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The definitive Dallas Mavericks starters tournament: Final Four

We’re close to the finish line, digging through 20 years of Mavs starting fives, to find the best!

Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

We’ve made it to our final four teams, in our offseason quest to determine the best starting five in the Dirk Nowitzki era. If somehow you’ve missed the journey to this point, check out the bracket and the first four parts of our series:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Make your voice heard and vote in the poll at the end of each match-up. Now let’s dig in!

#5 vs #9

#9 03-04 (52-30, .634):

  • Steve Nash
  • Michael Finley
  • Josh Howard
  • Antoine Walker
  • Dirk Nowitzki

SAM: By now we know the 03-04 group was lethal on offense. With Dirk at the center rather than a traditional five, this group was full of shooters, stretching the floor and playing fast. And surprisingly, this group was a better rebounding five than the 10-11 five.

Look, as we saw many times with offensive-oriented small-ish ball Mavericks teams, this style of play could only carry them so far. When this group got hot, there was no slowing them down. But if teams could disrupt their flow even slightly, things could unravel. With Nash, Finley and Dirk all going head-to-head with defensive players like Kidd, Stevenson and Chandler, they would certainly have their work cut out for them. It might be a little too much to ask Howard or Walker to pick up some of the scoring load, especially when they are tasked with guarding Butler and Dirk on the other end. Walker guarding Dirk is a severe mismatch, and one I imagine would be exploited frequently. At the end of the day, the 03-04 starters seem too unbalanced. I see their well running dry against a good defensive team in which there would be nothing else to rely on.

#5 10-11 (57-25, .695):

  • Jason Kidd
  • DeShawn Stevenson
  • Caron Butler
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Tyson Chandler

JORDAN: Though that 2003-04 group wasn’t a present day Golden State, there was so much offense across the floor that opponents would be forced to spread out the floor and be like them, or make specific adjustments to combat them. In many ways, it’s the same debate that rages on with teams today - do you try to match your opponent’s style and do away with a traditional center, or do you counter your opponent with a reliable post presence?

Well that’s exactly what this 2010-11 group would do, and you can get away with that if you have a center the caliber of Tyson Chandler. I’m writing this early in the morning, so forgive me Sam if I’m forgetting, but is their another player from the Mavs’ past that had such a profound impact on the organization in such a short time? Though the numbers tell us they might get outrebounded, I feel confident that the post would be well manned here.

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

And while we praise the 03-04 unit for their potent offense, this 10-11 team shot a slightly higher rate from three on a few less attempts (37-percent to 35-percent). The most common difference between early and late career Dirk teams is pace. This team played slower, but because their team defense was sound enough, they controlled both ends of the floor (8th in both offensive and defensive rating). They are one of the few “slow” teams equipped to effect such a quality uptempo offense. Once again, it’s that balance that makes all the difference.

Winner: 2010-11 Mavs

Poll

Who do you have advancing?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    2003-04 Mavericks
    (12 votes)
  • 93%
    2010-11 Mavericks
    (167 votes)
179 votes total Vote Now

#2 vs #3

#3 05-06 (60-22, .732):

  • Jason Terry
  • Adrian Griffin
  • Josh Howard
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • DeSagana Diop

JORDAN: I’m not sure it can get much more evenly matched on paper. These teams may have done things differently, but they found similar success. To be effective against such an uptempo and perimeter minded group, the 2005-06 squad would need to control the boards and be smart with the ball.

Controlling possessions may not be an easy task, with how fast their opponent likes to play, and how little they turned the ball over. So dominating the boards might be the key. I think Dirk and Diop are up to the task there. Griffin is on both teams and may help neutralize the field defensively at the two wing positions. The turning point might be Dirk vs Dirk, and Terry vs Nash. This team was 29th in the league in assists, so a lot of offensive creation weighed heavily on Dirk and Terry. And while I think the veteran experience of 2005 Dirk might be able to do enough on the younger version, can Terry keep up with the better all around talent in Steve Nash?

#2 02-03 (60-22, .732):

  • Steve Nash
  • Michael Finley
  • Adrian Griffin
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Raef LaFrentz

SAM: For a spot in the championship game, I don’t think we’d get a better matchup than this. We’ve got two teams who played respectable defense and scored at a blistering pace.

Let’s start with the point guard matchup you referenced, Jordan. At this point in their careers, Terry and Nash were both comparable shooters. Both guards shot 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from three in their respective seasons. The obvious is Nash was much more of a creator dishing out 3.5 more assists per game. Nash was the ignition to that offense; He made them go. With LaFrentz’s perimeter game pulling Diop away from the paint, it’s easy to envision Nash’s penetration creating a lot of advantages for this team. Mix in Finley, and I think this is where the 02-03 group separates themselves. A legit scoring two-guard is something the 05-06 group didn’t have, and I think it’d show in this matchup. Finley was on the back end of his prime but could pump in 20 points any given night. Dirk’s role on this team hasn’t even been discussed, but it’s clear that this group had a lot of firepower. Enough so, that it’d be difficult for the other five to keep up.

Michael Finley drives against Antonio Daniels Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Winner: 2002-03 Mavs

Poll

Who do you have advancing?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    2005-06 Mavericks
    (52 votes)
  • 68%
    2002-03 Mavericks
    (111 votes)
163 votes total Vote Now

We’ve worked our way down to two teams. And while the path to get here might have been a little surprising, there’s no doubt these two units deserve consideration for the best starting unit of the Dirk Nowitzki era. Check back in at the end of the week as we name our champion!