This is the second of a three-part series. You can read the first part here.
Yesterday, we played out three scenarios where the Mavericks finish with a losing record, anywhere from 25 to 40 wins. It was a downbeat piece revolving around some key factors: Dallas' injured players don't recover quickly or easily, Dirk continues to decline, no one on the bench establishes themselves and the defense is hopelessly lost.
But there's a flipside to everything. Take the best case scenarios and the Mavericks could just as easily finish above .500 next season. With as much variability at each position, it's hard to accurately predict just exactly what Dallas will do next year. Good at three-point shooting, bad at defensive rebounding seems like a safe assumption, but beyond that, the table's pretty wide open. Here's an attempt to tackle some ways Dallas could finish in certain tiers in the West.
41 to 45 wins
Things go right and things go wrong, but a few more things go right. That's how any successful season plays out, usually. Wesley Matthews returns in December and only needs a couple of weeks to return to his former self while Chandler Parsons is ready to go on opening day without any real concerns. Dirk Nowitzki is still streaky, but his hot months early and late in the year and sandwiched with a couple of solid but unspectacular ones where his shooting drops gently with a parachute instead of a free-fall plummet.
Deron Williams isn't Utah Williams again, but he plays more like he did two years ago -- about 14 points on 45 percent shooting from the floor while making it through 68 games. Off the bench, Jeremy Evans is a complete steal as a rollman, defender and most importantly, an improved defensive rebounder. Justin Anderson is equally great as a 3-and-D rookie, although his role understandably drops off to an extent after Matthews' return. There are injuries here and there, but only one or two that cost anyone more than a week or two, and none of them happen at the same time.
Dallas is only a game back of Utah when April rolls around after making up some ground since the All Star break. Certainly, they have the opportunity to sneak into the playoffs.
46 to 50 wins
There's not much room for error. The close games, the overtimes, the back-to-backs against a division rival after a hard-fought win the night before -- the Mavericks have to get up for every one of those while also hoping their opponents don't.
To approach 50 wins means that the Mavericks' offense has turned into a maelstrom of ball screens and crafty pick-and-rolls turning into open three-point shots and high percentage layups. Deron Williams devastates one-on-one coverage and averages nearly eight assists by initiating an offense heavily focused on the drive-and-kick. Chandler Parsons returns from his injury and becomes the best spot-up player in the NBA -- not because he's the best shooter, but because he's also one of the best at pump faking and taking it to the rim. Matthews is jacking up eight three-pointers a game at a 40-percent clip. One night, with the shot clock winding down, Zaza Pachulia finds himself open in the corner and nails one, too. It truly is the year of the triple.
Javale McGee probably has to play a big role because I don't see Dallas solving their rebounding problem any other way, so factor him in for 18 minutes a night. They're painful at times but overall useful. Rick Carlisle doesn't kill him after McGee tips in a shot for the other team, showing remarkable poise and growth. Five years ago, McGee might have disappeared forever, but Carlisle can mature, too.
The schedule ultimately plays out favorably, too. The Mavericks beat Cleveland on a LeBron James rest day and take care of the Hawks at the American Airlines Center a day after Paul Millsap goes down with a knee sprain. It's this type of good fortune that helps them lose very little from last year despite a roster that's arguably less talented.
51 to 55 wins
Let's say Parsons and Matthews both start the year healthy and able and he adjustment period to an entirely new roster is minimal. Dirk only averages 15 points but it's on 50/40/90 so that's totally fine. Deron Williams hovers around a level of final-year-in-Utah good. I refuse to say McGee ends up being the starting center for many reasons -- but who the hell knows! Maybe that happens! Crazier things have happened than a 27-year-old on-court airhead finally becoming a starting center. I mean, I can't think of anything crazier, but I'm sure once upon a time there was at least one thing that might have been just a little crazier.
Playing defense with that front court is the thing that will hold Dallas back from reaching this many wins and there's little that can be done about it, which is what continually derails my scenarios of the Mavericks approaching or surpassing 50 wins. If Aminu was still on the team, there would be more flexibility, but Dallas lost him. Even if, say, Maurice Ndour made the roster and incredible as a rookie, he's not going to have the same time of impact. Aminu had a special ability to make up for other players' mistakes and losing him puts the Mavericks in jeopardy at that end. For the first time in a long time, Dallas will be good defensively in the backcourt, which is great! But good defenses nearly always are anchored by the frontcourt and the center position.
However, the biggest strength of this team is their offensive potential when the starting five finally comes together. Factor in a genius head coach and a savvy Hall of Famer who still has some tricks, and the Mavericks could still make some noise yet.