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The definitive Dallas Mavericks starters tournament: part 2

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We’re neck-deep in the offseason, asking all the important questions, like: in 20 seasons, which starting unit was best?

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

On Monday, we began our series trying to figure out the best starting five in the Dirk Nowitzki era. And what better way to do that than a tournament? If you need to catch up with how we got here, check out part one. And we want your voice to be heard as well, so be sure to vote for your favorite at the end of each match-up!

Here is our 16 team bracket:

Now let’s dig in to four match-ups:

#1 vs #16

#16 2017-18 (Projected 38-44):

  • Dennis Smith Jr.
  • Wesley Matthews
  • Harrison Barnes
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Nerlens Noel

JORDAN: In between the writing of Part I and II of this series, ESPN released their projected win totals for the upcoming season, slotting the Mavericks as 11th in the West with 34.6 wins. Considering a few other sites with my gut instinct about this team, I’m sticking with it being closer to 38 wins.

Much like what this unit will face this season, they will have their hands full in round one of this tourney. That 2006-07 team was stout on both ends of the floor, but I’ll let you handle those numbers, Sam. The one stat I’ll keep for myself: pace. For the 2017-18 team to stand a chance, one area where it could really gain an advantage is the pace of the game, because the 06-07 team was 28th in the league in pace. This means Smith Jr., Barnes and Noel constantly pushing in transition, relying on Dirk and Matthews to be effective trailers. That is a totally plausible scenario, but it’s asking a lot of this new group to come together and keep up with a premiere Mavericks squad. But if we’re going to get an upset in this tournament, wouldn’t it be the number one team in the west that made an early first round exit to the Warriors? Too soon?

#1 06-07 (67-15, .817):

  • Devin Harris
  • Jason Terry
  • Josh Howard
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Erick Dampier

SAM: The best regular season in Dallas Mavericks history met a perfect storm. That’s the only way I can describe it. And I don’t want to try to describe it anymore because it’ll bring back such bad memories. But here’s the thing with the 06-07 team: they had the second best offensive rating in the NBA at 111.3 and the fifth best defensive rating at 103.2. They slowed the game down, rebounded the ball tremendously and, oh yeah, starred the NBA MVP Dirk who put up a 50/40/90 stat line.

Jordan, I agree with you on pace. The 06-07 Mavs played slow, but part of that was due to coaching. Avery Johnson was the one who championed a back to the basket game for Dirk, and that’s exactly what this group did – fed the MVP and let him work. This reason alone would mask any issues on either end, like Dampier guarding pick-and-rolls. Additionally, Howard’s length, athleticism and preference to play from the perimeter would be a tough matchup for Barnes. Ultimately, with three players scoring 16 points or more, MVP-level Dirk and an all-star in Howard, this group would impose its style of play rather easily in my opinion.

WINNER: 2006-07 Mavs

Poll

Who do you have advancing?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    2017-18 Mavericks
    (31 votes)
  • 87%
    2006-07 Mavericks
    (216 votes)
247 votes total Vote Now

#2 vs #15

#15 2012-13 (41-41, .500):

  • Darren Collison
  • O.J. Mayo
  • Shawn Marion
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Chris Kaman

SAM: Going off this squad’s record and winning percentage might be a bit misleading. Dirk, still the best player on the roster that season, sat out the first 27 games after having knee surgery and didn't truly find his groove until January of that season. Essentially, this group probably could have been a little better than we remembered. These starters led a team that scored 101 points per game, good for eighth best in the league, and both O.J. Mayo and Dirk shot more than 40 percent from three. Shawn Marion was entering the twilight of his career but still provided positional flexibility and perimeter defense. Chris Kaman was supposed to be the most offensively talented big Dirk had played with, but the combination of the two made for an absolute defensive sieve.

With all that being said, I think I would cringe watching these starters match up against the 02-03 group. Here's where I think the 12-13 starters have a positional advantage: small forward. That's probably it. Shawn Marion was a much better player than Adrian Griffin. Marion could effectively guard four positions on defensive and still keep defenses honest with corner threes and slashing. Griffin was a liability on offense, though that squad didn't really need him to score, right Jordan? While Finley was the better player, I think Mayo could probably keep pace. The per-36 minute numbers are surprisingly close, at least. Chris Kaman probably would struggle to guard Raef LaFrentz out at the three-point line, but let's be real, LaFrentz wasn't scaring anyone on the other end. As far as Darren Collison and 12-13 Dirk? They'd get absolutely cooked by their counterparts, but Jordan, I'll let you get into that.

#2 2002-03 (60-22, .732):

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

JORDAN: That 2012-13 team is such a great reminder that Rick Carlisle has wizard powers. You give me those names with any other active coach outside of Gregg Popovich, and there’s no way they’d get you 41 wins. And because the Mavericks have had Carlisle (and Dirk) at their disposal, they’ve been able to take guys like O.J. Mayo and find ways to stopgap the rebuilding process.

But that’s where my compliments end for the 12-13 squad, because there’s no way they’re getting past late-prime Michael Finley and all-stars Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. You can cancel out LaFrentz and Kaman. And I’ll give you the Marion-Griffin matchup. But the first big three of the Dirk era would have laid it on thick. This is pinnacle Don Nelson, and the number one offense in the league (103 points per game) would take it to a team that ranked 27th in the league in opponents points per game. In all likelihood Carlisle would try to hide Dirk on defense by putting him on Griffin, and switching Marion over to young Nowitzki. But I’m not so sure Mayo could keep up with Finley, Sam. In fact, one of the main issues with that 12-13 team was that it seemed Mayo and Dirk couldn’t operate that well together on offense. And there’s no doubt, Nash would have destroyed Collison.

WINNER: 2002-03 Mavs

Poll

Who do you have advancing?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    2012-13 Mavericks
    (6 votes)
  • 97%
    2002-03 Mavericks
    (217 votes)
223 votes total Vote Now
Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Michael Finley

#3 vs #14

#14 2015-16 (42-40, .512):

  • Deron Williams
  • Wesley Matthews
  • Chandler Parsons
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Zaza Pachulia

JORDAN: This was a tough season. The Mavericks had just come off a relatively successful 2014-15 regular season (more on that in Pt. III). But they spent the summer wandering in the wilderness of free agency. It seemed that Parsons’ charm and love of recruiting was paying off - except it was all aimed at a man-child who needed help making decisions. And all that was left was Tyson Chandler walking. Again. And a bunch of twitter emojis.

All things considered, the 2015-16 crew managed. The team couldn’t really do any one thing great, and couldn’t stay healthy. And if they weren’t injured, they were old. Zaza Pachulia was a nice surprise for the first two-thirds of the season, and it’s his matchup against DeSagana Diop that might be one of the more entertaining big man matchups we get. Sam, you know it would get physical. Both teams played at a slower pace (both ranked 27th and 22nd respectively). That puts a lot of pressure on Deron Williams and older Dirk to contain the JET-Dirk two man game in the half court, and Wesley Matthews probably gets the difficult task of trying to shut down Josh Howard. I’m just not sure I see a single aspect of the game where the 15-16 team has an advantage. Sam, just how badly would the 05-06 hand it to them?

#3 2005-06 (60-22, .732):

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

SAM: The 05-06 starters brought us all to some of our highest of highs and lowest of lows as basketball fans. They were a special group of Mavs, and were good enough to deliver the franchise its first championship if it weren’t for one billion Dwyane Wade free throws. They led an extremely efficient offense that crashed the boards, got to the free throw line and hit timely threes.

Jordan, you say you can’t see an advantage for the 15-16 group, but I think shooting guard might be the individual position where that group has the upper hand. While Griffin was a defensive stalwart, Matthews offers much more on the offensive end, which gives him the advantage. But this isn’t about individuals, as you know, and the JET-Dirk combo in their primes was quite a one-two punch. With Howard as an effective version of what Dallas always hoped Parsons would become, you get a lethal offensive scheme. And considering the 15-16 squad’s inability to rebound and shoot threes, I think this would be over rather quickly.

WINNER: 2005-06 Mavs

Poll

Who do you have advancing?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    2015-16 Mavericks
    (19 votes)
  • 90%
    2005-06 Mavericks
    (191 votes)
210 votes total Vote Now

#4 vs #13

#13 2011-12 (36-30, .545):

  • Jason Kidd
  • Vince Carter
  • Shawn Marion
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Brendan Haywood

SAM: Lockout-shortened seasons are weird because we don't have a full season of data to examine teams, but in 66 games these starters played solid defense (102.3 defensive rating was eighth best that season) but poor offense (103.3 offensive rating was 22nd worst). With Dirk, Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, outside shooting was good, but not great. Getting to the foul line was a huge problem. Outside of Dirk, there was simply not much offensive creation.

The style of play between these two groups are different, so I think it'd come down to which five could impose their pace. The 04-05 group would want to run and push the tempo, while the 11-12 team would want to control the pace and feed Dirk. With championship-tested players like Kidd, Dirk, Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood, it's no stretch to think they could do just that and muck the game up with veteran savvy and experience. The real issue is if they could score with the 04-05 group. This is especially troublesome due to this group’s inability to get to the foul line. Still, slowing the game down and taking advantage of their hall-of-fame point guard might just allow this 11-12 group might steal one.

#4 04-05 (58-24, .707):

  • Jason Terry
  • Michael Finley
  • Josh Howard
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Erick Dampier

JORDAN: Sam I think you’re right about that unit’s veteran experience allowing them to control aspects of this matchup. They were smart and dictated a lot of games to stay competitive. But while their defense was solid, I don’t see them being able to contain the perimeter shooting from this 2004-05 group. JET, Finley and Dirk collectively shot over 40-percent from three that year.

These teams are almost identical in their rebounding numbers, so I’m not sure there’s any edge there. Neither team was particularly sloppy with the basketball, both near the top of the league in turnovers per game. You almost had me believing that we were on upset alert, but then I looked at pure offense from each group. The 04-05 starters were giving the Mavericks 76 points per game. That 11-12 team? 53.7. How could they possibly make the game messy enough to stay within arms’ reach?

WINNER: 2004-05 Mavs

Poll

Who do you have advancing?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    2011-12 Mavericks
    (36 votes)
  • 82%
    2004-05 Mavericks
    (171 votes)
207 votes total Vote Now

With our top four seeds advancing to the next round, it’s all chalk so far. But we will delve deeper in to our starters tournament, picking apart more match-ups. And maybe finding a few upsets? Check back in to Mavs Moneyball as we discuss this, and more!