Mired in Tough Start, Young Mavericks Lack the Upside of Youth

Dallas has a lot of inexperience, a little youth, and not much upside. How bleak is their future?

It is tough to be a member of the Dallas Mavericks these days. A team that entered the year thinking it had depth at every position, new energy infusions from offseason signings, veteran savvy from old hats like Dirk Nowitzki, Andrew Bogut, and Deron Williams, and the future of the franchise in Harrison Barnes has turned into a team of wounded guards, an aged old guard, and only Harrison Barnes as the shining star of the team.

Stuck in the mud of a 2-8 start that leaves Dallas only one game out of last place, a common refrain is that even if things take a turn for the worse, the Mavericks are stocked with some exciting young players that can build around Barnes and Matthews and bridge this team from the Nowitzki era into a new age of competition. When you take a deeper look, however, this just isn’t the case. While the Mavericks have a decent amount of inexperience, they don’t have any of the upsides that come with youth. That upside is what gives Philadelphia, Minnesota, Phoenix, and others the excitement of the future as losses mount. Dallas does not have that upside; look at their key “young” players.

Some things to keep in mind: the players that tend to stick in the NBA are the lottery picks. In fact, look at the older veterans on Dallas’ roster, which were drafted in these spots: 1, 3, 5, 9, undrafted, undrafted. That’s Andrew Bogut, Deron Williams, Devin Harris, and Dirk Nowitzki plus J.J. Barea and Wes Matthews. Now look at each member of the young-with-upside crew the Mavericks have assembled.

Dorian Finney-Smith: Rookie, age 23, 4-year collegiate player – Undrafted

Finney-Smith has played very well since his debut in the starting lineup. A voracious defender with constant energy and some athleticism this team sorely needs, Finney-Smith has also flashed the ability to hit the corner three. In his short time in Dallas, he already looks more promising than all the other inexperienced players on the roster.

Justin Anderson: 2nd year, age 23*, 3-year collegiate player – 21st overall pick

We reviewed Justin Anderson in-depth at the end of his rookie year, diving into a film session on his strengths and the things he had to develop to become a viable NBA mainstay. Over an eighth of the way into his second season, things do not look good. He has continued to flash his athleticism but struggles to put the ball in the basket. He holds up well on defense but commits too many unnecessary fouls.

More importantly, his three-point shooting and his handle have not progressed as well as Dallas surely hoped they would, especially after his workouts with the legendary New York ballhandler God Shammgod. Maybe another season’s worth of experience and practice can have a difference, but most players are who they are around their mid-twenties. Time is already running out for Anderson.

Dwight Powell: 3rd year, age 25, 4-year collegiate player – 45th overall pick

Dwight Powell is another player who is much older than his experience suggests. Already 25, he is another 4-year college player drafted in the second round. After early signs last year of a solid pick-and-pop jumper gave way to prior shooting numbers for Powell, he began to settle into his likely role for the duration of his career. Powell is an energy big off the bench, but he’s not a rim protector. If he’s going to move from an appropriate third or fourth big to a key rotation player, he’ll need to develop one of two skills: he can harness his athleticism soon and become a force like Brandan Wright with his rim drives, or he can knock down that elbow jump shot at an efficient clip. Without one or the other, smart teams like Boston will continue to give him all the space in the world while they clog up the lane and, as a result, the Dallas offense.

Seth Curry: 4th year, age 26, 4-year collegiate player – Undrafted

Seth Curry is yet another undrafted Maverick who seems young, but truly isn’t. At age 26, he’s already in his prime (even as his older brother closes in on exiting his) years of production. He’s a streaky shooter and has yet to demonstrate the impactful playmaking ability necessary to be a key guard in this league.

You can cap that off with the already-old undrafted Salah Mejri, 37th overall pick tweener Quincy Acy, undrafted Nicolas Brussino, and 46th overall pick A.J. Hammons. That future looks more stormy than bright.

The Bright Side

Now, contrast everything I just told you with Harrison Barnes, who left North Carolina plenty early, was at the very top of the RSCI, was drafted 7th overall, and has been projected as a star since he was young. With the highest usage of his career, by far, Barnes has come into his own this season and looks like he could one day be the foundational player a franchise needs: an All-Star talent.

There’s a happy ending here. As the story goes, Dallas limps through the year, gives Anderson and Finney-Smith the run they never gave Jae Crowder, and one of them develops into a three-and-D wing. Dallas slides into the lottery and pulls out a number one pick like the Chicago Bulls did to get Derrick Rose. With a new, transformational talent learning from the best, Dirk Nowitzki plays out his career as a 6th Man behind a team truly revitalized with lottery talent and Barnes' shoulders the load.

Not the likeliest of outcomes, of course. But Mavs fans need anything they can hold onto in these dark days, with the Cavaliers, Clippers, and Spurs just ahead of the schedule.

*Justin Anderson turns 23 this Saturday, November 19th.

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