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Mavs Mailbag: Naming one player at different heights, to build an entire Mavericks roster

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It’s another round of the mailbag, where we discuss the best defenders, free agency, and which player you’d build an entire roster out of.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks have hit a packed December schedule, and before we hit the heart of it, we’re taking your questions after a very successful November slate. As always, find our mailbag posts @mavsmoneyball, and send us your burning questions:

@DaltonRichard17: Carlisle said, “Barnes is a top 2 defender on the team.” Who are the top 3 defenders on the team?... Also, When DIRK?

I imagine had this discussion taken place on #MavsTwitter the top two defenders on the team would have been Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber, so I can only imagine the exasperation that populated twitter feeds.

If we’re talking versatility, this might be true. Few players on the team can guard inside and out, and Barnes has shown an ability to do just that over the last two-plus seasons. And we could argue many angles of what makes up the top defenders on a team — but here, the numbers don’t tell us Barnes is top two.

According to basketball-reference.com, Barnes is currently averaging .8 steals (fifth on the team) and .2 blocks (eighth), the same averages of fellow wing starter Wesley Matthews. Those match his career numbers in both categories. Barnes is also ninth on the team in defensive rating at 110, and has a defensive box plus-minus of -2.3, good for 13th on the roster.

Now these numbers can skew some of what the real story is — we have to consider workload, defensive responsibility, the lineups he plays with and against. But still, I’m not sure we can consider him a top two defender on this roster. Though I probably would if we were just talking IQ and versatility (alongside DFS). And though this wasn’t your question, if I were building a lineup just for defense, I’d probably have Dennis Smith Jr. (if he plays like he has lately), Devin Harris, DFS, Harrison Barnes and Kleber.

Aaaaaall of that is to say, my top three defenders right now would be DFS, Harris and Kleber.

Oh, and as for Dirk, I think we’re probably still a couple weeks away. But he’s closer:

@thisguythanh: Why don’t free agents like Dallas? Is there a bad perception about Texans? Is it the arena music? Is it Cuban? Is it the talent?

Wow, this is a heavy question. For those following along, the Mavericks have had a tough time hauling in any premiere free agent in what feels like decades. The Mavericks have been best at finding guys like Al-Farouq Aminu and Seth Curry, or looking at the trade market and finding undervalued players and letting Rick Carlisle utilize the best in them.

Yet still, every summer, the Mavericks are a team with tons of cap space and eyes for the biggest names in the game. No shame in that really; any team should want to spend their money on premiere talent. Only it never works, and often Dallas becomes a negotiating chip for players looking elsewhere. So...why? Ask our very own Doyle Rader:

But really it’s hard to say. I know Texans love to talk about the lack of state income tax, but honestly, I haven’t seen that factor in to any free agent’s decision. And yes, they do have top of the line facilities, a winning culture on the floor over the last two decades, and a top five coach in the league. Perhaps it’s owner Mark Cuban, who prides himself on being a player’s owner but might be a little too involved. Perhaps it’s the area of the country, far away from the flash and glamour of the coasts.

What I do think is that the Mavericks have been competing on Dirk Nowitzki’s timeline, all the way up to about two years ago. And that’s exactly what they should have been doing. He is a legend. But in that process, the front office ignored the draft, shipped off promising young players, and lacked the patience to develop anyone for the long term once Dirk reached the end of his career. And so I have to imagine young free agents looked at the roster, knowing Dirk would be done soon, and hesitated to join a team full of guys 30-plus years old. That’s why these last two seasons have been so important: the chance to have promising young stars lead this team, possibly making a future in Dallas that much more alluring.

We’ll get to test out that theory starting this summer, so here’s to more talk about DSJ and Doncic, and less animated video pitches.

@esorrentino24: With the West so bunched up this year, a few wins in a row could push you to one of the top seeds. Likewise, a few losses could relegate you to 14th. Does this landscape change expectations? Is it absurd to shoot for a middle playoff seed?

I think until we get closer to the all-star break, expectations should still be for the Mavericks to end up somewhere between ninth and twelfth in the West. As we get in to 2019, if the Mavericks are still challenging quality teams, winning close games, then maybe playoffs can be a real discussion. For now, I think we’re early enough to wait on that.

But playoffs or not, the Mavericks should have absolutely zero incentive to do anything but win games. And I say that for more than one reason. First, it’s going to be too hard for this roster to try and keep that protected pick. They will have to actively lose games at this point, and I don’t see them keeping pace with the Cavs, Suns, Hawks or Bulls. So they should be working to make that pick as far away from the sixth pick as possible for the Atlanta Hawks. And second, the Mavericks have a big summer coming up in free agency. They need to make this team and the pieces that stick around long term as enticing as possible for any premiere talent considering a change in scenery.

But even with those two ideas in mind, I think at this point eighth (maaaaybe seventh) might be the only playoff spot up for grabs. And eighth is a perfectly fair goal. To go from thirteenth to eighth in this conference would be a remarkable feat.

**Winning Question of the Week

@J3Wheeler: If you could have the Mavs where every player was the same guy but different heights, which Mavs player would you pick for your team? (i.e. a 5’10” JJ Barea, 6’3” JJ Barea, 6’7” JJ Barea... etc.)

Fantastic question. There are qualities all across the roster that you’d want to hold on to: the athleticism of DSJ, the rim protection of Maxi Kleber, the effort of Dwight Powell, the veteran savvy of J.J. Barea and Devin Harris, the clutchness of Dirk Nowitzki, the work ethic of Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews, the hair of DeAndre Jordan.

Entering the season I know I wouldn’t have even considered using Dorian Finney-Smith. But his versatility in today’s NBA is hard to walk away from. But isn’t Luka Doncic the right answer here? I mean the defense would not be great, but imagine a bunch of Luka Doncic’s of various sizes running an offense. It would have to be the best passing lineup in the history of sport.