Years from now, when Dirk has retired and we’re all getting to Mavericks games in our flying cars, it will be intriguing to see how history looks back on the 2011 Dallas Mavericks title run.
It wasn’t the most talented roster in the postseason, but it was a collection of players that worked so well together -- a testament to the idea that masterful coaching, combined with team chemistry (and a legendary MVP performance), can make you as competitive as any team.
Now, years later, the Mavericks have finally begun to rebuild for the next era, and there is reason for optimism. Some of that has to do with Dennis Smith Jr. purchasing real estate for his face next to every rim in America. But it also has to do with new players filling familiar roles. Though rebuilding a team isn’t as simple as dragging and dropping new players in to old schemes, it’s a way to identify what works within your current roster.
So with that in mind, based on their style and skill sets, what roles from the title team can the present roster fill?
Ian Mahinmi: Josh McRoberts
We start down low...and low on the totem pole. Memory does funny things to you, because if you’d asked me what Mahinmi did in the 2011 NBA Finals I would have said he contributed but in a small role. And I guess that’s true, depending on how you define contributor. Mahinmi played a total of 27 minutes in three Finals games, averaging three points and almost two rebounds per game. So...not much.
Similarly, McRoberts will not see the floor much this season. But if anyone can make use of an injury-riddled big that has high basketball IQ, it’s Rick Carlisle. Look for McRoberts to sit on the bench but still make significant contributions in the little time he’s on the floor.
Peja Stojakovic: Devin Harris
Peja didn’t see much time in the Finals in 2011. And while on the floor, he didn’t do the thing he does best: shoot (he went 0-4 from three in the Finals). Though if you scan further back in the playoff run you’ll recall Stojakovic going off more than once from deep.
Harris has more to offer at this point in his career -- he’s active on defense, can run the offense, and is decent to spot up from the wing every once in a while. But his highest value is being a savvy vet for all the young guards to learn from as the Mavericks continue to rebuild.
Brendan Haywood: Salah Mejri
Brendan Haywood was a fine if unspectacular backup to Tyson Chandler at center. Because Chandler manned the paint so well, Haywood was asked to do very little.
Salah Mejri has proved to be a feisty and affordable backup center. He seems to always be good for a couple of really surprising plays, followed by a couple of really boneheaded plays. But he can protect the rim decently, and is a solid bench player to mix things up down low. It’s unclear what the future will hold for the 31 year old Tunisian center (he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer). But while he’s in Dallas he will continue to be relied upon to anchor the post for the bench.
DeShawn Stevenson: Dorian Finney-Smith
Stevenson is the kind of guy you love to have on your team, but hate as an opponent. He was physical and gave the Mavericks starting lineup a toughness that every playoff team needs. What made him so valuable outside of his physicality is that he was sneakily lethal from three (he shot an impressive 13 of 23 from deep in the six games).
Dorian Finney-Smith was a welcomed surprise in a rather up and down year. He shows an ability to guard multiple positions, and the Mavericks will rely on that versatility off the bench. Many hoped there would be signs of growth in his perimeter shot earlier this month in the Las Vegas Summer League. Progress in that regard is pretty much MIA. But the front office looks to be investing in him for at least one more season, and Finney-Smith should take advantage by upping his perimeter play and defensive potential.
J.J. Barea: Yogi Ferrell
Of the many memorable storylines from the 2011 NBA Finals, the addition of JJ Barea in to the starting lineup for the final three games of the series has to be near the top of the list. Barea became the X-factor in the Finals. He ran the two-man game well, and was a spark plug off the bench on both ends of the floor, before starting.
Yogi seems tailor-made for this role. His style and mentality is molded so closely to Barea. Ferrell’s infamous 10-day contract stretch of games speaks to that ability, unafraid to take (and make) the big shot. Is he a starter? No, probably not. But he’s reliable and will most likely be an X-factor in many games in the future. If he continues to hone his pick-and-roll ability and tenacious defense, Yogi Ferrell will comfortably step in to Barea’s role as primary bench point guard.
Tyson Chandler: Nerlens Noel
At some point Nerlens Noel will be an official Maverick center again. And when that time comes (for whatever length of contract) he will be tasked with growing his game to match that of Tyson Chandler. Their mentality and style isn’t altogether similar, but Noel would do well to watch plenty of Chandler game tape to see how the big man commanded the paint on both ends.
Chandler, another big man who has consistently fought off injury, was a force and perfect match to be paired with Dirk. He was a floor leader and a machine in the pick-and-roll, on defense, and on the boards. If Noel can find similar athleticism and physicality (and stay healthy), he has the potential to be one of the best centers in Mavericks history.
Shawn Marion: Wesley Matthews
The Matrix came to Dallas toward the end of his career, and managed to find ways to adjust his game to contribute at a high level. It lengthened his career, and made him a legend with the Mavericks. He was the ideal Swiss-army knife that always took on the opponent’s best player on the defensive end, no matter the position. He also was a weapon on offense as a slasher (fun fact: attempted ONE three-pointer in the Finals...and missed it).
Matthews has unsurprisingly assumed those same defensive duties over the last few years with the Mavericks. It appears that with his inconsistent perimeter shooting that he will need to find ways to adjust his game offensively. But there’s no doubt that his leadership and work ethic is second to none on this team. For whatever length of time he’s with the Mavericks he will continue to be the defensive leader, and a reliable contributor whenever he’s on the floor.
Caron Butler: Harrison Barnes
As the Mavericks continue to add young pieces to their core, Barnes’ role should be different than what we saw last season. Credit Harry B. Many nights last season he proved critics wrong and simply was the Mavericks offense. Using some of the Dirk playbook, Barnes carried the scoring load in a lot of ISO sets.
But long term, that isn’t a recipe to stay competitive - Barnes will need reliable scoring threats and shot creators around him. And when that happens, Barnes will fit in to a more clearly defined role.
Caron Butler obviously did not appear in the Finals, though there were thoughts he may return. And Barnes is a far more versatile and durable offensive option compared to the injury prone Butler. But years down the road, hopefully the Mavericks are scheming with Barnes as the second or third scoring option.
Jason Kidd: J.J. Barea/Dennis Smith Jr.
It seems like the early hype around Dennis Smith Jr. is real. He impressed everyone watching Las Vegas Summer League in early July, creating excitement about his potential in the league. He simply is a talent the Mavericks have not had at point guard in a while. But his style of play does not match that of the hall of fame Jason Kidd. And it doesn’t need to.
In terms of game management, that responsibility will be taken on by J.J. Barea some. Smith Jr. will be running the show, but will lean on vets like Barea to learn how to be an NBA level floor general. Barea commands the offense, similar to Kidd. And as Smith Jr. continues to grow as a pro, the Mavericks will look to him to be one of the future leaders of the franchise.
Jason Terry: Seth Curry
Similar to Barea-Ferrell, this is the other comparison that’s mentioned most. And there is plenty of merit to it. Though JET didn’t start much his final few years in Dallas, his minutes never dipped. He was a closer. He came on the floor as a reliable sixth man who hit clutch shots and was the offensive heart of the team on many nights.
Seth Curry looks to have a similar mentality. He’s a scorer, and when given the opportunity of starter-level minutes he showed an efficiency and consistency that few expected. Don’t be surprised if Curry’s name isn’t called in many starting lineups, but is the first name called off the bench and is finishing a lot of close games down the stretch. His energy and clutch shot making is infectious. The only question will be whether the Mavs can afford his contract next summer.
Dirk Nowitzki: Maxi Kleber
It isn’t clear what the fellow Würzburg native will bring to the table. What is clear is he will not be Dirk, and no one should expect that. But many believe Kleber will be able to step in and contribute off the bench quickly.
In reality, Dirk is the only Dirk. He’ll be back for his 20th season with the team, and will continue to defy the lethal arm of time.
But long term this needs to be the question for the Mavericks front office: who can be their next Dirk, a player that can lead the franchise long term? Is he already on the roster, in Dennis Smith Jr.? Possibly.
Players like Dirk are once in a lifetime, so the idea that you can just go draft or sign or create another one should be tempered. But the search for the next franchise leader is attainable, and should be nonstop until he arrives.