The Dallas Mavericks are reaching uncharted waters. At 2-11, the Mavericks have the worst record in the NBA. The last time the club started a season this bad was during the 1997-98 season when they limped to a 3-10 record.
That season, Dirk Nowitzki was just an intriguing prospect in Germany who had yet to declare for the draft, while Mark Cuban was getting ready to take his company AudioNet public. The team eventually finished 20-62.
Flash forward almost two decades and it seems as if the Mavs have come full circle. The one ray of sunshine in a gloomy start is Harrison Barnes.
Viewing Barnes as a foundational piece to a young nucleus, the team was willing to give Barnes a four-year, $94 million deal in a player friendly market. So far, he has proved the front office right in its thinking that Barnes is just scratching the surface of what his game can be.
Lost in the fact that the Mavs have the worst record in the league, Barnes might be having the best start to a Mavericks career in recent memory — picking up the slack for an injury-stricken roster.
Here’s the case that Barnes has the best start in team history.
Chandler Parsons signed a three-year deal worth $45 million after the Mavs missed on Carmelo Anthony and provided mixed results in his first 13 games. After a five-point debut, he cranked up his play averaging 14 points on 39 percent shooting and nearly 5 boards per game.
After a midseason trade, Rajon Rondo finished a win against the Spurs in his debut with a 6-7-9 line but shot 3-of-11 from the field in 33 minutes. He added two steals and four turnovers.
Rondo’s play would vary inconsistently, from 29 points, six rebounds and five assists in a revenge game against the Celtics to a two-points, three-rebound, eight-assist night a few games later. Through 13 games, Rondo averaged 12 points, five assists and assists rebounds.
O.J. Mayo might be a name many people have forgotten — but there are actually some comparisons to Barnes. In 2012, Mayo started slow, scoring 12 points in back-to-back games, before finding his groove in which he scored 20 points or more in eight of the next 11 games.
Mayo was thrust into a similar role as Barnes playing without Nowitzki due to injury. He handled the role well by averaging 22 points and shooting 50 percent from the field in the first 13 games of the season.
Lamar Odom’s debut in the locked-out shortened season was a disaster from the start. He was ejected from his first game after tallying four points and four rebounds, and followed it up with six points on 1-of-10 shooting in a loss.
The 13-game start of Odom’s stint in Dallas saw him average 6 points and 5 boards.
Arguably the most successful Mavs start in recent years came from Monta Ellis. Signing a three-year deal worth more than $25 million in 2013, Ellis’ debuted with 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting, dished out eight assists, grabbed four rebounds and snatched two steals in 36 minutes in a win against Atlanta. We will overlook the seven turnovers because it was simply too much Monta that night.
Ellis went on a similar scoring streak as Mayo where he scored 20 or more points in seven out of the next 10 games. That included a 37-point night in a shootout against Houston.
Through 13 games Ellis averaged 23.5 points while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, which was remarkable for a guy who was a notoriously inefficient player.
How a player start doesn’t depict the rest of his time in Dallas, though.
Parsons started slow out of the gate but turned out to be a solid player. He averaged 15.7 points on 46 percent shooting and 3.9 rebounds in his first season as a Maverick. Health, among other things, was the reason his Mavs tenure ended after one contract.
Rondo’s numbers regressed during the season as he averaged nine points, 4.5 boards and 6.5 assists per game. His time with the Mavericks ended for good after Game 2 of the 2015 first round series.
Mayo couldn’t contain his scorching start to the season. He finished the year averaging 15 points on 45 percent shooting. He decided to opt out after his first season in Dallas, and it all went downhill from there. Mayo is currently banned from the league.
Odom’s paltry season average of six points and four rebounds were overshadowed by his attitude and influence on the team. He was relieved of his duties before the season was over without officially being released.
Odom’s tenure with Dallas was like the Rondo experiment, only Odom, we would eventually find out, was facing demons that proved too difficult to overcome and continue an otherwise successful career.
Monta Ellis finished his first season as a Maverick with 19 points, 3.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists. In his second and final year in Dallas, Ellis averaged 18.9 points becoming the first player not named Dirk to lead the team in scoring since 1999-2000.
Ellis was one of the most prolific scorers the Mavs paired with Nowitzki, but the front office was concerned with his fit on the team and chose not to resign Ellis after he opted out of his final year.
What does this all mean for Barnes?
The Mavericks’ newly acquired free agent is off to a good start. With the Mavs being forced to rely on Barnes with Dirk, Deron Williams and Devin Harris out of the lineup for most of the season, Barnes has exceeded expectations.
In his second game as a Maverick, he set a career high of 31 points only to outdo himself a few nights later with 34 points.
“Coach has given me the green light to go out there and be aggressive,” Barnes said after his 31-point outburst. There’s still things I have to learn in terms of being that kind of scorer. But I plan to be aggressive every single night.”
We’ve yet to see Barnes and Nowitzki take the floor for an extended amount of games, so it’s hard to say what kind of impact the face of the franchise will have on Barnes’ game, but it’s safe to say Barnes has quelled all fears of his ability to be a major point of the offense.
He is averaging 21.2 points to go along with 5.7 rebounds, while shooting 46 percent from the field. He’s nearly doubled his scoring average of 11 points per game last season.
“This is what every player wants and dreams of, being in that position where you get that responsibility and you have a chance to grow every single night,” Barnes told ESPN.com on Monday.
Barnes has been asked to do wildly different things with Dallas than he did in Golden State where he was the fourth or fifth option at times. Rather than be a slasher and spot up shooter, Barnes is being asked to be an isolation scorer for the first time in his NBA career.
Russell Westbrook and James Harden are the only other players to have more isolation possessions this season than Barnes, per NBA.com. Even if those numbers regress some, that’s not a major concern because Barnes’ stellar work ethic.
The most important thing Barnes has going for him is his maturity.
What’s so great to see, and what many of the ex-Mavs didn’t fully grasp, is that Barnes has a budding relationship with Carlisle because of his mature approach to basketball.
“He has a chance to be a very special player,” Carlisle told Mavs Moneyball earlier this year. “I’ve felt that all along.”
Dirk had high praises for Barnes before the season even started.
“And what I love the most — and I haven’t been here much, obviously — but I heard he’s an absolute workhorse,” Nowitzki said this summer during an interview with 105.3 The Fan. “A guy that puts in the work usually always succeeds.”
Earning the respect of Carlisle and living-legend Nowitzki in a short matter of time is hard to do.
That alone might be enough to count this as one of the most successful starts to the season for a new Maverick in a long time.