What fun is an upcoming NBA season without annual predictions to go along with it?
It's still lots of fun, of course, just not quite as fun as something like this. We have a large staff full of a diverse writers with drastically varying opinions about, well, everything. Figuring out where exactly the Mavericks will be by year's end is a nebulous puzzle we're all hoping to solve.
We asked the Mavs Moneyball staff the following questions: (1) what is the one thing this season you are most excited for? (2) what's the craziest headline you'll write this season? (3) who will be the offensive MVP? (4) who will be the defensive MVP? (5) which non-Dirk Maverick would you most want to be stranded on a desert island with and why? and (6) what will the Mavs' final record be? If they make the playoffs, how far do they go?
Here are their answers.
Most exciting thing: I'm honestly just excited to see good, fun offensive basketball again. This team will probably be pretty mediocre, but once healthy, the Mavs should once again be fun to watch. And that's really all I can ask for.
For years, the Rick Carlisle-led Mavs featured an exciting, explosive offensive style. Before the dark times. Before Rondo. I honestly I don't know if we'll see quite the offensive juggernaut that was the pre-Rondo 2014 Dallas Mavericks, but it certainly feels as though the offensive pieces are potentially more cohesive than any other roster Rick Carlisle has had since the title team (ignoring the gaping hole at center of course).
My only concern is that if Zaza and Dirk start together, they kind of occupy the same space. Both are big men with a good mid-range shot who aren't known for pick and roll dunks. Let's all hope JaVale McGee pans out, because that is the missing piece the offense needs in the middle of all that space.
Craziest headline: "Dwight Powell is a dark horse candidate for Sixth Man of the Year" and no this is not a joke
I don't know. You asked for a crazy headline, and here it is. Anyone who follows me on Twitter dot com knows that I am an unabashed leader of the Dwight Powell bandwagon. I know tons of people are skeptical. And for good reason -- he isn't particularly good at any one thing. But he is quietly solid at most things, and in my opinion, Powell has the potential to be the primary backup big man on this team, if he is given the opportunity to do so and makes the most of it.
Powell had pretty good 3-point range in the D-League last season, but it hasn't shown itself yet in Summer League or the preseason. I would be willing to bet he keeps working on it and becomes at least enough of a threat that opposing defenses have to cover him. The key to him solidifying a spot in the rotation will be rebounding. This team NEEDS rebounding.
I'm going out on limb here, but if Powell is given consistent minutes, there's a sliver of a chance he can make some rapid growth in his second year. There's almost zero chance he becomes a Sixth Man candidate, but he can totally be a solid rotation player. And hell, it's fun to dream.
Offensive MVP: Deron Williams. I typed Chandler Parsons, then deleted it because I'm sure someone else will make that case more eloquently than I would. I honestly believe that Williams is going to thrive in Rick Carlisle's system. When healthy, he was quietly better than people gave him credit for, even if he didn't live up to the expectations created by his max contract. I think everything is there for Deron to have something like a 15-point, six-assist average this season, especially if he can get in a rhythm with some of his offensive teammates before Chandler Parsons gets healthy and starts eating into some of Deron's playmaking duties.
Deron is in a great situation. Dirk and Chandler are considered the stars of the team and the focal points of the offense (whether this should still apply to Dirk at his age is debatable, but that will definitely be the perception). There are basically no expectations on Deron, and he has some great teammates to help carry the load. He should have the freedom to feel out his role in the offense and not push too hard. Which could set him up for a real renaissance this year.
Defensive MVP: Wes Matthews. I mean, who else would it be? From what I understand, Zaza Pachulia is a fairly solid defender and an all-around gritty player, but he's no Tyson Chandler. There are plenty of not-terrible defenders on the team, including Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Chandler Parsons, and maybe Dwight Powell and Jeremy Evans. Justin Anderson has a good defensive reputation from college, but he's a rookie who will almost certainly need time to get acclimated. JaVale can gets blocks I guess. JJ can be a pest at times, but he's just at such a size disadvantage. And Charlie Villanueva, Raymond Felton, and Dirk are pretty much awful.
So really, Wes, you're our only hope. Probably Matthews will take on something of a Shawn Marion role once healthy, stopping the opposing team's best perimeter player. If he can be successful in this role most nights, Dallas might not have an awful defensive team. But I'm not too optimistic about it, given that (as I outlined above) Wes Matthews is the only obvious and proven plus defender on this team. And thus the only logical choice for defensive MVP, barring an unexpected trade or a tremendous amount of growth from Justin Anderson.
Desert Island: Chandler Parsons. I feel like he would be the most entertaining choice. I was tempted to go with JaVale McGee, but I wasn't sure he wouldn't try something nefarious if we were stuck on the island for too long. He's such a wildcard, that Pierre fellow.
Parsons seems like the kind of guy who always has something interesting to say, and he also seems relentlessly positive, which you would need on a desert island. Plus it is always better to be stranded with a bit of eye candy. Can you imagine a nicely bearded Parsons with a golden tan?
The real question is whether Parsons has any hunting or foraging skills. Where is Chris Kaman when you need him?
Predictions: 45-37. 8th seed. Lose in the first round. I am going to admit that I'm being overly optimistic here, but if Parsons and Matthews both get healthy quickly and Williams meshes well with Carlisle, this team could be surprisingly good. Even then some things are going to have to break in Dallas's favor, but never count out a Carlisle-coached team. They should at least be in the top half of the West offensively, even if the defense is going to miss Tyson Chandler tremendously.
Maybe Cuban pulls some trade for a starting-quality center out of his ass midseason. Maybe I'm just being hopeful. But either way, I'm going out on a limb and predicting that the Mavs make some noise in the first round by pushing the one-seed to a Game 7. They won't win, because whether it's Golden State or Oklahoma City (Pop doesn't care about the regular season so I'm not putting San Antonio at No. 1), the Mavs aren't going to be able to stick with the one-seed defensively. But a repeat of the effort shown in that first round series against the Spurs a couple of years ago could be a lot of fun, and would be considered almost universally a successful recovery from the DeAndre debacle.
Most exciting thing: I'm most excited to find out A) if we really get to see Chandler Parsons in an expanded role, and B) if so, then what the results of that are going to be. Replacing Monta Ellis with Wes Matthews is -- in theory -- largely about what kind of shots and ballhandling opportunities it leaves for Parsons, who was paid big money to potentially be a longterm piece in Dallas as it approaches the post-Dirk era. We don't yet know how healthy Parsons will even be, let alone how he'll play as a featured guy when his career thus-far has been primarily one of "third option" status. So, buckle up.
Craziest headline: "Javale McGee displays veteran leadership and maturity as apocalypse ensues"
Offensive MVP: I'm tempted to say Parsons or even Deron Williams, but I think the best offensive player on this team is probably still Dirk Nowitzki. Much has been made about "slippage", but Dirk was still the starter with the best offensive RPM last year, and so much of what Dallas does requires Dirk's gravitational pull on the defense, creating driving lanes and open shooters. Let's not forget: Dirk was on fire both the first and last few weeks of the season. Reducing his workload could help keep him consistent.
Defensive MVP: De-what?
In all seriousness, Wes Matthews may be the only quality defender on the team (hopefully Justin Anderson can be one as well soon). Even though Zaza Pachulia posted great metrics last year, I'm concerned about how well he'll mix defensively with Dirk. Matthews can be the guy who can positively affect the team culture at that end, and I think more than anything he can set an example with toughness and hard work. The rest of the starting lineup will feature players you might call "finesse".
Desert island: I think I know who the popular pick might be, but I'll go with J.J. Barea. It would save a lot strain on my neck not having to look up during conversation.
Predictions: I think some within basketball media make fun of Mavericks' fans at this point, for being optimistic about Dallas as a playoff team even after the DeAndre disaster. Yet, almost every year since the title in 2011, the Mavs have been counted out only to -- lo and behold -- still be there come the post-season. Winning 50 games will be harder than ever, but if they can get to 46 I think they'll hold on to the No. 8 seed, and obviously be the heavy underdog in the first round.
Most exciting thing: I'm looking forward to seeing Wes Matthews back on the floor. His road back from that torn Achilles has been nothing short of masterful. If he really plays on Opening Night in Phoenix, it will be the most amazing thing I could remember. It shows how tough and gritty of a player Matthews is, which could go a long way to how this season goes for the Mavericks.
Craziest headline: "Raymond Felton hits game-winning floater over DeAndre Jordan as Mavs beat Clippers"
Offensive MVP: Dirk Nowitzki. It's still uncertain how Chandler Parsons will look when he finally does suit back up and Deron Williams' caves still can't decide how hurt they are, otherwise it could be one of them. So it's either Dirk or John Jenkins, and I prefer seniority in this instance. Dirk will need to carry the scoring burden for awhile until Parsons and Matthews both play at the same time, so he may be the offensive MVP by default.
Defensive MVP: Wes Matthews. They wanted him over Monta Ellis for two reasons: better 3-point shooting and defense. Matthews is going to improve Dallas' perimeter defense by leaps and bounds. He can't fix everything, but he'll help in areas where the Mavericks struggled heavily last season.
Desert Island: JaVale McGee. Think logically here. 1) He's funny as hell. While I'm trying to not go insane, he can keep us both afloat with comedy. 2) He's tall enough to reach the coconuts that I can't reach. That wingspan is going to come in handy. 3) He'll swat away all the giant bugs that will want to come and kill us.
Predictions: 42-40, miss playoffs by a game. This is going to be a rough year. If everyone was healthy, the Mavericks are a playoff team as a low seed. Maybe something clicks later in the year and they make a run. There's just too much uncertainty heading into the year that low expectations should be accepted.
Most exciting thing: I'm really looking forward to watching Dirk again. It's a lame answer to some degree, but I'm old and Dirk is the basketball equivalent of comfort food. I suspect he'll decline slowly as the season goes on but he's the closest thing I have left to a hero so I plan to relish every minute.
Past that, I have to admit I'm really looking forward to seeing Deron Williams play. I've followed his career since playing him in high school nearly 15 years ago and since he's always played extremely well during his visits to Dallas, I'm hoping his career sees a revival.
Craziest headline: "Rick Carlisle and Deron Williams form strong partnership"
The majority of non-Maverick fans believe that Rick Carlisle is too hard on point guards. They have three years of evidence and the fact that no guard since Jason Kidd has helmed the ship for more than a season. Dallas fans defend Rick Carlisle to the death, reasonably claiming that the front office has provided him with subpar players.
Deron Williams is the best fit and most talented player to get minutes at point since 2012. I'd like to hope that Carlisle and Williams click and the Mavericks offense thrives. Williams is a low-key coach killer though, so this partnership could very well become toxic in a hurry. But right now, I have hope.
Offensive MVP: It has to be Dirk Nowitzki, at least right now. I can't bring myself to hope for Wes Matthews to continue his miraculous recovery or for Chandler Parsons to recover from what has always been a career altering knee procedure. Deron Williams could have a career year, but as it has been for the past decade and a half, Dirk Nowitzki is the straw that stirs the drink.
Defensive MVP: If there is a "MVP" from the this year's squad, it will probably be Zaza Pachulia. But I don't think there will be a defensive MVP in any real sense. This entire squad, from point guard to end of bench players, is bad defensively. This could be the worst defensive team from Dallas in decades. Like, we're talking mid 1990's Maverick disaster squad levels of defense. There's just no one good at those skills on the team. It could get dark.
Desert Island: Wes Matthews and it's not close. He's the Robinson Crusoe of NBA basketball players. Wes would help us not only survive, but thrive. He's the kind of guy who makes lemonade out of lemons and on a desert island, that sort of drive and determination is how you make it out alive.
Predictions: The over-under is at around 38 games and I think that's about right. The tough first month paired with these obnoxious injuries to so many players means that Dallas will be playing catch up in the standings from day one. I suspect the season will be fun, mainly because the offense should be entertaining, but the bad defense and lack of talent in a crowded West means the Mavericks should end up No. 10 with a 38-44 record.
Most exciting thing: It has to be the uncertainty of this team and season. Anything can happen at this point: Dirk averaging 20 points again, Williams regaining his All-Star form, Wes continuing to defy the odds and doesn't lose a step, Parsons' all around game propelling him into top tier status at small forward. Shoot, JaVale might show plenty of maturity. All this can happen.
Or the opposite can happen and the Mavs crash and burn, which would suck. But the fact we have no idea what can happen with this team has me on the edge of my seat to start the season.
Craziest headline: "JaVale McGee making Mavs forget about DJ and Tyson"
JaVale is probably the easiest target in the NBA at this point. But no denying his talent and potential. If he can get healthy, and that's a big "IF", the Mavs have the athletic, shot-blocking center they sorely need and lost out this offseason.
Chances he's as good as Jordan and Tyson are slim, but if he can be an adequate starter, the team is in a much better place than anticipated.
Offensive MVP: Dirk, easily. He might not lead the team in scoring, assists, or even touches, but he'll make everyone better as he has throughout his career.
While Dirk isn't the MVP he was seasons ago, he'll make life a whole lot easier for Williams and Parsons when they're coming off his screens and get guys like Matthews and Jenkins plenty of open looks. No other Mav can create the shots he will and draw the defense's attention.
Defensive MVP: Wes Matthews. He'll probably guard all three wing positions depending on match ups and be great at it. He isn't as vocal as DeShawn Stevenson, but I think he'll bring a toughness this team really needs.
Justin Anderson and JaVale tie for a distant second.
Desert Island: Wes! He won't just keep us alive; he'll swim us back home!
Predictions: Mavericks go 45-37 and hang onto the eighth seed. The team is blessed with good fortune and health. Wes and Williams don't miss a beat early on. Parsons returns within the first month of the season and Dirk's body holds up well. Also, Jenkins solidifies the bench alongside Harris to give the Mavs the balance we didn't expect leading into the preseason.
I'd love a first round date with the Clippers but not sure they leap over the Warriors, Rockets and Spurs. Either way, Mavs have a tough first round opponent that probably results in one vintage Dirk game that will keep us happy despite losing in five.
Most exciting thing: It doesn't take much to get me excited for basketball. This year, the Mavs have a completely new roster (again) so it will be fun to see all the different lineups Carlisle throws out there in an attempt to find some consistency on both sides of the floor. But I'm really curious to see how a few of the new additions fit, namely Justin Anderson and JaVale McGee.
Craziest headline: "JaVale McGee is making a case for Defensive Player of the Year"
Offensive MVP: Hopefully, it will be Chandler Parsons. All along, he's said that he came to Dallas so that he can have a larger role with a team. With Monta Ellis is gone, this will be his opportunity to prove that he is worthy of such a role. He's still not 100 percent healthy so in his absence, Dirk Nowitzki and Wesley Matthews will have to carry the load on offense.
Defensive MVP: LOL. No one? On the perimeter, I think it comes down to Matthews and Anderson. We'll have to see how Matthews moves after returning from his Achilles injury but he has been a solid defender throughout his career. As for Anderson, he was highly touted for his defense in college. If some of that can translate in the pros then he'll likely secure himself a spot in the rotation.
Desert Island: One of the dancers. But if it had to be one of the players I think I'd like to be stranded with McGee. He just seems like someone who understands life and would be fascinating to talk to.
Predictions: I've said that I think the team will finish the season at or around .500. If that's the case, then they will miss the playoffs. However, anything can happen including the possibility that Carlisle works his voodoo and gets the team into the playoff chase. Heck, if Ben Carson can be a viable candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, then the Mavericks have a chance at making the postseason. But I'll stick with my .500 prediction for now.
Most exciting thing: Chandler Parsons' venture into stardom will keep my eyes glued to the screen for the entire season. He's said all the right things during the offseason, but now he has to prove that he's capable of being an All-Star level player. I'm not sure if Parsons can be an All-Star, but watching a talented player attempt to push past their perceived limitations is a major reason why I watch sports. For better or worse, the Parsons experiment should be intriguing on a night-to-night basis.
Craziest headline: "Charlie Villanueva sets the single-game three point record"
Offensive MVP: Dirk. Even at age 37, Dirk is still the major fulcrum of this offense. He's moved exceptionally well throughout the preseason and his quick release jumper has looked good. He started off really well last year until he struggled with that mysterious stomach flu that zapped his strength. If the Big German can stay relatively healthy in his 18th season, I think he's going to lead this team in scoring yet again. He's still the best shot creator on this roster, and the pristine spacing provided by Deron Williams, Chandler Parsons and Wes Matthews will give Dirk more room to operate this season. Until he's unseated by someone else on this roster, Dirk Nowitzki is their offensive MVP.
Defensive MVP: JAVAAAAAAAALLLLEEEEEE. The Pierre renaissance will take place over the course of this season. He's a perfect fit on both sides of the ball here. If the Mavericks find a high level of success this season it is because McGee plays to his potential. If healthy, JaVale could lead the league in blocks this season. If you have an elite skill in the league, and Pierre certainly does, Rick Carlisle can mold you into a very useful player. This team won 49 games and nearly upended the Spurs two years ago with DeJuan Blair playing major minutes at the center position. The Carlisle-McGee relationship will play an essential role this season.
Desert Island: Oh, definitely Zaza. He's a pragmatic pick. He'll help me build an awesome shelter and I'm taking Zaza in a fight with just about any animal. He's also a low-key funny dude.
Predictions: 51 wins. FIFTY-ONE. Lose in the second round to the Clippers.
Maybe I'm reading too much into 15 minutes of a preseason game played in Nebraska; maybe I've put a little too much hope into a 37 year old superstar; maybe a 7'0 center coming recovering from a stress fracture in his leg is not reliable. In the end, none of that trepidation matters because Rick Carlisle and head trainer Casey Smith are both warlocks who dabble in the black arts. The health of this team is a smaller question mark at this point, and if healthy, they're going to be an absolute terror from behind the arc. The top five teams in 3-pointers made last season all advanced past the first round. I think the Mavericks continue that trend this season. Carlisle has only missed the playoffs twice in his entire career. I don't think he plans on missing them a third time.
Most exciting thing: To see a Mavericks backcourt that actually works. Since Jason Kidd and Jason Terry left, the Mavs haven't had a conpletely solid backcourt. Monta Ellis was fantastic here, but he left it almost impossible to find the proper point guard to pair with. With Wes Matthews and Deron Williams surprisingly healthy to start the year the Mavs finally have BALANCE. Now awkward cross match ups. No weird spacing issues. No weird size issues. No moodiness. Just shooting, passing and defense.
Craziest headline: "Zaza Pachulia's triple-double leads short-handed Mavs to road win over Bucks." I'M ALL ABOUT THAT ZAZA.
Offensive MVP: Dirk. It's always Dirk. Chandler Parsons needs to take "the next step" but it's all moot without Dirk's steady shooting spacing the floor and keeping the Mavs offense humming. Dirk's age is keeping him from bulldozing isolations in the post like he did in his prime, but hopefully Dirk will hark back to his 2014 numbers with better floor spacing and no weird stomach issues.
Defensive MVP: Wes Matthews, I already love you. The Mavs' perimeter defense was a mess during the Monta Ellis era, but the Mavs made up for it with Ellis' offense. Now the Mavs have smart defenders in the post and wing, and if Matthews can show pre-injury levels on D, the Mavs will finally have something to throw at all those incredible West backcourts.
Desert island: Zaza has definitely killed for food before.
Predictions: Gonna be bold and say the Mavs scratch out 49 wins and drop out in the playoffs in six games in round one. I guess that isn't bold, but considering how gloomy it looked to start training camp, I'll take another competitive playoff season. I don't trust some of the other bottom-rung West playoff hopefuls, so I think the Mavs grab that eighth seed.
Most exciting thing: A group of perimeter players that actually complement each other. The last two seasons, the Mavs have rolled out a starting backcourt that didn't fit on the defensive end (Ellis and Calderon), followed by one that didn't really fit on the offensive end (Ellis and Rondo). Making matters worse last season, the Dallas guards didn't really complement the team's prize free agent acquisition, Chandler Parsons, because all three needed the ball in their hands. Deron Williams isn't the player he once was and Matthews' health is a question mark but the fit makes sense 1-3.
Craziest headline: "John Jenkins wins the Most Improved Player Award"
Parsons is the more likely candidate, but if Jenkins' level of play is anywhere close to what he did in the preseason, it's not inconceivable he could garner some votes. Recently the award has gone to former first round picks who have dramatically raised their production thanks to increased playing time. Jenkins' defensive limitations are well chronicled, but his ball handling skills were a pleasant surprise in the preseason. And the way the NBA has been going, 3-point shooting is more important than ever. Some consistent bench shooting would be a huge boost after all of those Barea-Harris lineups last year.
Offensive MVP: Chandler Parsons - if he isn't, something has gone terribly wrong. Dirk still changes the game with his shooting abilities but the last two seasons made it pretty clear the team needs to dial back his regular season minutes dramatically if he's going to be effective in March and April. The team has talked quite a bit about Parsons initiating more of the offense as a ball handler. This needs to be the season he plays up to his contract and meets the expectations of a franchise cornerstone, especially if the team hopes to attract any decent free agents in 2016.
Defensive MVP: Wes Matthews - it might be expecting a lot from a guy coming back from an ACL injury but who else is a plus defender in the Mavs' starting lineup? Justin Anderson should make a defensive impact as a rookie but he's still learning quite a bit about the NBA, and would have to make the kind of in-season jump in production Al-Farouq Aminu had last year to become the team's best defender.
Desert Island: This one is easy. Imagine you find out there are already natives on the island. You could probably use their help surviving to the next day -- finding food, finding a decent place to sleep, etc. But they're suspicious of the new guy. That's when you want the ultimate people person to make good with the established island folks. You want Chandler Parsons.
Predictions: 44 wins and a first round loss to the Warriors. There's no way I would put money on this team getting more than 41 wins right now but I've got to be irrationally optimistic to get excited for the season.
Most exciting thing: It's neat to have a young rookie prospect that should both see some meaningful minutes and has legitimate potential to turn into a quality player. I still love Bobby Portis and R.J. Hunter, but Anderson has sold me on his abilities throughout summer league and preseason. Even if everything goes poorly this season, let's hope Anderson is a shining light.
Craziest headline: "Dirk Nowitzki dances to Drake in locker room after game-winner"
Offensive MVP: It has to be Chandler Parsons. He doesn't need to score more or take significantly more shots, but he does need the ball in his hands much more than he did last season. He averaged four assists two years ago in his final season with the Rockets before that number fell to 2.4 per game in Dallas. His assist percentage plunged six points. His height, athleticism, vision and finishing abilities make him a devastating pick-and-roll man when given the chance. Let him handle the ball, let him run the offense and let him make the Mavericks great again.
Defensive MVP: Screw it. JaVale McGee. Pass me the bottle.
Desert Island: I'm not allowed to pick him, per the question's stipulations, but wouldn't Dirk already be here given the Mavericks' front office basically left him on a desert island since they won a championship?
Predictions: 41-41, finishing No. 9 in the West. The optimistic injury news of late has certainly given me more hope than I had. I'll even give them one more win than I originally had them slated for. But the top of the West is just so deadly and I have so little faith in this team being able to avoid a major injury to one of their starters (specifically Williams or Parsons). I like the starting five but I don't see a way for this team to not completely unravel if one of the key players goes missing for a few weeks with an MCL sprain.