The offseason is officially over, media day has come and gone, and we're now just a couple of weeks away from the Dallas Mavericks’ 2017-18 season opener against the Atlanta Hawks.
Whether or not these Mavs will actually be good, there seems to be a level of excitement surrounding this season that we haven’t seen the last few years. The addition of Dennis Smith Jr., the expected growth of young players like Harrison Barnes, Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell, and the possibility that this may be Dirk's final season have all helped fuel that excitement.
That being said, what kind of season are the Mavs in store for? Is there a scenario in which you can see them making the playoffs? What do you predict the Mavs record will be this season?
The Mavericks will make the playoffs...if half the teams in the Western Conference get ravaged by injury. Otherwise, there is no chance. And if we're all smart little MFFLs (which we are) we know that that is ok. This rebuild takes time. We will learn a lot about the young guys this year, and next summer will be a very important crossroads for the team. But the playoffs this season is not part of that. This season is about chemistry, development, and locking in some young long-term pieces. As for a record, I've said all summer somewhere between 32 and 38 wins is realistic. So I'll say 35-47, sitting around 10th in the draft, picking up another talented young piece of the future core.
You're probably going to see a lot of low to mid-30s for predicted Mavs wins in this piece, but I feel like this team could be much better than that and make some noise if they stay relatively healthy. I screamed this all summer long it seemed (mostly to no avail), but the Mavs wouldn't have only won 33 games last season if Dirk hadn't missed 28 games. Yes, the West got better, but there are a lot of teams that will have to work out the kinks with their new teammates before they have a chance to become well-oiled machines (and teams like the Timberwolves, Clippers and Jazz seem to be more within the Mavs’ reach). Just because other teams in the West “loaded up” doesn’t mean the Mavs can’t earn a playoff spot. I see the potential.
Good health, roster continuity and Rick Carlisle (God bless that man) will help the Mavs grab one of those final playoff spots this season. I'm not going to predict that Smith Jr. wins Rookie of the Year, but he's definitely going to be in the discussion. And he’s definitely going to give us some of those “wow!” moments this year. I simply can't wait to see how he opens things up for Carlisle and the rest of his teammates. The Mavs will shock a lot of people this season and end up with a record hovering somewhere around 44-38. Don't @ me. Or do, I don't care! I believe in this team. Health will be the biggest question in my opinion.
On Media Day, Harrison Barnes said that he believes the team can make the playoffs. Nerlens Noel mentioned that Rick Carlisle has been using the word "overachieve" a lot with the players recently. If the team is going to have a chance at making the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference, they're going to have to overachieve.
Personally, I think the playoffs are a bridge too far for the Mavs. That's not to say that this team won't be fun or pull off the occasional upset this year. I fully expect them to do both. If the team remains healthy, an evergreen disclaimer in sports, Dallas should finish the season with more than the 33 wins they netted last year. I don't think 38 wins is out of the realm of possibility. Of course, if the playoffs fall out of the picture quick, this team will probably play itself into the lottery again.
It's odd to watch your team improve over the offseason and still feel the same about their playoff chances, but it's been a wild summer in the NBA. I think when it's all said and done the Mavs will finish with around 35 wins due to the punishing schedule that every Western Conference team will face.
That said, I think DSJ has a great shot at Rookie of the Year. He showed out in Summer League and he has enough quality teammates to benefit both on and off the floor, but his personal success will be one of the most closely followed stories for the Mavs overall. Good help and high visibility make good odds for a ROY candidate.
We've been saying for years how much deeper the Western Conference is than the Eastern Conference, but this year it looks like that dictum has reached an almost comic level. If Dallas was in the East, they would definitely be in the conversation for one of the last one or two playoff spots. In the West, that just doesn't seem possible, barring an unprecedented wave of injuries. The reality is that even if Dallas improves their record over last year's 33 wins, they could still finish worse in the standings. They finished 11th in the West last year, and one of the teams behind them (Minnesota) got substantially better.
My guess is the Mavericks win about 35-37 games and miss the playoffs. More importantly, I believe this will be a important year for developing the core that will hopefully guide the next Mavs contender in a few years. A healthy Dennis Smith, Jr. should be in the Rookie of the Year mix, and contract years for Seth Curry and Nerlens Noel could bring significant bumps in production. For the first time since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, Dallas might just be an exciting, young team. It's not the perfect way to send off Dirk Nowitzki, but it will be fun, nevertheless.