In the past few seasons it has been painfully obvious that the Dallas Mavericks needed to start thinking about the future. With Dirk reaching the crisp age of 38 this past summer he should not be leading the team in scoring as he always has in the past. But with Dallas’ long and painful relationship with the Draft being well documented, a real youth movement had yet to begin until arguably last season.
This movement officially started with Dwight Powell coming over from Boston, in what I’d like to officially deem “the Powell trade”, but picked up more steam during the summer with the drafting of Justin Anderson out of Virginia. Despite neither player getting much playing time in the regular season, averaging 14.4 and 11.8 minutes a game respectively, they were both adamant about getting better and were given bigger roles in the playoffs with Anderson even starting a game. Over the summer the focus on younger more athletic players for the future continued with the signings of Seth Curry, Nicolas Brussino, Dorian Finney-Smith, Quincy Acy, and of course Harrison Barnes. As well as the drafting of AJ Hammons out of Purdue. This gives the Mavericks eight total players under the age of 27 compared to only three in the 2015-16 season.
With the NBA shifting more toward small ball and “death lineups” over the past few seasons after the Warriors title run it was important for teams to stay with the trend to avoid being left behind. The focus of offenses has gone from a slower, more methodical inside-out game to that of an up-tempo, shooting centric style of play similar to that of the run and gun Suns in the 2004-05 season. With most teams being able to put out a line-up capable of competing with other teams attempts at small ball, the Mavericks were no different. The only issue being last season’s small ball line-ups consisting of some mix of Deron Williams, Wesley Mathews, Chandler Parsons, Devin Harris, Raymond Felton, J.J. Barea, and Justin Anderson with Dirk playing the center was that they were not a great defensive unit. While this group put up points in a hurry and were a little more athletic on defense, Dirk Nowitzki being your last line of defense is going to cause some lack in rim protection. That’s where the youth movement comes in. With the large up-tick in young athletic players the Mavericks now have much more versatility and defense when they go small, without giving up any offensive weapons.
With Dirk, Andrew Bogut, and Deron Williams being out the past few games and most likely a couple more, Coach Carlisle will probably continue to roll with a three guard line-up of J.J. Barea, Wesley Mathews, and either Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith, or Justin Anderson. While Barea and Curry may be a little undersized both of them play quite well on the defensive end, Barea is one of the best in the league at drawing offensive fouls and Curry is quick with his hands and gets a good amount of steals. Wesley Mathews, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Justin Anderson have shown their defensive prowess already this season by guarding some of the best scorers in the league and holding them in check as well as you can hope.
Harrison Barnes has slid over to the power forward spot in Dirk’s absence and has played extremely well during his time there. He is exploiting defenders by being quicker and more explosive than the average power forward while also being able to score from any spot on the court to keep them guessing. While it is unfair to expect Barnes to continue to average almost 23 points per game on 50% shooting, it is a good sign that he has kept it up as long as he has. At center it is a toss-up of who will get the start. Depending on the opponent Coach Carlisle may go super small ball and start Dwight Powell, or give the nod to Salah Mejri despite his lack of minutes this season. Regardless, the Mavericks will have an athletic rim protector who isn’t afraid to get physical in the paint.
Despite this movement toward a younger and more athletic team, the Mavericks will continue to use their veterans at a decent rate this season. Harrison Barnes has proved that he has the potential to be the next go-to guy in Dallas and Justin Anderson and Seth Curry have shown that they may be ready to make the next step in their careers. But when you have the leadership and mentorship of players like Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut, you’re going to use them as much as possible to help continue the development of the younger players. With the plethora of young talent that the Mavericks have it is hard not be excited about the future.