In the NBA, there are 82 game players and there are 16 game players. Those players who are good for the regular season and players who are difference makers in the pressure cooker that is the playoffs.
Dwight Powell is an example of an 82-game player. He provides rim running and through sheer effort can maintain the integrity of a defense predicated on trust and timely rotations. Dwight Powell also showed he is not a 16-game player. He was largely unplayable in the playoffs and the Mavericks hoped they could survive his minutes whenever he was pressed into action. The team and fans agree that the center position is in dire need of an upgrade.
The free-agent market is chuck full of 82 game players. Mitchell Robinson, Mo Bamba, Isaiah Hartenstein, Richaun Holmes, and Derrick Favors are among the names being floated in social media as possible targets. In truth, any of those names would be an upgrade over Dwight Powell...for the regular season. None of those players, however, would close games in a playoff series. Without question, our best lineup was Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Maxi Kleber at the five.
Playing five out (every player is on the perimeter) is the future of the NBA and presents unique matchup disadvantages for defenses trying to cover the sun with their hands. Kleber is the key to our closing lineup but he is 30 and has an injury history longer than a roll of toilet paper. He is no longer an 82-game player and should be preserved for the playoffs. As currently constructed, the Mavericks don't have a player capable of stepping in and doing what Kleber does. His ability to switch on the perimeter, knock down open shots, and protect the rim make him invaluable as a player. In truth, an upgrade over Powell is nice but someone that can step in for Kleber or play alongside him in certain lineups is what can take this team to the next level.
Unlike last year, the Mavericks have no cap space. Outside of a trade, the taxpayer “Mid -Level Exception” (TPE), the “Traded-Player Exception” (TPE) from the Josh Richardson trade, and the 26th pick in the draft are the only avenues to improve the team. Combine that with a lack of positive assets and it's hard to imagine we can get in the conversation for the Zach Lavine's of the world.
The best bet is to bank on our culture and coaching being able to get the most out of a distressed asset. It worked out with Tim Hardaway Jr. It worked out well with Spencer Dinwiddie and even Davis Bertans played some key minutes for us last year. Until the second of two first-round picks owed to the Knicks conveys, we have to be realistic about what is attainable for us and prioritize fit and potential over focusing on a player’s warts. Basketball Reference and StatMuse don’t tell the entire story when it comes to certain players. Context matters. Situation matters. Teammates, role, and scheme fit matter. How a player is used on their current team is not how they can be used here. Certain locker rooms are a ticking time bomb and can't afford to add a knucklehead or malcontent into the equation. The Mavericks can. Talk to any player and they will tell you how united and bought in the locker room is. With that being said, let’s take a quick look at the type of centers Nico Harrison and the front office should be targeting this offseason.
MMB releases free agent profiles and write-ups for potential trade targets during the offseason and we will dive deeper into the players mentioned below. For now, let’s will discuss them from a bird’s eye view and how the theory of them as a player is what the team needs as it looks to build on its appearance in the Western Conference Finals.
Myles Turner- PF/C Indiana Pacers
In a vacuum, it’s difficult to imagine the Mavericks have the assets needed to win a bidding war for the talented big man. His recent injury history and awkward fit next to Domantas Sabonis may have taken some of the air out of the asking price. Assuming health, and that's a lot to assume, Turner has the talent to win Defensive Player of the Year. He isn’t fleet of foot and won't allow us to switch 1 through 5 but his rim protection is beyond reproach. On offense, his ability to take and make 3s allows him to fit in nicely with the Mavs’ current core.
Christian Wood- PF/C Houston Rockets
Admit it, you just made a face and cursed my name. You probably let out an audible “no thanks”. I get it. Wood has had character concerns since his pre-draft process (editor’s note: he went undrafted after this) and has done very little to dispel those notions. His effort on the defensive end has been inconsistent at best and nonexistent at worst. Earlier I mentioned that culture and coaching matter. Houston has a problem in both areas.
In fact, every team Wood has played on in his career has lacked leadership and accountability. In Houston, Coach Silas has struggled to get his team to buy in on the defensive end. Sure, the roster isn't loaded with two-way players but the lack of effort and indifference on the defensive end is visible to even the most casual fan. Wood is the “vet” in the locker room but he isn’t equipped to take on that leadership role. In Dallas, he won’t have to. He has to fit into a locker room that trusts each other and holds each other accountable. On the court, he’s as close to a perfect fit as there is. Offensively, Kidd will ask him to set solid screens, dive to the rim, catch alley-oops, and hit open threes when both defenders collapse on Luka.
In certain matchups, Dallas can run our offense through Wood and allow him to punish smaller players in the paint. Defensively, he has the quickness and length to hold his own on switches and can provide solid weakside rim protection. He has a tendency to get bullied by bigger centers on the block but that’s no different than Dwight Powell and even Kleber. If Kidd can convince him to box out, he can also be a plus in the rebounding department. There are safer bets out there, but few, if any, could raise this team’s ceiling the way Wood can.
There are other centers out there too. Which appeal to you and why? Do you disagree with the premise on it’s face? Let me know in the comments.