Preseason is underway and basketball is finally back.
It’s been a while since the buzz surrounding the team has been this palpable, and even though playoffs are not the expectation, this team should still be exciting and entertaining. However, there are question marks throughout the roster that need to be answered before the future of this team can be accurately forecasted. With that, here are the Mavericks with the most to prove this season.
Finney-Smith was a pleasant surprise last season. As an undrafted rookie from the University of Florida, he turned heads on several occasions with disruptive defense and timely hustle plays. Given Finney-Smith’s situation, the Mavericks got more than they bargained for from the long, rangy wing. In 81 games, he scored 4.3 points and grabbed two rebounds per night.
It’s important to view Finney-Smith in proper context, though. The Mavericks were a bad team which allowed a raw basketball player more opportunity at playing time than he might have received elsewhere. Frankly, Finney-Smith played 20 minutes a game last season because there really weren’t any other options.
He certainly can make his mark on the defensive end, but the praise stops there. Unless there has been significant improvement over the summer, Finney-Smith is a liability shooting the ball. Defenses don’t have to respect a player who shoots 37 percent from two and 29 percent from three. He is productive in other areas of the game but not enough to hide is offensive inefficiencies.
Players typically make great strides from year one to year two, so it’s important Finney-Smith improves as an offensive threat. After seeing the Mavs lose patience with the Nico Brussino experiment a few months back, the heat is on Finney-Smith to prove his worth. His contract is non-guaranteed this year, so Dallas could move on relatively easily. It’s up to Finney-Smith to prove he belongs.
Barnes silenced a lot of critics in his first season as a featured option. Injuries forced him into a larger role, and Barnes responded appropriately. In 79 games, he averaged 19 points and five rebounds in 35 minutes per game. The fifth-year pro was a midrange technician, flourishing in many of the spots Dirk excels at.
It could be argued that Barnes’ production was inflated being a top option on a bad team, but he certainly proved that he is more than just a floater on the perimeter like he was utilized in Golden State. Dallas used the versatile forward in the post, off screens and in isolation. Barnes particularly excelled in isolation taking advantage of mismatches when slower fours checked him.
But Barnes needs to show more this season, and he knows it. The three glaring weaknesses in his game last year were free throw attempts, assisting and rebounding. Of 16 players who played 35 minutes or more last season, Barnes’ 3.6 free throw attempts per game were the second fewest of the group. In that same sample, Barnes’ 1.5 assists per game were far and away the lowest of the group. Simply put, Barnes is not playmaking near enough considering the amount of time he is on the court.
Even knowing his weaknesses, it’s safe to say Barnes isn’t a flash in the pan. He acclimated better than anyone expected, and he deserves all the credit. But he can do more this season, and Dallas needs him to if they want to take the next step.
After a career year, Curry is facing more questions than ever before. In 70 games last season, Curry averaged 13 points and 3 assists on 48/43/85 shooting splits. With the Curry last name, the efficient shooting was not surprising, but Curry excelled as combo guard creating off the dribble and thriving in multiple facets of the game.
It bears repeating, Curry was borderline elite in certain offensive categories. When Carlisle deployed Curry of screens, he scored 1.24 points per possession putting him in the 93rd percentile. With the sixth highest three-point shooting percentage, he was a sniper from deep, especially in the left and right corners where he canned 47 and 49 percent respectively.
Not unlike Barnes, the question remains: can he do it again? News that Noel might come off the bench means Curry might fill the vacant starting spot. He played borderline starters minutes but only started about half of the season. Can he perform with opposing defenses locking in on arguably the Mavericks best perimeter threat?
Curry is entering a contract year at the right time with Dallas having cap space. If he can build off of last season’s success, he could land a long-term deal with the Mavericks. If Curry regresses, Dallas might be just another stop on the journeyman’s career.
Noel enters his first full season in Dallas as the Maverick with the most to prove, and for good reason. We might never know the full scope of the contract “negotiations” that went down this summer, but what’s evident is that Noel turned down a lot of money for a 23-year-old with a lengthy injury history and is betting big on himself.
In 22 games in Dallas last season, Noel averaged 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, one block and one steal in 22 minutes per game. Though he didn’t play many minutes, Noel was productive with the time he was given. His per-36 minute statistics stack him with players like Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan and Steven Adams.
While productivity has never been in doubt during Noel’s three-year career, health and availability have. Through four seasons Noel has missed 193 of a possible 328 games. In other words, Noel has missed a staggering 58 percent of games played during his career.
Noel has the look of a potential star. Bigs who can run the floor, protect the paint and guard on the perimeter are rare, but Noel can do all of that and more. He’s an instinctive passer, has a feathery touch around the rim and has deceptively quick hands.
With the number of teams that appear to have cap space next summer, Noel will have to do more than just stay healthy to earn his coveted pay day. He will need to be a terror defensively and significantly warp opposing defenses with his rim running ability.
Though it’s admirable of a player to have supreme confidence in himself, Noel has put he and his circle in a sticky situation. It will take a career year to dispel the critics, distinguishing Noel with the most to prove this season.