As the wheel slowly turns on the Nerlens Noel situation, the Mavericks are obviously holding up their money for next summer. It is anybody’s guess who they’re saving it for (Seth Curry? DeMarcus Cousins? My butt?). But since the Mavericks have closed the bank this summer, it’s been fun to read into some of the smaller moves they have been making.
So far it’s been all partially guaranteed, fringe roster players that are more likely training camp fodder than anything else. However, the waiving of Nicolas Brussino means that a couple of spots up for grabs. Someone has to win those spots.
Last season, those spots were won by Brussino and Dorian Finney-Smith. They actually did stuff last season! Brussino had a handful of fun moments while Finney-Smith started 35 games, played in 81 and averaged right around 20 minutes per game. Not shabby for roster fill-ins.
The point is, while the probability that whoever snags these last roster spots won’t do much is likely, there’s always a chance the Mavs could end up relying on them. Especially with the direction the team is headed now that the Mavs have dipped their toes into the top-10 lottery pool.
Which means it’s not a bad idea to look at some of these low-key signings and see where the Mavs’ heads are at. After grabbing Finney-Smith last year and starting Harrison Barnes a majority at the four, it’s looking like now more than ever Dallas is finally embracing the modern NBA small ball.
I have to qualify the small ball with “modern” because, boy, do the the Mavericks love small ball.
The problem with the Mavericks small ball in the Rick Carlisle era has been they go too small, relying on three guards lineups (usually with that third guard being J.J. Barea) to try and juice a sluggish offensive performance. While it has been sometimes successful, it’s been frustrating to watch the Mavs downsize the roster so much while other NBA teams are playing small without actually being that small — plugging in rangy forwards instead of diminutive guards.
That’s why the signing of P.J. Dozier stood out. The dude looks like he was born to be an NBA wing.
Dozier is sturdy 6’6 with a 6’11 wingspan and 39’ vertical leap. He helped spearhead a South Carolina defense last season that blitzed its way to the Final Four. Dozier is long, quick, fluid and a defensive nightmare, regularly switching one through four and clogging up the passing lanes.
He fits the same profile of Finney-Smith, another long and athletic forward with good defensive pedigree. Players like Dozier and Finney-Smith are exactly the types of forwards the NBA is looking for — they don’t need the ball on offense and can switch on defense without being exposed.
Combine that with Noel (eventually) and Barnes and you have the makings of a roster that can just get after it defensively, with versatility to boot. For years in the twilight of the Dirk Nowitzki era, the Mavericks had to overcome a supreme athletic disadvantage. Now picture Dennis Smith Jr., Dozier, Finney-Smith, Barnes and Noel all on the floor at the same time. The lack of shooting on the wings would really hurt this lineup’s ability to score, but it would be so damn long and quick and fun. It also wouldn’t get run off the court by an opposing modern NBA lineup.
Lord knows Barnes needs more forwards to give him a break playing the four all the time. That’s where Brandon Ashley slides in as well. Ashley has been with the Legends in the D ... er G-League the last couple seasons and balled out in Vegas this summer. He’s another partially guaranteed contract fighting for one of those final spots.
He fits the same versatile mold the Mavs seem to be targeting. While he’s not a wing, Ashley can slide between the four and the five thanks to his shooting and size. I don’t trust he could be the sole big on the floor after watching him try to guard the rim and rebound in Vegas, but he’d work in a pinch. His great shooting touch would let him play next to Noel at the four, give Barnes a breather from guarding power forwards and keep up the Mavs spacing for Rick Carlisle’s pick and roll spread attack. Ashley can basically be what the Mavs have desperately wanted Dwight Powell to be the last couple of years.
Of course, there’s a reason these guys are available. Dozier might have been one of the worst shooting college prospects in this summer’s draft and his sub-30 percent mark from deep is definitely why he went undrafted. I’ve ragged on Finney-Smith’s shooting over the last year, but he at least shot well enough in college (36.1 percent over four years) to make you believe he could be a 3-and-D wing. Ashley’s rebounding and defense problems we’ve already been through, although he at least appears light on his feet enough to hang with guards and wings if he has to switch out beyond the three point line.
That’s the tough part — these dudes are raw. You hope Dozier can replicate what Finney-Smith did last year and Ashley make Powell expendable, but it’d be really crazy for the Mavericks to strike undrafted gold twice in two seasons.
It’s very tantalizing though. As terrible as the Mavericks were last year, they were 15th in defense. That’s actually not that bad! Especially for a lottery team. Take that defense, throw in a full-season of Noel with the potential of Dozier, Finney-Smith and Barnes and it makes you sweat really hard.
There’s at least enough here to feel hopeful about the mindset of the Mavs’ front-office when building the roster and contemplating a post-Dirk future. They targeted Barnes as a building block, Noel a linchpin and Smith Jr. a budding star — all three oozing with athleticism and defensive versatility. Even the drafting of Justin Anderson hinted at what the Mavericks were thinking. They probably have a long way to go, but Dallas appears to be ready to truly enter the modern small-ball era of the NBA.
It’s not much, but with how this summer has gone so far, it’s as comforting a thought you can have.