Strengths and weaknesses
Trevor Ariza leads the 3-and-D pack of free agents this offseason. The 28-year-old is an above-average defender, able to match-up with most wings. He's not what you would call a "shutdown defender" -- like Shawn Marion during the title run -- but he's smart. Take what Paul George said about him during these playoffs: "He's good at just playing that deny the ball to him, pressure on every catch. He's a good defender, but he's not someone that will take me out of my game."
Don't think of him as a 2011 Marion, but make no mistake that he will help out a defense. The Wizards allowed about 105 points per 100 possessions when he was off the court, compared to 101 when he was playing. Without a doubt, he's a great guy to fit into any defensive scheme.
Now, fulfilling the other part of the 3-and-D, Ariza shot a career high 40.7 percent from behind the 3-point line this season, eclipsing his career total of 34.7 percent. More importantly, his nearly 41-percent shooting came on 5.7 attempts per game -- another career high, and showing that he could balance quality with quantity.
But there's a couple of important trends: first, Ariza shot 180 3-pointers this season (behind only Wes Matthews for most in the league), and that's great. However, when you look at his shooter, you have to consider it may be inflated by taking and hitting so many shots from the corners. He wasn't a scrub above the break, but his percentage did fall to 38.1 percent when taking non-corner 3-point attempts.
Second, this was a contract year for Ariza. You can only judge its impact on a case-by-case basis, but Ariza has a history of showing up big when he's on the line to make a little bit of money.
With that said, maybe that's just a symptom of youth at earlier points of his career. At 28, he's an established veteran but someone who still has a handful of years until any visisble decline can even be noticed. There's questions whether he can repeat what he did this season, but what he did this season was damn good; there's no denying that. If he's able to bring the same levels of offense and defense, Ariza is without a doubt the best second tier small forward in this free agent class.
Fit with the Mavericks
The corner 3-pointer thing is a little worrisome because that's not something that the Mavericks offense emphasizes. More often, Ariza would be asked to spot up from the opposite wing from where Dirk has the ball in a post-up, allowing better angles for a cross court pass than if Ariza was in the corner. Like I mentioned, Ariza's more than capable of knocking those down, but it might not be at quick as high of rate his 3-point percentage from this season indicate.
His defense from the small forward would be much appreciated in making up for Marion's absence. Especially last year, Marion showed visible signs of decline, so it wouldn't be terribly difficult for Ariza to surpass Marion's 2013-14 contributions -- even if, as we discussed, it's not Finals champion level Marion.
If the Mavericks play three shooters at the first three spots, it's possible we could see Brandan Wright backing up Dirk playing alongside a center. The Marion/Crowder duo might have been the worst shooting small forward combo in the NBA, and Ariza's pontential arrival would allow Carlisle to open up the playbook and maybe try some new things.
Problem is, all signs point to Washington preferring to retain him and Gortat this offseason. They're a young team and the safe move is to keep the crew together, counting on the young players to improve. I'd say there's about a 20 percent chance that Ariza leaves Washington, and
Zach Lowe does his usual fantastic work breaking down the seemingly endless directions the Wizards could go this offseason.
An SB Nation feature on Ariza from Tyler Lashbrook, looking at why Ariza played so well this season.