The off-season is effectively over. How the Mavericks have got here is for another discussion that you will surely see around these parts in the coming days and weeks. I've made no mistake in my intentions for the this summer: I wanted Chandler Parsons back and the Mavericks to pounce on the plethora of second-tier free agents.
That obviously didn't happen. What's done is done. Barring anything crazy happening between now and October plus whatever fringe players they tack on to the end of the roster, this is going to be the depth chart when the Mavericks roll out for their season later this fall:
PG: Deron Williams, J.J. Barea
SG: Wes Matthews, Devin Harris, Seth Curry
SF: Harrison Barnes, Justin Anderson
PF: Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Powell
C: Andrew Bogut, Salah Mejri, A.J. Hammons
Barnes is obviously the big point of contention here. He's 24-years-old, the top high school recruit from his class, a top 10 NBA draft pick and more recently, the most shook player in the 2016 NBA Finals.
First things first -- if Rick Carlisle expects to plug Barnes into Parsons spot in the lineup and run the same flowing, motion based, pick and roll offense, Barnes is toast. It's not that Barnes has never played in a system like that, quite the contrary, since he ran a flowing, picking and rolling nirvana in Golden State. The problem is Barnes has never been in a system like that as no more than a number four option.
That's not to say the Mavs are going to abandon Carlisle's style entirely, but tweaks have to be made. Let's get to things Barnes has never, ever proven to be capable of in the NBA:
- A reliable pick and roll creator/scorer
- A willing and able passer
- Off-the-dribble creator
Those are all things that Parsons does very well. They're things Barnes was never asked to do with the Warriors and the hope, from the Mavericks side of things, is that with a different role he'll show a more well-rounded game. It's hard to find any evidence of this being true simply because Barnes did so little outside of his pegged-in role in Golden State.
Last season he finished plays as a ball handler only 4.4 percent of his total possessions. Let that sink in. That mark is lower than Matthews, Al-Farouq Aminu, MICHAEL BEASLEY and even a shade less than Corey Brewer. Barnes was also assisted on 73.2 percent of his made field goals, which, again, wow. Considering Barnes shot 46 percent from the field and 38 percent from three, that doesn't bode well for his efficiency as a number one, two or even number three option in an offense. Remember, not only has Barnes never been asked to create his own shot in the NBA before, the shots he is getting are extremely clean looks -- Barnes got almost 60 percent of his shots with a defender four feet or farther away according to NBA.com's stats page.
If Barnes isn't cracking 40 percent from three getting wide open looks playing next to two of the greatest shooters of all time and two great passing forwards, then what's his shooting percentages going to look like trying to generate looks as more of the focal point of an offense? It could get ugly.
That's not to say, definitely, that Barnes cannot and will not be an effective scorer simply because the sample size of him handling the ball is so microscopic and he's still plenty young that it's insane to say with authority how Barnes will fare. However, there are some nice signs of hope that despite Barnes being as averse to dribbling like a cat is to a cucumber that he could possibly be a good scorer with more responsibility.
For one, when Barnes actually did finish plays as a ball handler last season, he shot 50 percent (15-of-30). Again, that's a frighteningly small sample, but Barnes has shown good ability to attack close outs with an aggressive first dribble before popping for a mid range jumper and it's a skill that's dated back to his college days at North Carolina.
In fact, his college career is actually perhaps the best indicator that Barnes can become a quality scoring option for the Mavs. It was there where he was featured as a number one option, attacking off the dribble and posting up a ton. Posting up is probably the best hope for Barnes in Dallas, and he shot 47.5 percent (38-of-80) in post ups last season without a terrible turnover rate. Unless Barnes magically develops some passing skills we've never seen before (he's never averaged at least two assists per game even in college), the Mavs could run Barnes through some screens, creating mismatches and letting him go to work to bully dudes in the post, with Dirk, Williams and Wes spotting up around him. Barnes has great size, length and jumping ability to get his shot over any defender and he's got a high-release too.
He'll definitely need to work on creating contact as his free throw rates have been abysmal. If you're wondering what Barnes' potential glass half full ceiling could be, look at Andrew Wiggins' last two years.
That might seem crazy to say, but Wiggins and Barnes college stats match up pretty closely and their skills sets are eerily similar. Here's Barnes per-40 minutes stats in college:
Wiggins ability to get to the free throw line is obviously the one thing Barnes needs to pick up if the Mavs really want to trust him with more offense, much like the Wolves allow Wiggins gaggles of post ups every game since he can draw contact. If the Mavs slow it down in the halfcourt, grind out some possessions that'd make Avery Johnson weep, that could be the best way to wring the potential out of Barnes.
It will also help to play a grind-it-out style on offense when the potential is there for a scary defense. Barnes' defensive metrics aren't the best, but he has all the physical tools to be a top-class defender. Bogut is already considered one of the best defensive centers in the game, Matthews played decent defense on a bum Achilles and Williams was pretty good on defense last year as well. Throw in Anderson and Mejri for more minutes and it's not insane to think the Mavs could have a top-10 defense next season. At the very least they won't be physically overwhelmed like they were at times last year when Matthews and Parsons were still recovering and Zaza Pachulia ran out of gas once the calendar flipped to 2016.
With Barnes, Matthews, Williams and Anderson the Mavs will also be able to switch way more than they have in the past and Bogut represents the best well-rounded center in the team's history after Tyson Chandler. Don't sleep on Bogut -- with Mejri and Powell around to keep his minutes under control, he can be a force on defense and his passing will fit in perfectly like Zaza's did, without the detriment of Zaza's dreadful finishing at the basket. Bogut isn't Tyson rolling down the lane, but he's certainly more of a threat than Zaza.
The bench should be better, as long as Barea can return to form before his hamstring injury. I rag on Barea a lot, but he practically saved the Mavs season after the All-Star break when he turned into Steph Curry-lite, knocking down threes off the dribble and in pick and rolls. If his shooting wasn't a mirage that'll help the Mavs tread water as they try to find offense without Parsons creating off the wing. Speaking of Steph Curry-lite, Seth Curry seems pretty good! I think.
Maybe. If we're talking small sample sizes with Barnes offense, Seth has even less evidence to show how good he can be. He's played 48 games total in four years and really hasn't shown anything at all till the Kings gave him some burn in late April and it was there he flashed a smooth shooting stroke, good handles and the ability to score and create a little in the pick and roll. He averaged 16.4 points and 5.3 assists per game in April and shot 48.9 percent from three.
He's young, which worries me he'll be buried under Carlisle, but Carlisle has always, always valued guards that can play both spots in the backcourt. Seth's game is growing but he isn't a one-dimensional offensive player like Anthony Morrow or John Jenkins. Running a pick and roll will get him minutes and if he can play some defense, he'll stick around in the rotation. It'll be important he does because Williams, Barea and Harris aren't exactly the standards of good health. I'm convinced if Harris plays more than 30 minutes in a game he shatters into dust.
This is going to sound weird, but I'm most excited of Seth's signing than anything else the Mavs have done. They didn't give him a lot of money, but they gave him the money that could have gone to Raymond Felton. To see the Mavs recognize they milked Felton for all he's worth and turn to a more unproven, younger but possibly more talented player is an exciting turn for a franchise that rarely picks youth over veteran experience. I was terrified of the Mavs giving Felton the Barea loyalty special and locking him down for another four years.
I have no idea how good this team can or will be. Too many unknown variables like Barnes ability to expand his game, Anderson and Powell's development along with the health of Williams, Matthews and Bogut. Oh and just another friendly reminder that if Dirk ever starts showing his age, this thing is boned. Once again, the Mavericks fortunes rest on Dirk being an All-NBA candidate, which is of course insane as he'll enter the season as a 38-year-old.
The too long, didn't read version: slow down the offense in the halfcourt and let Barnes work as a postup option, give Anderson and Mejri solid bench minutes to help the Mavs form a top-10 defense around Bogut, Barnes and Matthews and hope injuries don't crop up. Even if that all goes right I'm not sure if the Mavericks can comfortably say they're a playoff team, not with Utah's insane off-season and expected improvements from the Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Wolves. Like we say every season though, a healthy Dirk and Rick Carlisle always gives this team a chance. They'll just have to do it in a different way this time.