According to math, the Dallas Mavericks will not make the NBA playoffs this season. But we here at Mavs Moneyball love the Mavs. Like a lot. And we think you should keep watching them for the rest of the regular season.
So we asked the staff: what are you looking for from these last few games? What are you hoping to see from the Mavs as the season winds down?
Starting with specific players, first I'd really like to see Harrison Barnes get 5+ shot attempts off of drives to the basket per game. He just has to get free throws. Second, I’d like to see a lot more Yogi Ferrell playing in a J.J. Barea role, running pick and roll with Nerlens Noel. Yogi can score, but he misses a lot of what seem like easy passing opportunities.
For the team, the Mavericks need to start looking at different ways to defend the three-point line. They've been bad all year, so with the playoffs out of the picture maybe it's time for some radical approaches. The team isn't going to change much this off season given the cap situation, so they need to try some new things.
I would say "Seth Curry's point guard skills," but it appears injuries might curtail that experiment. Curry's season has had some peaks and some valleys, and while he'll have arguably one of the league's two or three best non-rookie deal salaries next season, after that he's a free agent. If Dallas isn't careful they could turn around and be face-to-face with a difficult decision about how much money to fork over if they want to keep Seth around long-term.
Some extra burn for Nicolas Brussino and Jarrod Uthoff to close the season would be nice, as well. At times Brussino has flashed a poor man's Parsons skillset, and the memory of the Washington game will linger for some time, but can he be a legit rotational piece? For Uthoff, the resume is even more blank, but I'm intrigued by his stretch four/combo forward potential, based on his recent D-League production and college profile. Both these guys bring shooting, and for a Maverick team that thrives on spreading the floor, finding cheap shooters is tremendously important. The Spurs have been crushing teams with cheap castoffs who can shoot for years; Dallas would do well to follow that blueprint.
To echo Kirk, I would like to see Harrison Barnes make a concerted effort to be aggressive going to the basket early, often, and strong. His fourth quarter against the Bucks on Sunday is proof that he can take over a game when he puts his head down and tries to get to the line. He needs to cultivate that mentality. He’s had a break-out season, and I'm starting to see him being given more respect from both opposing defenses and from refs. If he learns to be more aggressive early and often the calls are going to come, and when they do that is going to open up so many more opportunities for him offensively and for the Mavs overall.
Additionally, I would like to see a intentional effort to help Dorian Finney-Smith improve his three-point shooting by getting him some comfortable looks in games. We've seen him grow into a stellar defender this season, but in order for him to stay on the court and play defense, we need him to shoot much better than his current 31% from three. I think he's a better shooter than that, but he may be suffering from a little Justin Anderson syndrome -- when a player isn't the first offensive option, they often end up shooting more late clock and contested threes than they do good open looks. With the playoffs out of the picture, the Mavs need to focus on player development, and I think giving DFS a green light and some comfortable designed looks would do a lot to build his confidence going into the off season.
I continue to watch just in case Dirk scores 900,000 points and then ascend to god emperor.
If Dirk's sore Achilles won't let that happen, and he doesn't want to flex his full powers in some meaningless end of the year contests, I find the same scenario involving Nicolas Brussino to be equally acceptable.
I think the Mavs are going with Barnes-Dirk-Noel as a frontline next year so I mostly want to see how those three amigos work together.
With Barnes, I want to see his continued evolution into a number one scorer, mostly by adding a little Russell Westbrook to his game and drawing more fouls inside. With Dirk, I want to see if he's going be able to keep his scoring up while managing his health. LeBron may lap Dirk before he gets to #5 on the all-time list (I know he doesn't care about this business but I do). With Noel, I want to see his evolution towards excellence on the offensive end, specifically in the pick and roll. I want to see Hurlin' Nerlin Jam Sowell (TM) throw down three dunks a game.
There's still plenty to watch with Nerlens Noel and how he continues to adapt to the Mavs offensive and defensive schemes.
Outside of that, any burn for Brussino will be fun and hell, I still can't get over watching Yogi and waiting for the dream to end. He's a good shooter! Like, for real! That's been fun to watch as he also learns the nuances of NBA pick and roll game.