Tonight, the 3-0 Memphis Grizzlies will kick off a home-and-home back-to-back with the Dallas Mavericks. To help get you familiar with the opponent, we spoke to the Editor-in-Chief of Mavs Moneyball, Rebecca Lawson, who provided some great insight into the winless Mavericks.
1. There has been a lot of hype surrounding rookie Dennis Smith Jr. following an impressive Summer League. How has he looked so far this season, and has Carlisle been patient with him?
At the time I’m writing this, Dennis Smith Jr. has played a solid one whole game (the Mavericks’ first game against the Hawks) before missing two games with a left knee effusion. So it’s hard to really say, but the box office returns of Incredibly Small Sample Size Theater are encouraging. Smith Jr. opened the season as Dallas’ starting point guard. He would finish that game with a quite solid line of 6/12 from the field (1/4 from three), three rebounds and 10 assists in 30 minutes played. A double-double? Not bad for a rookie in his first (and so far, only) game!*
(Editor's Note: Smith also played in the Golden State game, which took place after we spoke to Rebecca)
As to whether head coach Rick Carlisle will have him on a short leash, I think the answer to that is no. While Carlisle has developed a reputation for being stingy with rookie minutes, he also understands that he has to change his own style to adapt to coaching a rebuilding roster rather than a perennially contending team. The Mavericks have been vocal about Dennis Smith Jr. getting his time to shine as a piece for the future, and while I’m sure there will be a fair share of “teaching moments” over the course of 82 games, expect DSJ to be the starter when healthy and to get the chance to make mistakes.
2. We saw how things played out with Nerlens Noel in restricted free agency. What do you expect out of the young center this season, and are you worried the Mavs might have poisoned the well in terms of negotiations for next offseason?
Noel has been the bright spot in an otherwise horrendous start for the Mavericks, playing out of his mind in the minutes he’s been given. If this is his “prove it” year, he’s off to a fantastic start. I’d expect him to continue to make the most of the minutes he is given, showcasing his talent in search of that max deal this next offseason.
It’s really a shame, too, because I think there’s a 99.9 percent chance that Noel plays somewhere else next year. The one thing that was going to make Mavs fans happy and hopeful about the future was having a young center locked up to catch those lobs from the young exciting new point guard – and while that’s certainly still a possibility, it’s a remote one at best. Everything coming from the team since Noel signed the qualifying offer has been neutral to downright insulting – Noel coming off the bench rather than starting, so far averaging around 20 minutes per game. Nothing really indicates the Mavericks feel compelled at all to keep him around, and I’d be shocked if the feeling wasn’t mutual.
3. Dirk has played around 25 minutes a night so far, with half of those minutes coming at center (per basketball reference). How effective has he been both offensively and defensively? What do you think his best position is at this point?
Dirk has been just okay so far this season – averaging as you said about 25 minutes a game (and they’d probably like to get that down even more). His primary position is center now, and the Mavs try hard to surround him with lineups that cover his increasingly ineffective defensive skills. They’re really trying to put Harrison Barnes in that power forward position, at least in starting lineups, where he was so effective last season (buuuut….more on that in a sec). So the switch to playing more 5 makes sense for Dirk and the team. What he’s lacked in offense this year he has tried to make up with rebounding, but unless he’s just getting warmed up, the reality is that this may be his farewell tour. And that’s fine.
Twenty years, all in a Mavericks uniform? We are really blessed.
4. Outside of DSJ, who has been your favorite player to watch this season? Least favorite?
Even though it hurts a little, I’ve really enjoyed watching Noel make the most of his minutes. If he can stay healthy, he’s really going to make the Mavericks regret not paying him – and there’s a small part of me that is rooting for him even though it means he probably plays elsewhere next year.
Least favorite would have to be Harrison Barnes. He had such an improved season last year and was everyone’s favorite story, but early results don’t seem encouraging in terms of building on that success. He is getting to the line a little more, which was a big criticism last year, and that’s good. But I was hoping to see that he could do that while maintaining his offensive prowess from last year, and he hasn’t seemed to find that right balance yet.
5. Given that the Mavs appear to be building for the future, what are your overall expections for the season going forward? Do you see them selling any major assets at the trade deadline or tanking towards the end of the year?
The nice thing about this season is that most reasonable fans have no expectations other than to watch Dennis Smith Jr. and other young players develop, marvel at the occasional Dirk “turning back the clock” game in his 20th season, and hope for a couple fun upsets. I’m disappointed at how the season has started (ONE win would be nice) but wins are less important than player development right now.
I don’t know if the Mavs will be sellers at the deadline or not. I can see them listening to reasonable offers involving picks or young talent for guys like Wesley Matthews or maybe even Noel if they don’t think they have a shot to re-sign him (let’s be real, J.J. Barea and Devin Harris will still be playing for the Mavs in 2075) but overall I think they like their team and the mix they have. Hard to say they’ll ever obviously tank with a guy like Dirk on the roster, but as Carlisle said last season, their roster has a “built in number of losses.”
Thanks again to Rebecca for taking part in our Five Questions series! Be sure to check out Mavs Moneyball to help get ready for the home-and-home series with the Mavs!