The honeymoon phase with Salah Mejri is over.
Watching this 7-foot-1 big man block shots for the Dallas Mavericks is a sight to behold. He brings that Tyson Chandler-like enthusiasm and energy every time he plays. He’s capable of being an starting center in the NBA, but the Mavericks have the luxury of bringing the 30-year-old Mejri off the bench.
And while he will be backing up the newly-acquired Andrew Bogut this season, Mejri will be asked to take on a bigger role in 2016. He’s athletic, is a good pick-and-roll big man that can score around the basket and can take a charge a time or two.
However, Mejri had arthroscopic knee surgery on June 30 and missed Dallas’ first two preseason games. The expectation is for him to be ready on opening night, but any knee surgery is never good news.
Once Mejri gets on the floor, cutting down the fouls and improving at the free throw line is a must. Even though Bogut has played at least 67 games the past three season, it’s no guarantee he can stay healthy. And more likely than not, Rick Carlisle would prefer to keep second-round pick A.J. Hammons away from the floor as much as possible.
Biggest Question: Can Mejri stay out of foul trouble?
For all that we love about Mejri protecting the paint, his defense can get erratic in the event of a tight whistle or just dumb fouls.
Mejri picked up at least two fouls in 18 games last year. Eleven of those games he lasted less than 20 minutes on the floor, and played less than 10 minutes four times. It’s agonizing because it’s clear what Mejri can give the Mavericks; like a 13-point, 14-rebound, six-block performance on March 20 against the Portland Trail Blazers, or his coming-out party in Houston on Jan. 24 with 10 points, 11 rebounds (six on the offensive glass) and three blocks.
But he also had five fouls in both of those games.
One thing that should help Mejri stay out of foul trouble is Dallas’ clear-cut goal at trying to improve its perimeter defense. Adding Harrison Barnes with Wesley Matthews on the wing should make it more difficult for teams to attack the basket on the Mavericks this season (one would hope).
Dallas hopes to be a better defensive team, and having a guy like Mejri can help — so long as he doesn’t foul out in 10 minutes.
Best Case Scenario
Mejri controls his fouling and becomes a formidable defensive stalwart behind Bogut. The Mavericks, henceforth, can build a defensive second unit around Mejri and Justin Anderson.
Also, the Mavericks will have a top-3 bench in the NBA. They may not score a ton off the pine, but Dallas won’t lose that defensive intensity.
Oh, and we’ll get more of this from Mark Followill.
Worst Case Scenario
Mejri’s knee causes a slight setback and gives Hammons an opportunity to earn some time. If Chandler Parsons’ knee injury taught us anything, it’s that knees should be banned and life is cruel. Hammons has looked decent in preseason, showing tenacious rebounding and the ability to stretch the floor on offense.
If Hammons makes the most of his opportunity with Mejri out, there could be a change in the depth chart at center come opening night. And if Hammons exceeds everyone’s expectations, expect Mejri to find a new team in 2017.