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A minute-by-minute analysis of Dallas’ roster holes

Projecting next season’s rotations down to the minute shows what the Mavericks should focus on in the draft and in free agency.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

An NBA game consists of 240 minutes, with 48 minutes distributed among five spots on the court. Generally, the starters take up the lion’s share of those minutes, but figuring out how to allocate the remainder often separates the good teams from the bad ones.

Looking at the players currently on the Mavs’ roster and projecting which players will stick around and how many minutes you’d ideally like them to be playing in the rotation can help identify holes in the roster. This, in turn, tells you a lot about what the Mavs need to do in the NBA Draft and free agency.

But before we jump in, let me outline a few assumptions I’m making in this analysis:

  • First, I’m reading the tea leaves and making the (completely unsourced) assumption that Devin Harris isn’t brought back next season. Right now, you’ve got four ball-handlers on the roster: Harris, J.J. Barea, Yogi Ferrell, and Seth Curry. None of these guys is likely your point guard of the future, so I’m assuming the Mavs plan to upgrade in some form or fashion this offseason. You’re not getting rid of Curry, because he is maybe your best bench scorer. Barea still has a couple of years on a decently sized contract, and you don’t really want to eat that money. And Yogi’s deal is super team-favorable if he keeps producing. So Harris is the odd man out.
  • Second, I’m envisioning Wes, Barnes, Dirk, and Noel (whom the Mavs will re-sign because duh, of course they will) as the starters at SG, SF, PF, and C, respectively. Rick Carlisle could go a different direction entirely, but to me this is the ideal for next season (we’ll discuss PG below).

Okay. Here we go. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to talk about 48 minutes each at point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center.

What the Mavericks have

Let’s start with the obvious big-minutes players: the starters and (probably) Seth Curry.

Harrison Barnes: 36 minutes

Harrison Barnes is arguably the best player on the team, and he will play heavy minutes. He averaged just under 36 last year, and I see no reason that number comes down next season. As with last year, I would guess that he splits time between SF and PF, so let’s say he takes 18 minutes at each.

Dirk Nowitzki: 24 minutes

Dirk is Dirk. But he’s also 38 and has dealt with some nagging injuries the past few years. I have no doubt he will continue to be one of the team’s best offensive weapons, but ideally you want him playing less than the 26 minutes a game he averaged last season. At least I do. However, based on the current roster makeup, you can’t really cut his minutes too much, as I’ll discuss later. For now, I’m slotting him for 24 minutes, mostly at PF. He’ll probably still play some small-ball center, because that was fun and effective at times last year. Let’s say six minutes at C, leaving 18 minutes at PF.

Nerlens Noel: 32 minutes

The Mavs clearly envision Noel as the center of the future here. He will be the starting center for this team and will play big minutes. Thirty-two minutes a game is a big jump from the 22 a game he averaged last season with the Mavs, surpassing his career high as a rookie starter for the Sixers. But when you look at the rest of the roster, it becomes pretty clear that Noel is the only proven, reliable option at the center position. You want him playing big minutes, and you just hope his body holds up. At this point, the big man rotation is mostly filled, with just a few minutes left over to spread between Dwight Powell, Salah Mejri, and A.J. Hammons. More on that later.

Wesley Matthews: 34 minutes

Wes has played heavy minutes every year of his career, and you would basically have to chain him to the bench to change that. He’s a starter, probably at SG, but as with last season, he will likely play a good amount of SF. Given the current glut of guards and lack of wings on the roster, I’ll go with 14 minutes at SG and 20 at SF.

Seth Curry: 30 minutes

Curry is an open question at this point—you could see him starting or serving as a Jason Terry-esque, combo-guard sixth man. Either way, assuming he continues to be the player he established himself as last season, he’s going to be a major part of the rotation. Projecting how he fits into the guard rotation is complicated and depends a lot on what you want to do with the other guards. For now, I’m going to slot him for six minutes at PG and 24 at SG, because that’s primarily how he’s been used in Dallas.

What the Mavericks need

Those individual per-game minutes add up to six minutes at PG, 38 at SG, 37 at SF, 36 at PF, and 38 at C. That leaves us with a total of 85 minutes left to play with, and already you can see the biggest question is the point-guard position.

So here’s what we’ve learned so far:

Dallas needs to find a starting point guard this offseason.

Seth Curry could be that guy, maybe. But he would need to show a big development in his ball-handling skills this offseason. Even if he did that, he is so good playing off ball and hitting catch-and-shoot threes, that you almost don’t want him to have to take on that role. What I’m saying is, the Mavs need to add a starting point guard.

Who they bring in will dictate how many minutes the starting PG should be allocated. All the rumors right now are that Dallas wants to draft the PG of the future. If that’s the case, maybe you play that guy around 24 minutes a game and rely on Barea and Ferrell as your backup ball-handlers, with 8-10 minutes each at PG.

If the Mavs change their minds, if the rumors are wrong, or if De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith, Jr. and Frank Ntilikina are all gone before the ninth pick—then things get interesting. At that point, you need Dallas to find a way to get one of the bigger name free agent point guards (and no, they don’t have a shot at Stephen Curry or Chris Paul). So they need to try to bring in Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, George Hill, or Jeff Teague. I’m not here to talk about how likely they are to get one of those guys—but assuming they can, they’re much more likely to play big minutes than a rookie, probably 30-34 minutes a game.

So how they fill the PG hole will dictate what they’re looking for in terms of backups at the other positions.

The Mavs need another rotation wing and big.

As the roster currently stands, you would expect that Barea, Ferrell, and Dorian Finney-Smith will all factor into the rotation, ideally at 10-15 minutes each. Ferrell is a PG, Barea can play PG or SG, and DFS can fit in anywhere from SG to PF, depending on how you play. The ways in which they fit into the rotation depend on whether the starting PG is a veteran or a rookie. If he’s a vet, there are fewer minutes to go around, and either you rely on a lot of (too many) three-guard lineups or you basically toss Yogi out of the rotation. If you go with three-guard lineups, you have to cut some of DFS’s minutes or play him or Barnes more at PF. However, if you want this team to be better than last season, you don’t want to be relying on Yogi or DFS as big contributors.

To me, you want another wing who can play 10-20 quality minutes at SG and SF. If the PG they want isn’t available at the ninth pick in the draft, who they select will have a big effect on how the roster shakes out. Whether it is Malik Monk, Jonathan Isaac, Justin Jackson, or Lauri Markkanen, the pick likely won’t be a starter. Isaac or Jackson fixes the hole at the wing. Monk and Markkanen do too, but in less direct ways. Assuming you draft Monk and bring in a veteran starter at PG, your guard rotation becomes a challenge. Monk can’t play SF, so Wes becomes a defacto full-time SF. Markkanen would have a similar effect on Barnes, pushing him almost exclusively back to the wing.

If the Mavs do draft a PG, I still want a veteran wing. There are 21 backup-wing minutes up for grabs, and I’m not comfortable filling those between Barea, DFS, and .... Nicholas Brussino, I guess? Jared Uthoff? Ideally, Brussino and Uthoff keep developing in Frisco and are relied on only if a major injury occurs. DFS is good in small doses, assuming his continued development. And Barea can only play at SG and even then, he is just so small. So give me another veteran wing to soak up some minutes behind Matthews and Barnes.

The Mavs also need a back-up big.

That brings us to the last glaring hole on the roster: backup big. What about Dwight Powell and Salah Mejri, you ask? Well... yeah, what about them? Powell and Mejri both show flashes of NBA play, but not nearly consistently enough. I don’t want to be overly harsh about it, but I don’t think a good NBA team should be relying on either of them as a major rotation contributor. There are 22 backup-big minutes available.

I would love to see the Mavs bring in a younger veteran to compete with Powell, Mejri, and Hammons for the primary backup minutes. If Hammons doesn’t stand out, he can continue developing with the Legends. If Mejri doesn’t, he could be cut without causing huge financial pains. The big problem is Powell, who is being paid like the primary backup. His contract makes it really difficult to fill the holes in the bench and potentially even hurts the Mavs’ ability to bring in one of the top free-agent point guards.

Several players need to go.

Right now, the roster is a full 15 players. On paper, they have the fewest holes to fill of any Mavs offseason roster we’ve seen in the past few years, but this roster was bad. Even after the addition of Noel, they were under .500, and so while the roster is full, I hope there is quite a bit of shuffling before the 2017-18 season. I’m advocating that they add at least three rotation players, including the draft pick. That means Harris is gone. Plus, one or more of Brussino, Hammons, Uthoff, Liggins, and maybe even Mejri need to make way for more reliable contributors.

Point guard is the obvious hole. Everyone knows it, and looking at the projected rotation confirms it. But there are less obvious holes here that will need to be filled if this team is going to get back into playoff contention, and you know that’s the goal Mark Cuban has in mind. I’m fascinated to see how they go about pursuing that goal this offseason.