Smith Jr.
So here we find ourselves, just a little over a year later, and remarkably more optimistic about Dallas’s youth movement and roster. With a starting lineup featuring Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki, and Nerlens Noel, Dallas has that defensive balance it needed to be competitive. Add to that its rotation of Seth Curry, who came into his own during a two-month stretch last season, the aforementioned Yogi Ferrell backing up the expected rookie sensation in Smith Jr., and more, and the outlook for Big D looks far more promising.
Now, the national perspective on Dallas’s moves is that they’re improving, sure, but most don’t expect them to be anything more than a lottery team again this year. In fact, several national writers have predicted the Mavs to draft around that same number 9 slot as they did this year. If that happens, fine. But you’d better hit it out of the park again like you seem to have with Smith. If not this year then certainly the next will be Dirk’s final run, and it’s important to send him out on at least a playoff run if not a playoff series win.
Unlike the national writers, I think Dallas can make the 7 or 8 seed this coming season. Why? Because after mid-December Dallas played at about a 50 win pace the rest of the way. That means had Dallas not gotten off to such a wretched start, they likely would’ve been a playoff team last season. I think another year of growth plus a dynamic -hell, electric- player like Dennis Smith and a full year of Nerlens can only make the Mavericks a more dangerous team.
Last season’s team was absolutely lost on the defensive end of the court outside of Wes Matthews and maybe -MAYBE- Barnes. That dynamic did eventually change with Williams heading to Cleveland and Bogut being shipping to the 76ers in the Noel deal, but in the end, it was too little, too late. The offense was just fine. Harrison Barnes averaged over 19PPG, and Dirk, the ageless wonder, averaged a shade under 15. Even last season with all of their age and limited athletic ability, the points came for Dallas. Now, however, Dirk is the outlier with regard to age -and honestly athletic ability. Dennis Smith Jr. will be 19 when the season starts. Harrison Barnes is still just 25, having just had his birthday in May. In fact, the average age of the starting lineup minus Dirk is 24.25 years old, making it one of the youngest in the league. Even with Dirk, that number is 27.2 years, a respectable number among contenders.
In summary, hear me now, quote me later: led by Dennis Smith Jr., and Harrison Barnes, the Dallas Mavericks will make the playoffs this season. What’s more? I think they’ll end up winning 50 games to get there.