The Mavericks finished 42-40 last season, which was good enough for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. For a team that was coming off a disastrous offseason and dealt with all sorts of injury problems, that’s a pretty successful year.
And of course, a lot went right to even get to 42-40. Dirk Nowitzki continued to be a wizard. Wesley Matthews was somehow ready for the start of the season after an Achilles injury. Zaza Pachulia, for at least the first half of the season, was a godsend. Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri emerged when Chandler Parsons went down in the stretch run. The list goes on.
Of course, it’s easy to squint your eyes and envision that team with a losing record. This year’s version of the Mavericks is no different. I tend to believe this team will finish just about .500 and sneak into the playoffs like last year. But, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where everything goes wrong. So, how do the Mavs finish with a winning record or losing record?
The Mavs finish with a winning record if...
Health is the biggest key to this.
Deron Williams got hurt when the Mavs needed him most last season. He tried to gut it out, and he shed any ‘soft’ label that might still be on him from his Brooklyn days. It’s just hard to bank on a full season of D-Will anymore.
Andrew Bogut is better than Zaza, but his health is a big question mark as well. If he plays 70 games like he did last year in Golden State, the Mavs should be thrilled.
And then there’s Matthews. Even though he shocked us all by being ready for the beginning of last season, he clearly wasn’t himself. If Matthews more closely resembles his Portland self, that’s huge.
Dallas’ big free agent acquisition, Harrison Barnes, has to be a solid starter. Not a superstar, not an all-star, but a solid starter. Even if his offense takes a while to come around, his defensive versatility will help the Mavs in big ways. Add in making the open shots he’s missed in the preseason, and the Mavs should be fine.
And, of course, Dirk must continue to be Dirk. There are going to be slumps, but, if Dirk’s numbers are close to last year’s, that’s good enough.
Some other things will help. Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell’s development need to take another leap, Seth Curry needs to become a cult hero and J.J. Barea has to remain consistent.
If all (or almost all) of that happens, this is a fun team with a winning record.
The Mavs finish with a losing record if...
The scariest thought is this: what if this is the year Dirk falls off? Josh Bowe touched on this when he wrote about Dirk last week. He’s already a defensive liability, and if one of those shooting slumps lasts for an extended period of time, or, God forbid, the season, the Mavs are in deep trouble.
If Barnes turns out to be mediocre, or worse, that will be a problem. Maybe it’s the pressure of living up to that big contract, or maybe not being on the floor with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson exposes him. It’s just as easy to see this way as with him taking the next step.
If injuries ravage the Mavericks, that will be problematic. It’s easy to see: Bogut misses an extended amount of time with various ailments, and is never fully healthy for the entire season; D-Will’s injury history rears its ugly head. And suddenly, the Mavs are forced to rely on Barea and Curry for point guard play. If that happens, Dallas will be forced to rely on Anderson and Powell to create a ton of offense, which they aren’t ready to do at this stage.
It’s tough to see THIS much going wrong for the Mavs, which is why I tend to think they’ll finish just above .500. Whether or not that’s enough to sneak into the playoffs remains to be seen.
If Dirk remains Dirk, it’s really hard to see the Mavs finish below the 41-41 mark, even with injuries here and there. But, it shouldn’t shock anyone to see it all go wrong.