Most fans don’t take NBA preseason games seriously. That’s understandable. The games don’t impact regular season standings, so there’s really nothing “at stake” for the causal observer. It’s just filler before the “real” season begins. Yet, for a number of players around the league, it’s their careers that are on the line.
The Dallas Mavericks currently have 20 players on their roster. During training camp and the preseason, rosters are expanded so that teams can take a look at various players trying to make it in the NBA. Since teams are only allowed to have 15 players on their roster once the regular season begins, this is a make or break moment for five or more guys.
For Dallas, head coach Rick Carlisle has mentioned that there are seven players vying for the final two roster spots. Dirk Nowitzki isn’t one of them in case you were wondering. However, Nicolas Brussino, Kyle Collinsworth, Dorian Finney-Smith, Jonathan Gibson, Keith Hornsby, Jameel Warney, and C.J. Williams are all trying to make the team.
Each of these players has a contract with the Mavs, but only Gibson’s is guaranteed. Along with Gibson, the other two most notable names in the group are Brussino and Finney-Smith. Brussino was a member of the Argentinian Olympic team this summer, and both Finney-Smith and Gibson played on the Mavs’ summer league team in Las Vegas.
While these three might draw more interest than the others, they’ll be evaluated on how well they perform just the same.
“A lot of it comes down to performance in games,” Carlisle said before the Mavs’ preseason home-opener. “And practices we’re looking at very closely as well. But the games is where it’s make or break.”
With the team resting a number of veterans early on in the preseason and only playing would-be starters for the first half, there are ample opportunities for the players on the cusp to step up. If they don’t, who knows where their careers may take them? Carlisle understands that.
“When I played, this was always the time of year I had to be at my best just to make a team,” he said. “I understand what those guys are going through very much. And I empathize on the one hand but on the other hand you just got to get it done otherwise you’re going to have to go to the D-League or somewhere else and keep working at it.”
However, it’s nearly impossible to judge the players based on their box score alone. Each one brings a unique set of skills to the court. For example, Gibson is a flat-out scorer. In Las Vegas, he averaged 17 points on over 50 percent shooting. Finney-Smith, on the other hand, averaged under three points and shot just 16 percent.
If you were to base it off of just those numbers, Gibson is clearly the better player. But doing so would also negate everything else that Finney-Smith does. He’s trying to make his way into the league as a defender rather than a scorer. Therefore, the box alone is not a great tool in player evaluation.
When the Mavs look at these players there are a number of things they have to take into account.
“A lot of it is positional and how we’re stocked at certain positions,” Carlisle said. “That will be part of it and then it’s about daily production in practice and in the games ... Every minute and every second really counts.”
So, preseason games might not mean anything in terms of standings and might not interest a number of fans. That’s fine. They don’t really have anything at stake. However, the games mean a great deal for the players who are trying to fulfill their dreams of playing in the NBA.