We were all wrong about Harrison Barnes. We can admit it now.
If you asked me back in July, when the Dallas Mavericks gave Barnes a max four-year, $94 million deal, if I would be content with him averaging 20 points and five rebounds a night while making 47.4 percent of his shots, you’re damn right I’d take it.
For as inconsistent as this season has been for the Mavericks, Barnes has developed into the future of the franchise. Yes, those are actual words. And they’re legit, too.
Rick Carlisle on Harrison Barnes: "His work ethic is second to none of any player I’ve ever been around as a player or a coach."— Earl K. Sneed (@EarlKSneed) February 10, 2017
Dallas has found its guy to lead the Mavericks into the post-Dirk Nowitzki era. Now comes the fun part: trying to build the right team around him.
Barnes will be the power forward of the future, regardless of what Dirk does. The Mavericks will need a center, point guard and another scorer on the wing. The perfect center candidate was just traded to New Orleans on Sunday, so hold off on that thought until at least 2018.
Here are some options Dallas could look to, via the draft and free agency.
Criteria: Someone who can score and play well off the pick-and-roll
Ideal candidate: Any of the top rookies, or Jeff Teague
The common theme is finding a guard who can score, pass and play the pick-and-roll well. The top rookies (with not much scouting on Frank Ntilikina) can do that.
The pie-in-the-sky dream for Dallas is getting Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or Dennis Smith Jr. Ntilikina, the prospect out of France, is the wild card rookie that has untapped potential. He can’t shoot, but has good handles at 6-foot-5 and an absurd wingspan (about 7-feet even).
Jeff Teague and Jrue Holiday will command close to top dollar this summer. It’s hard not to see Holiday re-sign with New Orleans, especially if DeMarcus Cousins is the piece that puts the Pelicans well into the playoff hunt.
Our own Josh Bowe talked about Teague as a trade target for Dallas last year. He’s still a solid 15-point, eight-assist guy for an inconsistent Indiana Pacers team, and he looks the healthiest he’s been in three years. Teague’s made 43 percent of his shots via the pick-and-roll despite only a 42.5 percent frequency rating. He’s also averaging almost a point per possession. Compare that to Holiday’s 51 percent usage in the pick-and-roll to only 0.78 points per possession.
Teague played his best basketball with an offensive-minded 4, whether it was Paul Millsap or Al Horford. Barnes is going to be that guy, and he’ll get more chances to be the roll man than his 8.9 percent usage rate this year would indicate. The small sample size indicates Barnes can get better in that spot, and Teague would be a good complement to him in that regard.
Shooting guard or small forward
Criteria: Either a reliable 3-point shooter or an athletic wing
Ideal candidates: Jonathan Isaac, Josh Jackson, Malik Monk, J.J. Redick, Ian Clark
A lot of options here, and Dallas can’t go wrong with either choice.
J.J. Redick is going to be a long shot. There’s no way he would leave the Los Angeles Clippers for a rebuilding situation like Dallas, but he’ll be the best shooter on the market this summer. He’s going to get some offers, and it wouldn’t be a shocker if the Mavericks present him with something of that nature.
If the Mavericks add another sniper, moving Wesley Matthews to small forward full time wouldn’t be a bad thing. Adding a guy like Malik Monk, the sharpshooter out of Kentucky is a good call, or prying Ian Clark from Golden State on a cheap deal would be a steal. Keep an eye on Clark, especially if the Warriors want to progress the young career of Patrick McCaw.
Keeping Matthews at the 2 isn’t a bad thought, either. Dallas can snag Florida State wing Jonathan Isaac or Kansas slasher Josh Jackson. Isaac is the more athletic type who has the reach of a Kawhi Leonard and a solid shooting stroke to match. With the ability to play the 3 or the 4, Isaac could grow quickly playing with Barnes and Matthews.
Jackson’s draft stock has skyrocketed since conference play began. He’s recorded five double-doubles since Jan. 28 and is quickly becoming the best two-way player in this draft class. He’s more than likely gone by the time Dallas gets to pick. But if not, holy crap, he’ll be a major get for Dallas.
The Mavericks will either play a ton of small ball with a deadly shooter, or grab a wing that plays both ends and can turn defense into offense. A shooter maximizes Barnes’ playmaking potential. The more he becomes the No. 1 guy on offense, teams will collapse on him hard in the paint, and he’s got to be able to find the open man. Having someone like Reidck, Clark or Monk will help.
The Mavericks can also form a long, defensive juggernaut. Think of adding Dorian Finney-Smith, but with better offense. That’s what Dallas can get in Isaac or Jackson. I like Isaac’s upside, but Jackson might be the best player in the country not named Fultz.
Criteria: Young, solid rim protector or a stretch 5
Ideal candidates: Nerlens Noel, Lauri Markkanen
As you can see, not a lot of options here. And one of them is a power forward in college who will turn 20 years old in May.
Noel will be the prized rim protector this summer, and will be such as a restricted free agent. Philadelphia could match any offer for Noel, especially if it finds a trade suitor for Jahlil Okafor at some point this century, but he could use a much-needed change of scenery. The risk here is Noel doesn’t have a post-up game in his body. The Sixers only go to Noel 1.6 percent of the time in post-up situations.
If the Mavericks don’t grab a point guard or the wings mentioned above, Markkanen might be the right choice for Dallas. The stretch power forward from Arizona is 7-foot even and is clearly the best shooting big man in the class. He’s not on a Kristaps Porzingis level by any means, but he can score and rebound. Those are two traits Dallas desperately needs. He’s also one of the top players in the country in halfcourt scoring efficiency at almost 1.3 points per possession. That’s pretty freaking good at the college level.
Markkanen would fit like a glove with Barnes offensively, seeing how well he’s played since Dirk’s move to center. The two would create a deadly pick-and-pop game, which Noel has yet to master. I wouldn’t be too mad at this pick.
Regardless, this is going to be a tricky rebuild, but it can be done right if the Mavericks field the right type of team around its future star and face of the franchise.