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The Mavericks’ best acquisition this season isn’t who you would expect

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Making a numbers-based case for this year’s best pickup

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks finally look like a real basketball team again. And with a newfound goal of the playoffs, plenty of questions have surfaced throughout the pre-all-star break portion of the season. What will the Mavs do with the aging veterans on the roster? Will Dirk Nowitzki’s health allow him to play 20 seasons? Is Yogi Ferrell the second greatest Maverick of all time?

Perhaps the most intriguing question, though, is who has been the best addition to the Mavericks?

The two candidates are obvious, and taking a deep dive into Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry’s stats shows how impressive each player has truly been.

The Case for Harrison Barnes

Barnes is a machine. Barnes’ usage rate of 26.4 percent is by far the highest of his career, yet he’s shooting 48 percent from the field, which would tie the highest mark in his career. Players almost always see a dip in their efficiency after taking on an expanded role, but not Barnes. He has thrived in the areas on the floor previously occupied by Dirk, providing a vision of life after the Big German retires.

Barnes offensive game has quickly proven to have few holes. He can drive by big men and post up smaller guards. He has also bailed this team out many occasions with his new-found ability to play isolation ball. If the Mavs need a bucket, Barnes can deliver.

Barnes is averaging 5.3 isolation possessions a game. He’s shooting 46.8 percent in isolation and scoring .94 points per possession. For perspective, LeBron James averages 5.3 isolation possessions per game, shooting 40.8 percent and scoring .90 points per possession. Considering last season in which Barnes only averaged one iso possession a game and scored .82 points per possession, his ability to change his approach has been astonishing.

Barnes has also flourished when posting up defenders. He is averaging 3.5 post ups per game and shoots 49 percent out of it. He averages 1.02 points per possession. For comparison, Carmelo Anthony shoots 43.2 percent out of post ups and averages .95 points on the same amount of possessions.

Maybe the most impressive part of all is Barnes does all of this while guarding the opponent’s best big man. Banging around with fives in the paint is taxing on a traditional three man, but since Carlisle has moved Dirk to the five, Barnes has battled on the block with players like Karl-Anthony Towns, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kristaps Porzingis, and he’s more than held his own.

The fact that Barnes leads the team in 46 loose balls recovered tells a lot about what kind of player he is. Barnes leads the team playing 35.8 minutes per night and is asked to do so much, but the fact that he’s elevated his game almost everywhere is downright impressive.

Barnes isn’t without flaws. He shoots 34 percent from three and averages 3.4 free-throw attempts per game. Teams are figuring out how to defend him by putting a longer, athletic wing on him. Al-Farouq Aminu is the prototype defender that causes Barnes problems. He’s also struggled to rebound. Ideally, Barnes would be in the Jimmy Butler to Paul George range of 6-6.5 rebounds per game, especially since Barnes logs 36 minutes a night.

Nonetheless, Barnes is remarkably consistent and exactly what the team was envisioning after inking him to a max deal.

The Case for Seth Curry

Curry’s play has been equally impressive as Barnes, if not more. It seems the more burn Curry gets, the more he showcases what he can do.

The last name Curry and shooting are synonymous, and Seth is no misnomer. Curry is a spot up shooter on 2.9 possessions per game, and he has been deadly. He’s shooting 44 percent and producing 1.15 points per possession as a spot up shooter. That puts him in the 85th percentile. To put this in perspective, J.J. Redick’s numbers as a spot up shooter are nearly identical: he’s shooting 43 percent, scoring 1.16 points per possession on 2.8 attempts per game.

In addition to being an excellent spot up shooter, Curry thrives moving without the ball and coming off screens. Curry is shooting 50 percent off screens and scoring 1.29 points per possession. For reference (and fun), Steph Curry is shooting 49 percent and scoring 1.28 points per possession off screens. They are in the 94th percentiles, meaning they are elite shooters coming off a screen.

Curry’s 42 percent mark from deep is best on the team by a healthy margin. Take this league wide, for players who have shot 200 or more threes, and Curry is the 8th most accurate three-point shooter.

Curry has been asked to work out of the pick and roll due to injuries, and he’s proven to be serviceable. On 3.9 pick and roll possessions per game, he’s producing .91 points per possession and has a 13.4 percent turnover frequency. That puts Curry in the 76th percentile. An interesting comparison is Raymond Felton. On 3.6 possessions, Felton is scoring .93 points with a 17 percent turnover frequency. Pair this with Curry’s shooting prowess, and it’s easy to see why Curry has played so well this season.

Curry has also proven his worth defensively. He is second on the team with 111 deflections, trailing only Wesley Matthews and leads the team in steals with 57 on the season.

Curry is not very athletic, he won’t overwhelm you physically, but he is a savvy basketball player. He understands passing lanes, which makes up for length and lateral quickness. He uses his body to shield defenders when he drives, which remedies his lack of explosion. At this level of play, Curry is a starting two guard in the NBA, which seemed improbable much of his first three seasons in the league.

Conclusion

While both players have vastly outperformed expectations, I believe Curry gets the nod. The Mavs are 10-5 since inserting Curry into the starting lineup, and while a lot of that is due to Dirk being healthy, Curry has played so well as a combo guard it’s hard to ignore his impact. And maybe the most important factor is Curry is playing for $3 million this year and next. Whether the Mavs knew it or not, they committed highway robbery. Oh, by the way, instead of re-signing Curry, Sacramento brought in Arron Afflalo on a two-year, $25 million deal.

This isn’t to diminish Barnes’ season. He’s been spectacular. But when you’re brought in at $94 million to be a top option, this is the kind of production you expect.

If Curry continues to play at this level, he will demand a lot more money after next season, but acquiring players like Curry to team friendly deals is what the Mavericks do best, and need to continue to do as they build into a Dirk-less future.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com and current as of February 10, 2017.