It’s halfway through the NBA regular season for these Dallas Mavericks, give or take a game. An unforeseen break gives us a chance to reflect on the season to date and look ahead.
So here’s the question I posed to the staff: where are you with this team? What’s their ceiling? Or floor?
Matt: As someone who was too caught up in the Texas Rangers World Series run this summer to make a preseason prediction about the Mavericks, it brings me no joy to say... this is exactly what I thought was going to happen and I’ve been right the whole time. But, more seriously, Dallas this season has had more time lost to injury and more starting lineups than just about any non-tanking team. With how inconsistent the lineup has been, and how much they’ve had to depend on a rookie center, I’d say we’re looking at the floor. My hope is that the Mavericks can get healthy in the back half of the season, Dereck Lively gets more comfortable with NBA basketball, and they can move into the top four in the wide-open West. Just four games separate Dallas from the second-place Thunder, so nothing is out of the question right now.
Matt M.: Before the season, my prediction for this team was 42 wins and the 8-seed. I feel pretty good about that at about the halfway point. I would make only the slightest upward adjustment if forced to — to something like 45 wins and the 7-seed. Right now I think the floor for this team is 40 wins. That would be a bad and disappointing result, but completely within the realm of possibility, especially when you consider how unlucky the Mavericks have been with injury already this year. The absolute ceiling is 49 wins as far as I can tell. Maybe, just maybe that’s good enough for the 5-seed in the West. I’d be very impressed if that’s what ends up happening. If the Mavs get to 49 or 50 wins it likely means the team put together a good trade before the Feb. 8 trade deadline that made a little bit of an improvement that I didn’t see coming.
Ben: Dereck Lively has been better than I thought he would be, playing like he’s a second-year center rather than a rookie. That raises the Mavericks’ ceiling a bit, I think. However, at halfway through the season, teams are who they are. And per Tankathon, the Mavericks have the 11th toughest strength of schedule remaining. So I think they settle in around 45 wins, which probably means the play-in tournament. That’s better than I thought at the beginning of the year, when I predicted 43 wins.
Josh: The Mavericks are about on pace for my preseason prediction of 45 wins — the team sits at 24-18, which if the team plays .500 basketball from here on out would get to 44. Cleaning the Glass currently has them projected for around 43 wins. What’s different is how exactly the Mavericks have gotten here. Dereck Lively is better and Grant Williams worse than I originally thought, though the added depth most of us predicted would help has done exactly that, with the Mavericks giving minutes to more legitimate NBA players this season, despite the rash of injuries. As for the ceiling and the floor, that’s tough. Ceiling-wise, it feels like the Mavericks can beat anybody just due to the nature of Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, and the team’s explosive shooting. While the Mavericks haven’t faired well against over .500 opponents, the team also hasn’t been healthy in almost two months. I want to be optimistic and say the floor is better than last season’s, but the Mavericks schedule is about to turn up the heat very quickly, the defense isn’t that much better from a year ago, and the injuries will eventually take their toll. Hopefully good health for Doncic and Irving will keep the team in the play-in regardless of any shooting slumps or defensive breakdowns.
Matthew: I believe the Mavericks have potential. Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, Dante Exum and Dereck Lively provide a really fun “core four” that the Mavericks can build around if they can simply maintain health for an extended period of time. The Mavericks will need to get healthy and find the right fifth man for that lineup, but I remain cautiously optimistic that the Mavericks can make some noise in the playoffs as long as they remain healthy enough to get there.
Brent: A year of overachieving followed by a year of underachieving, and now? This year (thus far) has been defined by injuries and the blossom of promise. It is not merely hitting on Lively that should have Mavs fans optimistic for the future. It is a shift away from specialized players who fill roles and towards players who provide dynamism and creativity rather than leaving those qualities to the team’s two stars. When Jones Jr and Exum have the ball in their hands, they are legitimate threats beyond the 3 and D archetype - Jones from the short roll, 4 on 3 game, and Exum in his Swiss army knife mode. If the brain trust tacks on a trade deadline and another offseason of smart decisions to back up this past summer, next year could be magical.
Kirk: It’s such a weird spot for me to be broadly positive about the potential of the Dallas Mavericks. So many injuries and different line ups and still the record is above .500. Parts of the schedule look bleak in the months to come but I can’t help but think that this is a 46-47-win team. Could the bottom fall out? Sure. But it hasn’t happened yet.