There are two bad teams playing tonight, but two good bloggers on this post to help preview that match-up.
Yours truly does the easy part, ask the questions and lap up analysis of the Dallas Mavericks. Kirk Henderson, a.k.a. Luka Doncic Fan Acct, contributor at Mavs Moneyball, does the hard part and actually answers those questions.
The Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies square off tonight in Dallas and both teams have the playoffs far, far out of their minds. To put it lightly, both teams are, ahem, focused on the future. That’ll tend to be the theme of these questions. While Memphis and Dallas try to figure out what they have and what they can be in the future, Kirk gives his answers as it relates to the Mavericks.
1. What’s something that you consider one bright spot and one area of concern about Dennis Smith Jr. and his game?
Coming into the 2017 draft there were a lot of stories out there about Smith’s attitude and it’s been really great to see that his attitude and coachability are top notch. Pairing a player with his raw talent and a coach as demanding as Rick Carlisle seemed risky on paper, but the result has been a steady season from Smith where he’s improved about as much as we can expect with a team as talent starved as the Mavericks are. The only major concerns have to do with his shooting percentages and shot selection. He has almost no in between game and he gets blocked at the rim a lot (though less since that 538 report on players getting reffed a certain way).
On paper a lot of his percentages project to a less effective Russell Westbrook in his rookie season, which is giving Mavericks fans a combination of hope and alarm. He’ll really need to improve his jumper this off season.
2. Speaking of DSJ, Rick Carlisle has been particularly tough on point guards throughout the years in Dallas. However, because of the importance of the position league-wide and in Carlisle’s system, Dennis Smith Jr. is going to be one of the biggest factors determining the future of the franchise. Have you seen Carlisle treat him differently because he’s a top asset or has he continued to demand a lot from his point guard?
They’ve really worked well together. Smith has had to earn his minutes and the ability to play in game specific situations. Carlisle really loves lineups with multiple ball handlers so the most interesting thing to watch in his development has been playing off the ball, where he still has a ton of work to do. Overall, I think fans are pleasantly surprised at how the player-coach relationship is working out thus far.
3. Nerlens Noel is back to getting minutes for this team in what’s been a tremendously up-and-down tenure for him in Dallas. How do you feel about his game and do you see him being the center of the future for the Mavericks?
He drives me crazy. After the trade to acquire him last season, he seemed like a revelation; he played hard, smart, and was fairly effective. Following the contract kerfuffle this summer, where he did leave 4 years, $70 million on the table, he came back a different player. It’s all seemed to spiral... he’s the best defensive player on a team sorely needing defense, but early in the season he either couldn’t or wouldn’t stick to game plan, often leaving teammates out to dry. Then when playing time started to evaporate, he did little to change the situation (mainly extra practice or interest in shoring up his issues). Then he elected to have thumb surgery when it wasn’t needed and that’s more or less sealed his fate.
He won’t be coming back to the Mavericks, but since the relationship between player, coach, and ownership has more or less stayed cordial, I think he’s getting minutes in a good faith effort so that the Mavericks don’t harm his career any further than he’s harmed it himself.
4. From a fan of one bad team to another, how do you feel about tanking as a team objective? Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently said “losing is our best option” in a podcast interview with Dr. J, how do you feel about the process and the owner being obvious with his intentions?
If everyone, from fan to player to coach to front office, understands that being bad over all is best for the future, but that losing games on purpose isn’t really possible, I suppose the only way I can feel about is ambivalent. The stupid part about Cuban’s comments is that the Mavericks didn’t just start trying to lose... they’ve been really bad all season. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who insist they are better than their current record, mainly due to the sheer volume of clutch games they’ve played and lost. There’s some merit to that argument, but looking at the roster talent, the injuries to Seth Curry and Nerlens, and the result shouldn’t be surprising. Maybe the Mavericks should have won 5 more games, but that’s still a bad team. What made Cuban’s comments annoying is that the Mavericks already played 12-14 guys a lot of the time. There was nothing else to do differently unless Smith and Dirk all of a sudden have injuries. Dallas will continue to putter along trying to win and losing late most of the time.
5. Out of all the young role players and reserves on this team, who is it that you think NBA fans should be more aware of their talents?
Oh geez... no one? I take a lot of flack for this in Mavericks circles but the team is talent deprived. Harrison Barnes is a nice player, overpaid mostly, and ultimately milquetoast. Dwight Powell is the closest thing to a surprise, but I don’t get excited about a guy who really is only good at rim running. It’s a wasteland out there for Dallas. They just need volume of draft picks and to stop considering guys in their mid 20’s “young”.