Detailing the awful start for the Mavericks and what to expect going forward.
We can safely assume that's not how the Mavericks drew it up for how they wanted the first week of the season to go down. After home losses to presumed NBA bottom-feeders Atlanta and Sacramento, the Mavericks lost by 16 in Houston and 30 at home to the Warriors to cap a 0-4 week and stake their claim to the NBA's worst record. The Mavericks currently own an Offensive Rating of 101.3 (23rd in the league) and a Defensive Rating of 116 (29th in the league, ahead of only the abysmal Phoenix Suns), have been outrebounded by an average of 13 boards a game, and are shooting 40.5% from the field as a team. The only other winless teams in the NBA are the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls, two other teams predicted to be fighting for ping pong balls in the final lottery under the old rules. The Mavericks, with their -14.2 point differential, join those two teams and the Phoenix Suns as the only teams with double-digit negative point differentials.
The blowout to Golden State inflated those numbers, however, and the Warriors are going to do that to a lot of teams this year, but the point remains that the Mavericks are a very bad team right now. Dennis Smith Jr. sat out both games of the back-to-back against Sacramento and Houston, and has been one of the only bright spots on the team. Currently averaging 13 PPG, 4.5 RPG and 5.5 APG, he has a relentless motor and he plays with confidence and aggression, as evidenced by his attempt to dunk over Draymond Green in his second NBA game.
Draymond barked about how he stopped him, but he did put the rookie on the foul line. The problem is, Dennis Smith is only shooting 50% from the line in his first two games. We can be reasonably sure that number will go up, but his jumper has been generally off thus far. He is 1/6 from 3, a shot he was making in summer league and preseason, and I expect that number to rise as well, especially when Seth Curry comes back and the spacing improves for the starting lineup.
Like many Mavs fans, I've seen the vast majority of games that Dirk has played throughout his career, and his slumps can be downright odd given how great a shooter he typically is. Usually, it's the kind of thing that shows up in force during the doldrums of the season around the All-Star Break, but this year it seems to have snuck up on Dirk early. Perhaps we're seeing the last stages of a regression we've all known was inevitable, or maybe Dirk will come out of this and start making shots and look more like himself. But for now, That Dude is averaging just 8.3 PPG on 30.2% shooting with a PER of 5.4. He's just looked terrible trying to scramble at the 5 in these lineups Carlisle is stubbornly committed to.
Speaking of Carlisle, he only played Nerlens Noel 11 minutes against the Warriors. I can buy some of the reasoning behind not starting Nerlens because Dirk needs to be in right after warm-ups so he doesn't get stiff on the bench, but Noel has been criminally underused thus far this year and it seems there are vendettas lurking under the surface of that relationship (as everyone assumed). Noel's per-36 minute averages so far this season are 17 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 2.9 steals and 2.4 blocks with a PER of 27.6, by far the highest on the team. It seems likely that if he was given the minutes, he would be a DPOY-type player. Carlisle's decision thus far to stick with limiting Noel's minutes is the main reason the team is being bullied so badly on the boards and giving up so many points to opposing offenses; Dirk and Dwight "I'm on the books for another 2 years and $20 million" Powell are not rim protectors, and the team is too small at the guard and wing positions to effectively gang rebound to help the bigs. The Mavericks are a flawed team in many ways, but they wouldn't be as easily taken advantage of if Noel played more minutes alongside Dirk to help offset Dirk's defensive deficiencies.
The schedule doesn't get any easier over the next few weeks, and wins will be few and far between. I'm in favor of tanking this year and think it's the right move, but I still believe that this team has a lot of organizational pride and too many competitive players to just become a punching bag for the rest of the league. I expect them to win a few games against the league's best teams simply because they'll be expecting a night off and the Mavericks will always play hard enough to win on pure effort, and Dallas should remain competitive with the rest of the teams that will be hard-pressed to win 30 games this year.
If Dallas plummets down the standings following a very difficult November schedule, though, some tough decisions are going to have to be made. It would be a dream come true to get out of Dwight Powell's contract and receive anything of value in return, but the chips that could realistically bring a return are probably Wes Matthews and Nerlens Noel. Matthews has a player option for $18.6 million next year he could choose to exercise, though I'm not sure how it benefits him or Dallas to have him back. Matthews could opt out in favor of more guaranteed money at a lower annual salary over several years, but it would take him having a strong and consistent season to convince me it would be worth it for the team to sign him to another deal. Wes has been great for the culture in Dallas and is a strong-willed defender and competitor, but his production has never been the same since his Achilles injury in Portland. It's difficult to project what teams might have an interest in Matthews right now, but his value on the market will depend on injuries around the league and how other players perform throughout the next few months. But that player option for next year is sure to scare off plenty of suitors hoping to preserve cap room next summer, and it probably also will make it difficult to get back good value even if they do trade him.
Noel plays a position that most teams already have an answer at, and he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year as well. This likely makes his trade market a pretty sparsely populated place. If Dallas could somehow get a first round pick from a team that needs a center who can protect the rim, catch lobs and run the floor (Boston, I'm looking at you and your horde of draft picks), I'm pretty sure they might abandon the Noel experiment and cut their losses. I hope they don't, and instead start him alongside Dirk, Barnes, Matthews, and Smith to see if it could work. I know they're trying to play everybody up a position to match the current state of the league, but to my mind, they should just put their heads in the sand and do the opposite.
In the NFL this season, Jacksonville has had success by hiding their quarterback in a league completely driven by the success of quarterbacks and the passing game. Chicago just won a game by attempting seven total passes against the Carolina Panthers. SEVEN. The lesson to be learned from this is that sometimes, the way to beat a new idea is with an old one that it didn't have to account for because the old idea has become so outdated. It can surprise somebody who hasn't studied it, because they're not prepared for such an odd strategy. Whether this can work or not for the Mavericks, it's at least got to be worth a try if the team is sitting at 0-8 by this time next week.
Let's go old school, Dallas. Dirk fadeaways; for days and days and days.