A lot can change between now and the start of the regular season, but as of right now, the Dallas Mavericks’ starters figure to be: Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Nerlens Noel.
Seth Curry proved last season that he is more than capable of being a starter in this league, and a good one at that.
Roundtable discussion: Taking possible injuries out of the equation, what has to happen for Seth Curry to gain a starting spot this season? Is there any other Mavs you could potentially see being a starter throughout this season at other positions?
I'm knocking on wood as I say this, but an injury to Noel would have to occur for Curry to gain a starting spot. As much stress Matthews' streaky shooting can cause, the fact of the matter is Carlisle loves him, and he's as tenacious a defender as they come. Last season the starting lineup of Ferrell, Curry, Matthews, Barnes and Nowitzki proved to be successful, and if something were to happen to Noel, I imagine this would be the lineup Carlisle would utilize.
The easy answer to the second part is to say I would not be surprised to see Yogi Ferrell start at the point some this season. Smith Jr. is sure to go through growing pains, and while Carlisle will certainly let the kid play through them, I'm expecting a stretch or two during the season where Carlisle let's Smith Jr. take the backseat and "earn" some starts. However, I could potentially see Finney-Smith receiving some starts throughout the season. If for some reason Barnes starts at the four at any point, rather than slide Matthews down to the three, DFS could start at the other forward. DFS would have to keep defenses honest, but it could be an alternative if Carlisle wants Curry to be the sixth man, a la JET.
Rick Carlisle is keen on saying that it doesn't matter who starts. Over the years, he's shown a willingness to ride bench players over starters down the stretch. Keeping that in mind, Curry averaged 29 minutes per game last season, the fifth most on the team. Further, in 70 games, he started 42. So he has experience starting, mostly as a point guard. Heading into this season, it's realistic to assume he'll see an uptick in minutes as long as his game continues to improve. However, breaking into the starting 5 could prove difficult.
More than anything, Curry is a scorer. He's not on the floor to facilitate or lock down opposing guards. He's in the game to shoot. His 10 field goal attempts per game were the fifth most on the Mavs. If he wants to sniff regular starting time, though, he's going to have to expand his game. To bump Smith Jr., he'll have to distribute more and attack the rim, collapsing defenses. In order to take Matthews' spot, he'll need to show a better ability to defend one-on-one. It's not impossible to think that Curry could do either but time will tell. Right now, I don't think it matters if he starts. He's going to get minutes. And when you look at the roster, having him come off the bench isn't the worst idea.
It's hard for me to see a scenario where Carlisle benches Wes for Seth. That being said, I could totally see a scenario where Dennis struggles (as every rookie does at some point), and Carlisle takes some pressure off of him by starting Curry at point guard for a few games. That would just be temporary though. Overall, I think Curry will stay in that 6th man role and thrive. He could still play starter-like minutes for sure, though, especially if he plays like this.
As far as any other "dark horse" starter candidates, I'd throw Yogi Ferrell, Salah Mejri or Jeff Withey into the mix. Yogi because, like with Curry, he's shown that he's capable of producing quality numbers as a starter. Again, if Dennis struggles, Yogi could be the guy picking up the slack instead of Curry. As for Mejri and Withey, I could see one of them potentially starting for Nerlens Noel in a worst-case scenario. If Noel starts to cause locker room problems (doubtful), or if he doesn't seem to be putting forth max effort (also doubtful if he wants to get paid next summer), then it's not hard to envision Carlisle benching him to send a message.
If the Mavs can avoid the injury bug this season, I think the starters will remain the same throughout and build chemistry together.
Because Carlisle likes to tinker with schemes and rotations, I'm sure Curry will get some starts. And most of those I think will come when Dirk is out on rest (Matthews and Barnes bumping down positions). But in a perfect world Curry isn't starting much. Echoing what has been said, minutes are what matter. And I think Curry is suited very well as the Mavs' sixth man. His mentality is very reminiscent of JET (who never started more than 12 games in his last four seasons, playing sixth man in his final five) and I like his offense coming off the bench. It will be needed...badly. What JET did that might be difficult for Curry, if Dennis Smith Jr. comes in to his own, is close out games. But at least early on it's easy to envision Carlisle riding with Curry at point to finish the game with the starters, as DSJ gets his feet wet.
As for other bench players seeing starting time, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Rick Carlisle Security Blanket JJ Barea. To me, if there's any sort of trouble with Smith Jr. getting acclimated to the NBA, Barea will be the one Carlisle will fall back on. Part of that is because like Curry, I think Yogi Ferrell makes much more sense off the bench (as younger Barea did). Carlisle is still Carlisle, and while there is a youth movement in Dallas, I think he'll pick his moments for the young guys to learn from the vets. Outside of that I've gotta think Dorian Finney-Smith would be the other spot starter off the bench (on Dirk rest nights, when Matthews doesn't move to the 3). Bottom line is the starting five shouldn't change much — and that's something to be excited for in Dallas.