Ed. Note: This article was written on Oct. 25 before the NBA season started. On Wednesday, Mejri scored his first NBA points ... and then 15 more, finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes.
Looking at the crop of centers that remained available on the free agent market on July 9th, when DeAndre Jordan officially signed with the Clippers and completed a devastating reversal of fortune for the Dallas Mavericks, you couldn't blame Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson for trying to cast a little wider net.
Tunisian center Salah Mejri had been a solid, complimentary piece for Real Madrid, arguably the best non-NBA team in the world. He joined that club after a strong showing in the 2012 NBA Summer League, where it looked like he might even make the jump to big stage, getting workouts from a few interested teams. Though hardly a household name, Mejri is difficult to miss on the floor at nearly 7'2, with a body he carries up the court with surprising swiftness. Clearly, Dallas liked what they saw, as they signed him to a partially guaranteed deal.
At the time, some -- including myself -- thought Mejri was still a bit of a longshot to make the roster, with Zaza Pachulia, Samuel Dalembert and JaVale McGee all being established veterans. Well, yesterday's news of Dalembert being cut opens the door for the 29-year-old Mejri to walk through.
What should we expect from Mejri?
Mark Cuban has been effusive in his praise of Salah's game, and Carlisle has gone out of his way to mention the big man as well. A coach and an owner complimenting their players isn't exactly shocking, of course, and I'm not sure I can say that Mejri making the team doesn't say more about where the team stood with Dalembert, and/or where they stand with McGee.
Now that he's here, however, how might he fit in? Well, if you watch Euroleague you'll see that a lot of international offenses often utilize pick and roll, much like Dallas does. Mejri hasn't received a lot of chances with the ball yet, but you see that he moves fairly well for a big guy and does a nice job rolling toward the hoop. As he gets more comfortable, I'll be very curious to see just how effective he can be catching the ball and finishing, something he had a little trouble with during the preseason.
Watching his YouTube clips from overseas, it looks like you see a little more lift and explosion when finishing at the rim, which may be the lingering effects of the leg injury he sustained over the summer. He threw down some pretty nasty dunks during the Spanish League finals, and clearly isn't a total stiff when moving around out there. On more than a few occasions he beat his man downcourt in transition, and that would be a nice bonus for the Mavs who will surely look to accelerate the pace at times. The rest of Mejri's offensive game is still very underdeveloped.
Where Mejri shines best, in my opinion, is as a weak side shot blocker on defense. He has the requisite height, athleticism and timing to be a force coming over to help on drives, and has a clear advantage over Pachulia in that regard. Even shots he doesn't get, he changes, and that skill alone might keep him employed for a bit. Mejri plays hard, but while he has good straightline speed opponents can take advantage of his poor lateral quickness in space. He's also very thin (he's listed at 245 on some sites, but he's obviously closer to 230) and can be pushed around in the post. Technique might help him adjust with some of that, but let's not expect miracles.
Best Case Scenario
For the team as currently constructed, I think the best case is that JaVale McGee proves his doubters wrong and his loyal supporters right by being Tyson Chandler-lite and injecting athleticism into the Mavs' starting lineup. That will move Pachulia down to overqualified backup status, and leave Mejri as a potentially capable third center. Under those circumstances, and with the right development, then Mejri can contribute, without being exposed.
Mejri's shot-blocking and length could be murderous against second units, and most teams won't bring three quality postup centers to the arena, so Mejri can ideally be hidden a little there. With stretch options like Charlie V., Dwight Powell and of course Dirk, Carlisle can spread the floor and open the lane for Mejri to sprint to the hole. Maybe Mejri himself even develops his faceup shot a little more.
Worst Case Scenario
If McGee's 2015-16 campaign resembles his last two, Mejri might be pressed into service as a 15-20 minute a night rotation player, and that has the potential to blow up in our faces. Keep in mind Mejri averaged less than 10 minutes a game for Real Madrid last year, with their protracted schedule, so expecting a rookie to adapt to the faster, stronger league and be a factor is super risky.
And let's not even get into the fact that Pachulia missed 60 games between the '12-13 and '13-14 seasons.