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3 discount big men the Dallas Mavericks should target

Center is a position the Mavericks can actually afford to buy low.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Though the Dallas Mavericks had a fairly successful season, one glaring weakness kept shining through. The lack of a competent big to roll down the lane and catch lobs from Luka Doncic kept the Mavericks’ offense from being elite. Dwight Powell served this purpose in 2019-20, but he just wasn’t the same after his Achilles’ tendon injury, and was ineffective in 2020-21.

The Mavericks obviously didn’t want to use Kristaps Porzingis in this manner. Willie Cauley-Stein was brought in on a cheap contract to see if he could contribute as a roll man and rim protector, but that experiment failed as well. Boban Marjanovic was probably the Mavericks’ best roll man on offense, but he gets exposed on defense. So the Mavericks will go into this offseason searching for depth in their front court yet again.

One of the available options is Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes. He’s exactly what the Mavericks need in a big man. Holmes averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and blocks last season. The problem, though, is this year’s free agent crop is thin, and Holmes is bound to cash in with a big contract. Holmes has suggested he’s looking for something in the area of $20 million per year.

There’s two problems with that. First, the Mavericks have committed a lot of money to Porzingis, and if he’s still on the roster next season, allocating that much money to two centers makes no sense. Second, even great defensive centers have been played off the court by small ball lineups in the playoffs recently. Is it smart to invest significant money to a position that can be negated so easily?

With that in mind, the Mavericks should go bargain hunting for a big man. Instead of signing Holmes to an expensive contract, they should find the next Holmes—an underutilized big man who’s poised for a breakout season. Or if that’s not available, a steady veteran who’s seen plenty of playoff battles. The three players below are some players to consider:

Mo Bamba

There’s a timeline where Bamba is drafted by the Mavericks instead of Luka Doncic. Luckily, that didn’t happen, and instead, Dallas is searching for a big man to share the court with Doncic. Bamba, currently wasting away in Orlando, could be a productive player for the Mavericks, and I can’t imagine it would take much more than a second round pick to pry him away from the Magic.

Bamba’s numbers don’t get you excited. He averaged eight points and five rebounds per game last season. He only scored 1.08 points per possession as the roll man on pick and rolls this season. That’s not great, but it’s just slightly behind Anthony Davis’s 1.11 ppp and the same rate as Kyle Kuzma, just for reference.

But the Mavericks wouldn’t be trading for Bamba’s past production. Rather, they’d be making a bet on his potential. Dallas has spent plenty of resources developing undrafted free agents into rotation players. Maybe putting the same effort into a former lottery pick would net even better results. With Bamba’s length and athleticism, not to mention his developing 3-point shot (32% last season), it’s a risk worth taking.

Gorgui Dieng

Another sleeper as a roll man, Dieng would be the perfect pairing with Doncic. Dieng scored 1.52 ppp as the roll man, which puts him in the 99.6th percentile in the NBA. The 6’11” Dieng is 31 years old, making him a nice veteran big for a team that was woefully short on experience last season. His best seasons in Minnesota were when he played with Ricky Rubio, and his play has fallen off in the years when he’s lacked an elite playmaker to feed him the ball. Dieng was bought out by the Grizzlies last season, finishing the year with the Spurs on a minimum contract. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, and shouldn’t be too expensive to bring on board.

Robin Lopez

Nothing about Lopez’s game really jumps off the page. He only averaged nine points per game last season. Even worse, he only grabbed around four rebounds per game, down from a career average of five per game that’s equally unimpressive. He doesn’t really block shots, either, averaging only one per game for his career. So why should the Mavericks sign him?

The 7-foot, 288 pound Lopez takes up space in the paint and is a veteran of several playoff teams. He won’t make spectacular plays on defense, but he won’t make mistakes. The Mavericks need experienced players to surround Doncic. The expectations for Lopez would be low. All that’s needed is a big who can back up Kristaps Porzingis for 15-20 minutes per game. Lopez could do that easily, and at a discount price. He played on a one-year, $7 million contract for the Wizards last season. If his market drops to $5 million or below, he’s a safe bet to raise the floor of the Mavericks’ front court.