Dirk Nowitzki playing center full-time has always been the worst idea in modern human history. It's such a terrible idea that playing Danny Fortson was considered a better alternative 12 years ago.
So when the Mavericks started entertaining the idea of doing this as a way of perusing alternative options in free agency this summer, I was worried. Dirk couldn't play center outside of spot minutes in his 20s. He's going to do this now? At 37? Are we mad?
The idea behind it, I can sort of squint my eyes and see it through the window blinds. The NBA is getting smaller and dominant post play is almost a thing of the past. Teams get their paint points off pick and rolls and ball movement, not isolating a 245-pounder on the block for 13 seconds. That means you can theoretically get away with a weak post-defending center and reap the rewards of more shooting, passing and offense on the court. Chandler Parsons looks pretty good as a small-ball power forward and the centers this free agency are either too dreamy for the sad-sack Mavericks or too Dwight-y.
If this lunacy is to be seen to its conclusion, then they might as well go full throttle with it. Enter Nicolas Batum, the small ball lineup pandora's box. Batum is a long 6'8", plays great defense, can shoot, can pass and can score in isolation. He can run pick and rolls. He can rebound. And proven as a vital skill in these 2016 NBA playoffs, he can punch people in the dick!
Batum blossomed in Portland as a do-it-all sidekick as LaMarcus Aldridge and then later Damian Lillard commanded the offense. He filled the gaps really well until some injuries and the ball dominance of Lillard and Aldridge choked out the total effectiveness of Batum's game.
Once traded to Charlotte, Batum returned to his Swiss army knife ways. His playmaking allowed Kemba Walker to spot up and enjoy some better looks beyond the arc, his defensive versatility allowed the Hornets to play defense-averse big man Al Jefferson more than he should and let a rookie big Frank Kaminsky take his lumps learning defense as a rookie. His shooting wasn't always spot on, but his ability to post-up and run pick and rolls gave the Hornets offense the juice it needed behind what was a solid defensive foundation before he got there.
The funny thing is Batum's numbers, while great, weren't crazy from his peak Portland days. He was just allowed to do the things he does well more often, which never would have happened with Lillard and C.J. McCollum taking more control of the ball. Batum is much better than a sidekick -- he's not a star, but he's not a third-wheel either.
Fit with the Mavericks
Batum, like Al Horford, would be another dream fit running pick and rolls in Rick Carlisle's system. Batum's well-rounded game would fit with practically every team in the NBA, but next to Carlisle and Dirk it would be like giving the Arnold terminator the liquid terminator's powers.
Offensively, as long as the Mavericks return Deron Williams, the Mavs would be nigh-unstoppable. The fivesome of Williams-Wes-Batum-Parsons-Dirk would pick, screen, roll, pop, pass and shoot its way through the league. The only condumdrum would be if Parsons and Batum could coexist on offense along with Williams. Batum and Parsons come from the same mold that when the ball doesn't find their way a lot they can drift in and out of the game. That would be the danger.
The other danger would be Dirk playing center the majority of the time and the Mavericks collective defense would be the personification of the Mr. Krabbs blurry meme.
It all depends on where the Mavs front office is in its team-building philosophy. Do they really want to commit to Dirk as a small-ball center? Then they have to land a player like Batum. Are they going to focus on finding Dirk a center? Then Batum has no chance of being here. Lately, the rumors and whispers are pointing to the latter, where the Mavs are most likely to go after a true center this summer.
Even if the Mavs commit to small-ball, landing Batum would be tough. The Hornets are finally back to relevancy and Batum was a big part of that. They'd be insane to not dump-truck a load of cash at midnight when free agency starts and Batum would be pretty silly to leave a team that has finally given him the responsibility his game demands.