Vedant Peris / Contributing Writer (@v_hobbes)
Next season, the Dallas Mavericks expect to split time between three centers from free agency: Zaza Pachulia, Samuel Dalembert and JaVale McGee. It's not exactly what one would call a three-headed dragon, but it's what the Mavericks have to work with. Maybe, to take the metaphor even further, it's a three-headed lizard, one mutated grotesquely by the nuclear radiation that is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-But-Still-Starts-At-Center-For-The-Clippers.
The Mavericks' center position is the only area not buoyed by an accomplished player in terms of the starting lineup. But, each of the acquired new centers do present unique skills—or more precisely—a unique lack of skills. Ultimately, all three players have the potential to play better than they did last season and provide a decent rotation.
The 31-year-old Pachulia gave the Milwaukee Bucks 8.3 points per game on 45 percent shooting as well as seven rebounds in about 20 minutes.
Originally a second-round international prospect from the country of Georgia, Pachulia was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 2003. In his 2005-06 season, he averaged 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds as a starter for the Atlanta Hawks.
His early career lilted in mediocrity, save for brief flashes of potential. Just last year, Zaza amassed 22 points and 21 rebounds in a 127-129 overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets, setting a Milwaukee Bucks franchise record with 18 offensive rebounds.
The Georgian center has an above-average jumper and touch inside. Offensively, Zaza should approximate less ball-dominant version of Chris Kaman, a player who didn't fit very well with Dirk offensively. Kaman needed to occupy the same places on the court as Dirk, which created playmaking redundancies, so Zaza would need to find a way to be more of an inside, low post presence to compliment Dirk's outside game—which should be easier as Dirk is moving more and more to the three point line as it grows more difficult for the German All-Star to bang for position in the post.
Pachulia will be a stopgap when it comes to defense and rebounding, better than Kaman in those areas. Zaza's blocking numbers last season were obviously lacking. The former Buck overcomes a lack of overwhelming athleticism with savvy. An apt, though perhaps overly-generous, description of Zaza here would be a poor man's Marc Gasol. With Dirk's declining defensive and rebounding skill, probable starter Zaza Pachulia will need to make the most of his game in these areas to keep the Mavericks afloat.
Dalembert, 34, gave the New York Knicks 5.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 4 points on 44 percent shooting in 17 minutes per game. The "Haitian Sensation" traditionally has been best at rim protecting, though at this age not even much of that can be realistically expected of him.
Dalembert gained experience playing with Dirk in 2013-14, but was at best average, even at a younger age. Nevertheless, Dalembert's offensive interior-based skill set still fits in snugly with Dirk's outside game.
Dalembert does have significant fitness and motivation issues, illustrated by problems with oversleeping during his previous time with Mavericks. Already as training camp is getting underway, Rick Carlisle says that "Sam needs to get in better shape," according to ESPN's Tim MacMahon.
Dalembert may be used to steady the second unit, only because the next center listed is anything but a steadying presence. Although, depending on his conditioning, he may be just used to take intentional "Hack-a-Shaq" fouls on poor free throw shooting centers. The best case is that Samuel Dalembert, in conjunction with Zaza Pachulia, stands as that steadying veteran presence, replicating his passable past with the Mavericks.
McGee, 27, averaged per game 4.6 points on 53 percent shooting, 2.7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 11 minutes.
Many a team has taken a chance on JaVale McGee's potential, only to be rewarded with up-and-down play. McGee might be the only other center in the league capable of replicating DeAndre Jordan's athleticism and shot-blocking ability at center (see: 2011 Dunk Contest). Though of course, McGee has played only 28 games the past two seasons.
JaVale McGee will hypothetically fit very well with Dirk: his strengths of athleticism, shot-blocking and dunking are all weaknesses of Dirk's. Though, McGee will likely be used more in match-ups with bigs who have overwhelming athleticism until he can prove his consistency. McGee is perhaps the most fleet-footed of the Mavericks centers, and could be very complimentary to Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthew's strengths in an uptempo offense.
The Mavericks certainly know the risk of a JaVale McGee signing: for every soaring dunk highlight there is a Shaqtin' a Fool lowlight (and corresponding Rick Carlisle cringe). Ultimately, the JaVale McGee move has upside that, if all goes well, could really help the Mavs this season.