We've already seen three different starting lineups and rotations from Rick Carlisle and the Dallas Mavericks to start the season. With chemistry still building, players returning from injuries and rounding into shape and key guys expecting to sit out games (especially back-to-backs) for the foreseeable future, it will be tough to determine what guys will fill which rotation roles. We take a look at some options below.
Dirk Nowitzki (PF/C)
As of now, the Big German is probably the only lock in Carlisle's starting lineup throughout the season due to injury concerns surrounding others. Nowitzki will probably see most, if not all, his minutes at power forward. He finally saw his minutes dip below the 30 minute mark last year (first time since his rookie season) and that trend probably continues this season.
While he's still the team's best player, taxing him throughout the season makes no sense, especially early on. The Mavs have enough offense and playmakers, and should be able to minimize dependency on Dirk.
Chandler Parsons (SF/PF)
Parsons finally made his anticipated return Sunday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. Obviously the knee will be a concern, but I expect him to lead the team in minutes this season. Outside of Deron Williams, no other Mav really has the ability to create for himself and others and knock down shots. Parsons is also only one of two players (Wes Matthews being the other) who is likely a plus on both end of the court.
The Mavs' starting small forward might also see plenty of time at power forward, filling in at the position when Dirk checks out. No matter the position, we should expect a big role and minutes for Parsons this year.
Wes Matthews (SG/SF/PF)
We've already seen Matthews being held out for "precautionary reasons" on the second night of back-to-backs and that trend will probably continue, at least for a while. The Mavs have seven instances where they could encounter this dilemma for the rest of 2015, so the team could be without its best defender, shooter, and starting shooting guard for a good chunk of games for the next two months. If and when he's fully healthy, Matthews logging 33 to 35 minutes is a strong possibility. He has hit that range in each of the last five seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Carlisle threw Matthews on Markieff Morris to open the season and Matthews did a phenomenal job, limiting him to just one of six shots in the game and a single rebound.
Offensively, Matthews is easily the anti-Monta Ellis. He won't over dribble and isn't the same threat in the pick-and-roll, but he will knock down threes at a high clip and will be a useful threat in the post.
Matthews' versatility on both ends of the court is sorely needed to get the most out of this team. He'll guard point guards to power forwards and create so many openings for other Mavs on the offensive end.
Deron Williams (PG/SG)
Williams may be the Mavs' key to being a playoff team. The point guard position hasn't been this strong since Jason Kidd, and the Mavs may have finally found their answer to close the gap against the opposition. Unfortunately, Williams is already showing that his injury history isn't behind him: he missed the second game of the season against the Los Angeles Clippers because of a knee strain, and missed most of the preseason due to injury as well. Thankfully the Mavericks have quality depth at the position but for this team to compete, they will need Williams on the court and to regain some of that All-Star form he left behind in Utah.
Outside of the knee strain, Williams start with the Mavs couldn't have gone better. He scored a quick eight points against the Suns and finished with 12 on the night. He also added seven assists and, more importantly, has just ONE turnover; he has 15 assists to just two turnovers in two games. Carlisle challenges his point guards and will demand a lot. Time will tell if Carlisle and Williams can continue to get along, but early signs are encouraging, at least.
It would probably be best for the Mavs and Williams if he saw his minutes around the thirty minute mark early on. The options behind him aren't as strong, but we know they're up to the task.
Devin Harris (SG/PG)
The Mavs' best point guard over the last two years will once again come off the bench, and that's perfect. Harris will see majority of his minutes at shooting guard, but still has the capability to run point, and possibly even small forward if the Mavs elect to go with three small guards.
Harris averaged 22 minutes last season and expect him to be around that minute mark again this year. He's the Mavs best defensive option at point guard at this point. Offensively the numbers haven't always been pretty, especially those 2-for-1s, but his ability to push the tempo and get to the basket will always be a welcome sight.
He just needs to find a pick-and-roll partner off the bench now with Brandan Wright flying high in Memphis.
Zaza Pachulia (C)
Zaza will probably be the Mavs starting center for a good chunk of the season, if not all of it, even if JaVale returns. Zaza won't "WOW" many of us the same way Tyson Chandler did last year, but he is more than serviceable.
He'll defend, rebound, knock down some midrange shots, and make simple plays on offense. Zaza has averaged 25 or more minutes just four times in his career. So seeing him at 25 or under seems very plausible at this point, even with options slim behind him.
J.J. Barea (PG/SG)
How Barea still finds a way to get big minutes will always puzzle me, but it is what it is, and to be fair the Mavericks scored well above their average with him on the court. He'll probably get around 20 minutes again and control the second unit alongside Harris. Barea's knack for breaking down the defense is needed, especially to create open opportunities for Dirk, Matthews, and the other Mavs' shooters..
Barea will alway benefit for having Dirk on the court and Carlisle on the sidelines, but both also benefit, at times, with his play on the court.
Raymond Felton (SG/PG/SF)
The Mavs' fourth string point guard has made a strong case early on to get minutes on the court. When this team is resting/sitting guys out, Felton is a great insurance policy to have at the back end of the bench. Felton came to Dallas with a negative image, but he's been nothing but professional and a gamer (when given the opportunity) since joining the team.
But due to numbers, it's tough to see Felton being a consistent part of the rotation. I could argue how he probably should play over Barea, but that's not going to happen.
At this point, Felton's long-term role with the team is insurance policy and maybe even trade bait.
John Jenkins (SG/SF)
The preseason Cinderella may have had his role defined already. We knew with Matthews and Williams coming back earlier than expected a few players would see their minutes drastically drop. Jenkins went from team's leading scorer to playing only a few garbage minutes (Suns) to starter (Clippers) to not stepping on the court (Lakers).
Like Felton, Jenkins' role will be a rollercoaster early on with Wes expected to sit out games here and there. Carlisle trusts his vets: Barea, Harris, and Felton at the guard spots, Jenkins lack of defense, and with plenty of offense on the roster, Jenkins will probably be an emergency option and struggle to obtain a consistent big role.
Dwight Powell (C/PF)
There is no reason that Powell shouldn't be getting most of the backup big minutes at this moment. Evans has seen majority of his minutes on the wing so far, so Powell's biggest competition at the spot is Villanueva at this moment. In the Lakers' game we saw Powell get his name called ahead of Villanueva and play both big spots.
Powell's energy and versatility on both ends should make him the favorite, but he'll need to show consistency on the boards and defense to earn Carlisle's trust on a nightly basis, or Villanueva and Evans can creep into his minutes.
Jeremy Evans (SF/PF/C)
Evans, like many others, will find his role undefined for stretches. His athleticism, shot-blocking, and length is vastly needed with the Mavs current roster construct, so him playing ahead of Jenkins, Andersons, and others isn't too alarming at this point of the season.
If he can continue to expand his game as Al-Farouq Aminu did last year, there is no reason Evans should eventually be a constant part of the rotation.
Charlie Villanueva (PF/C)
Charlie V has been a rotation piece early on, but the hope is that's due to a roster that is still working its way into form. Villanueva is best as a spark plug for the offense is cold. The issue is, when he's off, he doesn't offer much else, so depending on Villanueva for big minutes can be playing with fire.
Justin Anderson (SF/SG/PF)
The Mavs rookie was penciled in as a starter for some, but even with guys sitting out, Anderson hasn't seen much playing time. We know Carlisle isn't big on playing rookies. It may be best for the Mavs to work Anderson in slowly. The team will eventually need his defense on the perimeter, so it will be huge for Anderson to be ready for when his number is called.
Salah Mejri (C)
With McGee out, Mejri is the only true big body behind Zaza. Despite that, Mejri will most likely either be at the end of the rotation or in a suit. He's also the most likely roster cut should the Mavericks see a player they want to add mid-season.
JaVale McGee (C)
The biggest body on the roster has no timetable for a return. The Mavs desperately could use his size and shot blocking in the middle. Once, and "IF" he can get fully healthy, there really isn't a reason to not think he could eventually start over Zaza and get around 20 minutes.
Many question McGee's court awareness, IQ, and maturity, but there is no denying he fills a huge need for this team. We can just hope Carlisle and this vet filled roster will get the most out of the Shaqtin-A-Fool star.
Here's a look at the Mavs rotation at this point.
C: Zaza/Powell/Mejri/McGee (out)
There's only been a small glimpse of the Mavs at full strength but it may have shown enough. We've seen Carlisle roll out three point guards off the bench and Powell get extended minutes.
Carlisle wants the Mavs to push the tempo, break down the defense, and create opportunities for shooters. Playing small and the veteran guards is the Mavs best option to accomplish that.
The team will eventually need to add athleticism and defense on the wings at some point, so Evans and Anderson working their way into the rotation would be more than a welcome sight down the line.