Coming into his second season in Dallas, Salah Mejri was looking to build on a productive rookie year. As measured by NBA experience, the 30-year-old Tunisian big man is young (prior to this season, Mejri had only logged 34 NBA games), so it was reasonable to expect his game to continue to grow.
In his 73 games this season, Mejri was mostly relegated to back-up duty, averaging 2.9 points and 4.2 rebounds in 12.4 minutes per game. His playing time hinged on Andrew Bogut’s health and coach Rick Carlisle’s lineup tinkering.
While per-36 minute numbers don’t tell the entire story, they are a good baseline in determining what a player would do with a larger workload, and Mejri’s numbers are fascinating through this lens. Per 36 minutes, Mejri averaged 8.5 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.3 steals and a whopping 6 fouls this season. Basically, Mejri was an extremely active player when on the court, for better or for worse. There is no shot Mejri doesn’t think he can block. I’m sure visions of swatting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook dance in his head.
This sometimes worked out in his (and the team’s) favor. Mejri had five games inwhich he snatched double-digit rebounds, but his most impressive game of the season came in a win against the Philadelphia 76ers in February where Mejri dominated to the tune of 16 points and 17 rebounds.
As the season progressed, Mejri became a pick-and-roll force. Per nba.com stats, he scored 1.44 points per possession and shot 80 percent as the roll man. That puts him in the 97th percentile of pick-and-roll finishers on the year. In other words, Mejri almost reached a DeAndre Jordan level of production, but without the benefit of playing with point god, Chris Paul.
Mejri also used this year to cement his reputation as a professional pest around the league. Following a December game against the Houston Rockets, Mejri’s ‘play’ led to a confrontation outside of the Mavs’ locker room. Pick a random game on the schedule, and there is a good chance Mejri was involved in an exchanging of words. Throughout the season he provided an edge to the team they otherwise lacked, but also put himself in bad positions and foul trouble with his overly aggressive play.
Mejri will be in the final year of his contract next season for approximately $1.4 million. In today’s NBA market, that is what the kids call chump change. Mejri will be a free agent after next season, so Dallas will want to maximize his favorable contract as much as possible.
If retaining Nerlens Noel is Plan A, then having a quality backup center is of the utmost importance due to Noel’s lengthy injury history. Mejri is that, if nothing else. He isn’t overly skilled on offense aside from his pick-and-roll prowess, so developing a mid-range jumper would help tremendously on the offensive end. He’s the only backup big currently on the roster who makes opponents think twice before waltzing into the lane. Mejri’s frame will always limit his ability to bang around with behemoths like Jordan or DeMarcus Cousins, but he can use his length to mitigate his slight build.
Mejri also needs to develop the ability to better control his energy. His motor is what will allow him to stick in the NBA, but it also gets him into foul trouble and limits his time on the court. Additionally, understanding defensive rotations and retaining Carlisle’s defensive schemes would resolve most of Mejri’s limitations on that end of the court.
Ultimately, Mejri will continue to be a good backup center in Carlisle’s system; he fits with what the Mavs want to do on offense and is a rangy, active defender. Minutes will always be hard to come by with Noel on the roster and the immortal Dirk Nowitzki playing some center, but given his cheap price tag, Mejri will be a solid option for the Mavs next season.