The Mavericks opening day starting lineup provides an interesting conundrum: will Dirk Nowitzki start at the four or the five? Harrison Barnes, Wes Matthews, and Dirk Nowitzki all started every game they played in last season. That doesn’t look to change. With Dennis Smith, Jr.’s impressive summer and the lack of another dynamic guard, it seems likely that he’ll be starting as well. So who gets the last starting spot?
It likely comes down to Nerlens Noel and Seth Curry. Curry started in 42 games last year, and coach Rick Carlisle loves the three-guard lineup more than perhaps any other coach in the Association. Noel protects the rim, but doing so leaves Dirk Nowitzki to try and guard a four who likely moves to the perimeter.
The Starting Lineup
Three players determine the future of the Dallas Mavericks right now, and Harrison Barnes is the headliner of that core. One of the most efficient high-volume isolation scorers in the NBA last season, much hay has been made of the fact that the old 2011 Dirk plays just passed down to the still-25 Barnes. I’m betting on Barnes seeing a lot of time at both forward spots this year, starting at the four with Dirk’s defensive limitations keeping him at the five most often.
Look for Barnes to take another giant step with his handle after a full year and another offseason working with God Shammgod, and see if he can get his legs under him for a more consistent three-point shot this year as he continues to carry a heavier load than he ever did in Golden State.
Dennis Smith, Jr.
Dennis Smith, Jr.’s potential is an often discussed topic. Suffice to say that he is likely to start at the point and learn from the masterful coaching of Rick Carlisle—a coach who has a reputation of disliking rookies, but also hasn’t ever really had a good one (Dorian Finney-Smith started nearly half his games last season).
Matthews is the type of player who will always work hard. He will give all his effort, play defense, and make smart plays. The only question is whether or not his shots can fall and his legs are under him. He had games ranging from 10 threes to none last season, and more consistency will be necessary if this Dallas team wants to make a surprise playoff run in the twilight of Dirk’s career.
The Big German enters season twenty this year, as he continues to cement his legendary status with Wilt Chamberlain in his sights at number five on the all-time scoring list.
Dirk is likely to start at the five for Dallas because he just can’t guard fours anymore, in no small part due to the way that he changed the game himself at the position. His defensive rebounding rate is still close to 30%. With proper body position and his still-quick hands, he holds up okay in the post. With his floor spacing for the rest of the team, Curry, Matthews, and Barnes should be free to launch away while Smith slices up defenses.
Curry started more and more as the season went on last year, showcasing quick hands defending the fast break and some good instincts learned from Devin Harris on taking a hard-nosed charge when it counted.
Curry has also been a consistent bright shooting spot for the Mavericks and looks to finish out his bargain deal on a high note as he enters free agency next summer.
The Rest of the Core
Noel officially signed the qualifying offer, a highly surprising decision for an incredibly injury prone player who had $70 million on the table. He placed a bet on himself in a year where numerous other centers will be on the market, and the value of his position is perhaps at a nadir.
Market realities aside, Noel still possesses all the tools of a 2011 Tyson Chandler starter kit. He can screen, roll, finish, and defend the rim. Coming off the bench, likely for Dirk’s traditional early sub-out, he should energize the remaining starters and enter into a deadly dance with the rookie Smith with shooters around the perimeter.
Down the Depth Chart
Dorian Finney-Smith likely plays the next most minutes if he can find any consistent 3-point shot. Last season, as a rookie, he started more games than any other rookie since Marquis Daniels in Dallas. His defense and athleticism are useful, but he has to be able to shoot to earn a larger role in the NBA.
Yogi Ferrell had a surprising season last year, starting 29 of his 36 games with the Mavericks and scoring seemingly at will sometimes. He is an undersized guard who lacks Smith’s athleticism or Curry’s shooting, and will likely take the most backup guard minutes with J.J. Barea and Devin Harris behind him.
Dwight Powell is likely to be the next big off the bench behind the core seven Mavericks above. Salah Mejri will come in when the team needs some energy (and perhaps a foul or two) and Jeff Withey as an intriguing flier defending the rim as well. The Josh McRoberts trade could lead to an unexpected boost at the four if he can find some semblance of health after playing more than 50 games only three times in his ten-year career.