In this feature, I delve into different parts of the organization and grade this season's performance.
Dallas Mavericks Season in Review
After a short lived playoff run, it’s time to dive in and grade the season the Dallas Mavericks managed to put together across a variety of important metrics. Sit back, think critically, and enjoy the ride as we examine the performance of the team from top to bottom.
Star Player: Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki, in his age-37 season, continued to age gracefully. His minutes per game were actually up over the last couple seasons as Dallas had to go back in time a little and rely more heavily on the big German. As usual, Dirk was one of the most efficient players in the league, especially from the mid-range and on transition threes. He is once again the reason the Mavericks made the playoffs, as each time all hope ran out with a short shot clock down the stretch, the Mavericks dumped the ball to their former MVP and let him get the buckets they needed. The big man picks his spots a little more carefully these days, but he’s as effective as ever when he does.
In the “career achievements” department, Nowitzki moved into 6th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and became the highest scoring foreign-born player ever this year. With recent reports that he isn’t even considering retirement, and some talk of playing until 40 like his long-time rival Tim Duncan down in San Antonio, who knows where Dirk will end up when all is said and done. He may not have had an MVP-caliber season this year, but he carried the team when it needed him most—just look at the final Utah game—and set the tone for the other players without any distractions. What more can you ask from your star after 17 years in the Association?
Front Office: Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, Rick Carlisle, and Staff
A discussion of the front office performance this year would be incomplete without mentioning the DeAndre fiasco in July. The team definitely takes a hit on its grade for that experience, but brings the score up with a lot of other positives.
Wes Matthews, in his first year back from the Achilles tear, had a few high points and many struggles. That being said, he also came back faster than anyone from the injury, every word out of the team backs up his reputation as the league’s premier workhorse, he set the defensive tone for the team on a consistent basis, and even his “max contract” looks pretty normal as the cap is about to jump to somewhere between $90 and $95 million, nearly a 30% increase over this season’s cap. The front office also gets an A+ for Carlisle’s deal, locking in a man who is arguably the league’s best coach for another five years. Justin Anderson looks like a solid draft choice (more on him later), and the recovery at summer’s end to nab Zaza Pachulia and Deron Williams was critical for the Mavericks’ playoff chances.
Finally, the David Lee signing has yet to be appropriately pilloried. The Mavericks wasted money and minutes on a player who was a net negative almost every time he stepped on the court. He took precious developmental minutes away from Dwight Powell and Salah Mejri and offered no defensive resistance and empty rebounding stats. All in all, the front office falls a little behind the curve, but far ahead of teams like the Washington Wizards and Sacramento Kings, who made far more egregious missteps than losing Jordan and signing Lee mid-season without any of the positives to balance things out.
Coaching: Rick Carlisle, Melvin Hunt, Kaleb Canales, Jamahl Mosley, and Darrell Armstrong
Carlisle took this offense, built around an aging Dirk Nowitzki, to 8th best efficiency in the league and 4th best efficiency in transition. How did he do it? Each possession is a whirling dance of elbow handoffs, dribble hand-offs, and pick and rolls combined with a veteran knowledge of when and how to push the pace opportunistically. Call him a warlock, the maestro, a magician, or Jim Carrey; the result is a top ten office no matter what you go with. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d bet Kaleb Canales had something to do with J.J. Barea’s wild success in the stretch run, as Canales is one of the league’s hardest workers and a former dedicated video coordinator who still spends a ton of time watching film.
Melvin Hunt, the team’s defensive coordinator, managed to take a team grounded in the post-injury Matthews, all-offense Chandler Parsons, ground-bound Zaza Pachulia, and aging veterans Dirk, Deron Williams, Devin Harris, and others to an exactly average defense—the league’s 15th best when adjusted for strength of opponent (courtesy of Basketball Reference).
Player Development Overall Grade: B-
Chandler Parsons: A-
Parsons had a long road to recovery that was more obvious than what Wes Matthews faced because of the minutes limit he was playing under through January. By the time he re-injured his knee and was lost for the season, Parsons had begun to have his moments as a lead playmaker and as one of the best three point shooters in the league, shooting 44.7% from three after the all-star break.
Dwight Powell: C+
Powell had it going early in the season, often at the Center position, but eventually gave way to a rotation of JaVale McGee, Charlie Villanueva, and, excruciatingly, David Lee. Powell began taking 15-18 foot jump shots with confidence, and learned how to slow down a little as the roll man, opening up a number of lob dunks throughout the Mavericks’ late season hot streak. He’s still learning on defense, but his reputation as a high character guy with a strong work ethic should help, as most young players struggle with the huge differences in defense between college and the NBA.
Justin Anderson: B-
Justin Anderson was another victim of Carlisle’s reticence to play rookies early in the year, but when Parsons went out with 30 games to go and the Mavericks had to change something after a dreadful 10 game stretch, they turned to Anderson and he delivered. His athleticism and hustle helped spark numerous runs, and he showed some flashes of the great wing defense the Mavericks hope he will provide for years to come.
Anderson’s shot and handle both need some work, but he’s already got one of the highest defensive rebound percentages of all small forwards at over 19% and his blocks on the break or as the help defender provide much needed rim protection for the Mavericks—just go back and watch the final play of the Game 2 victory, where he gets just enough of Durant’s layup to preserve the victory.
Salah Mejri: B-
Salah has a lot to learn about getting open and about moving his feet in the NBA, but he provided another string of sparks for the Mavericks when they needed them. The 29 year-old rookie is one of the best at finishing plays when he gets the ball, but hasn’t yet learned the slow-fast tip-tap dance of rolling to the basket through NBA defenses. He’s fearless on defense, with a block percentage that would have been second in the NBA, behind only Hassan Whiteside, if he had played enough minutes to qualify. Mejri has to learn to pick his spots a little better, as his block attempts that miss leave him out of position and often allowed easy put-backs for the other team, but as he got a little more time he did a better job of sometimes taking a charge instead of going for the block. With more time under his belt, Mejri could develop into a very good backup big man, providing a little more offense but better defense than former Mavericks backup Ian Mahinmi did in the 2011 championship season.
Overall Grade: B
Overall, I’m willing to put the Mavericks at the median. They clearly trailed a number of teams both on and off the court this year, but after last season’s disastrous Rajon Rondo trade and the subsequent fiasco with DeAndre Jordan, the organization recovered quite nicely. Wes Matthews looks like a great locker room presence and someone who will hopefully experience the second year bump post-Achilles injury (he said as much himself in a recent comment to the Dallas Morning News). Chandler Parsons claims to be happy in Dallas, and one can only assume Mark Cuban is willing to give him a big deal as he’ll likely desire. Anything can happen next season, but for now, the Mavericks’ did much better than many teams, but lag behind quite a few as well.
*All efficiency stats courtesy of Synergy Sports Tech.
Edit at 7:26pm pacific on 4/27/2016 for font style change.