Every offseason, Seth Partnow of The Athletic releases his NBA Player Tiers project, in which he names the top 125 players in the league and separates them into five distinct tiers. It’s not a specific ranking, but a way to organize players into grouping of superstars, starters, and everything in between.
The list is interesting on its own, but it illuminates an issue with the Dallas Mavericks’ roster. The Mavericks have Luka Doncic, a generational superstar, and some solid role pl ayers, but no depth in between those tiers.
Partnow has Doncic in Tier 1B, fifth in the NBA, ahead of Joel Embiid and behind Kevin Durant. You could argue that Doncic is ahead of Durant at this point, or that Embiid should be ahead of Doncic, but that grouping is accurate. Doncic is one of the elite players in the league, and the only thing separating him from the true greats at the top of the list (Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokic) are team success and high level play for an entire season. He’s tiered perfectly.
The problem is that the Mavericks’ next ranked player is Dorian Finney-Smith in Tier 4. Partnow has Finney-Smith grouped with players such as Andrew Wiggins, Mikal Bridges, and OG Anunoby. That feels right. Partnow has dubbed this group as “Elite Role Players” and that describes them perfectly. Finney-Smith’s ceiling is pretty low, but he plays his role for the Mavericks about as perfectly as he can.
In Tier 5, the Mavericks have Spencer Dinwiddie and Maxi Kleber. That’s it. No other players made the cut for the Mavericks. It’s simultaneously impressive and concerning that the Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals with a roster that’s so bottom heavy.
How do the Mavericks compare with other contenders in the NBA? Ryan Blackburn of Mile HIgh Sports did a great breakdown of every team in the Western Conference, assigning points to every tier and calculating the talent level of those teams.
The Golden State Warriors came in at the top spot. They sported Curry in Tier 1, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson in Tier 3, Wiggins and Jordan Poole in Tier 4, and Kevon Looney in Tier 5.
The Phoenix Suns, who suffered one of the worst Game 7 beatdowns in playoff history at the hands of the Mavericks, were second. They don’t have any players in Tier 1, but had Chris Paul and Devin Booker in Tier 2, Deandre Ayton and Bridges in Tier 4, and Jae Crowder and Cam Johnson in Tier 5.
It goes on like that. There are several quality playoff teams with several players populating Partnow’s tiers, while the Mavericks have only four. In Blackburn’s point system, the Mavericks rank ninth, behind the Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers, and New Orleans Pelicans.
It’s concerning if you have high hopes for another deep postseason run for Dallas. Several other Western Conference teams have managed to build rosters that feature multiple players in multiple tiers. The Mavericks, on the other hand, have done a great job at developing solid role players in the bottom tiers, but lack the borderline all-stars that could push them over the top.
The Mavericks front office still has a lot of work to do, despite the run to the conference finals last season. They have to figure out a way to upgrade the quality of the roster behind Doncic if they want to be a perennial contender in a forever stacked Western Conference.