Dallas Mavericks: 2016-17 Season Outlook

The Dallas Mavericks still have Dirk Nowitzki, but what can be expected of the new additions? Here’s the Mavs’ 2016-17 season outlook.

Dallas Mavericks

Mar 20, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) celebrates with teammates after scoring a three point basket in overtime against the Portland Trail Blazers at American Airlines Center. The Mavs beat the Trail Blazers 132-120. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the 2016 NBA free agency period, it looked like the Dallas Mavericks were about to strike out once again. They had missed out on Hassan Whiteside, failed to woo Mike Conley and had even lost Chandler Parsons in the process.

Luckily, when the Golden State Warriors landed Kevin Durant, the Mavs were able to capitalize on a mass exodus from the Bay Area, signing Harrison Barnes as a free agent and trading for Andrew Bogut, effectively replacing Parsons and the departing Zaza Pachulia.

As the 38-year-old Dirk Nowitzki enters the waning years of his Hall of Fame career, however, the question still stands: Did the Mavericks do enough this summer to change their increasingly annual destiny of being a first round playoff exit?

There’s plenty of youth on this roster, Nowitzki’s offense continues to age gracefully and Rick Carlisle remains one of the most effective head coaches in the NBA. But as Dallas tries to give Dirk one more playoff run in 2016-17, their young pieces will also be trying to prove the post-Nowitzki future isn’t as gloomy as it appears on paper.

2015-16 Vitals

42-40, 3rd in Southwest Division, 6th in Western Conference
102.3 PPG (16th)/102.6 OPP PPG (14th)
106.7 Offensive Rating (11th)/107.0 Defensive Rating (17th)

Team Leaders
Scoring: Dirk Nowitzki, 18.3 PPG
Rebounding: Zaza Pachulia, 9.4 RPG
Assists: Deron Williams, 5.8 APG
Steals: Wesley Matthews, 1.0 SPG
Blocks: Salah Mejri, 1.1 BPG

Honors
N/A

Dallas Mavericks

Dec 30, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) dribbles as Dallas Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia (27) defends during the first half at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

2016-17 Roster

Quincy Acy, SF
Justin Anderson, SF
J.J. Barea, PG
Harrison Barnes, SF
Andrew Bogut, C
Nicolas Brussino, SF
Kyle Collinsworth, PG
Seth Curry, PG
Dorian Finney-Smith, SF
Jonathan Gibson, PG
A.J. Hammons, C
Devin Harris, PG
Keith Hornsby, SG
Wesley Matthews, SG
Salah Mejri, C
Dirk Nowitzki, PF
Dwight Powell, PF
Jameel Warney, SF
C.J. Williams, SG
Deron Williams, PG

Offseason Additions
Quincy Acy (free agency, Sacramento Kings), Harrison Barnes (free agency, Golden State Warriors), Andrew Bogut (trade, Golden State Warriors), Nicolas Brussino (free agency, Peñarol {Argentina}), Kyle Collinsworth (free agency, undrafted), Seth Curry (free agency, Sacramento Kings), Dorian Finney-Smith (free agency, undrafted), Jonathan Gibson (point guard, Qingdao Doublestar {China}), A.J. Hammons (46th overall draft pick, Purdue), Keith Hornsby (free agency, undrafted), Jameel Warney (free agency, undrafted), C.J. Williams (free agency, JDA Dijon Bourgogne {France})

Offseason Subtractions
JaVale McGee (free agency, Golden State Warriors), David Lee (free agency, San Antonio Spurs), Chandler Parsons (free agency, Memphis Grizzlies), Zaza Pachulia (Golden State Warriors), Jeremy Evans (trade, Indiana Pacers), Raymond Felton (Los Angeles Clippers), Charlie Villanueva (free agency, unsigned)

Quick Thoughts

The biggest additions to the roster come in the form of Barnes and Bogut, two starters on an NBA champion Warriors team that also won an NBA-record 73 games last season before falling one game shy of back-to-back titles.

With Pachulia and McGee leaving to join said Warriors, trading virtually nothing to acquire Bogut was a crafty move that reeled in a top-10 defensive center. Though Salah Mejri holds plenty of promise as a shot-blocking mass of limbs, Bogut has the experience, toughness and team-first attitude the Mavs need alongside Nowitzki in the frontcourt to cover for his defensive deficiencies.

Barnes is more of a question mark, since at this point, we really don’t know what to expect. After averaging 11.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last season as the fourth or sometimes fifth option on Golden State’s elite offense, there’s no question an expanded role will give him the chance to blossom and prove some of his critics wrong.

The Mavs had plenty of depth to replace, with David Lee and Raymond Felton leaving as well. They did well for themselves, adding two useful pieces from another Cali team, the Sacramento Kings, with the signings of Seth Curry and Quincy Acy.

With 20 players on the training camp roster, the Mavs essentially have six guys competing for Dallas’ 15th and final roster spot. Mark Cuban did well this summer to get younger and add some versatile pieces, but none of them figures to be a game-changer either.

Dallas Mavericks

Sep 26, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes (40) poses for a photo during Media Day at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Three Key Storylines: 1. How Good Is Harrison Barnes?

Harrison Barnes is one of the biggest question marks trying to prove himself for not only the Dallas Mavericks, but the NBA in general in 2016-17.

Is he a glorified role player whose strengths were amplified playing alongside Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green? Or was he an underrated piece of Golden State’s success due to his three-point shooting and defensive versatility?

Some believe his flaws and inconsistencies were (mostly) covered by the all-time greatness around him. Others think he never got enough credit for the things he did do right. Heading into an expanded role on a much less talented Mavericks team, the world will get its first look at Harry B, warts and all.

At only 24 years old, there’s no question Barnes has room for growth. He shot an impressive 46.6 percent from the floor and 38.3 percent from three-point range last year, he’s a career 37.6 percent shooter from long range and he’s shown flashes of a strong post-up game as a 6’8″ small forward.

His defensive versatility will be a key addition to the Mavericks, who ranked 16th in defensive rating last year, per NBA.com. His ability to log minutes at the 4 and hold his own against opposing power forwards is what helped make Golden State’s “Death Lineup” as unstoppable as it was, and it could give Carlisle options with his lineups.

Another reason to believe in Harrison Barnes: Rick Carlisle, who has routinely turned chicken s**t into chicken salad for years now. Barnes has more than enough raw talent to work with, and if Carlisle is once again able to extract the best out of his role players, there’s little reason to doubt that Harry B will be any different.

However, that’s not to say Barnes’ growth is preordained. The pressure has gotten to him in the past, such as the last three games of the 2016 NBA Finals, when he shot a combined 5-for-32 from the floor and 3-for-15 from downtown.

When the Warriors needed Barnes to knock down those open looks the most, he failed miserably. Now that the Mavs need him to take on more responsibility, pressure reenters the equation. Perhaps being cast aside to make room for Kevin Durant will put a chip on his shoulder, but Barnes has never really had that kind of killer edge.

In an expanded role in Dallas, Barnes will need to find it. He’s always been a reserved, composed follower. He won’t fill Nowitzki’s shoes or usher in a brand new era of Mavericks basketball, but he’ll also need to prove that four-year, $94 million contract wasn’t a laughable overpay.

Dallas Mavericks

Apr 25, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives to the basket between Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) an dDallas Mavericks guard Justin Anderson (1) during the third quarter in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Three Key Storylines: 2. Defense And Versatility

Two recurring themes from the Mavericks on Media Day were defense and positional versatility.

After adding guys like Barnes, Bogut and Acy, plus retaining Dwight Powell and another year of internal growth for him, Salah Mejri and Justin Anderson, this team is trying to put the “D” back in Dallas.

Though Pachulia was an underrated positional defender, the Mavs found a bonafide rim protector in Andrew Bogut, who should set a great example as a mentor for another emerging shot-blocker like Mejri. Throw in rookie A.J. Hammons and Dallas has trio of seven-footers who will be patrolling the paint for the upcoming season and beyond.

The interior is not the only place Dallas improved defensively, however, since adding Barnes and Acy to the wing represents an upgrade from the departing Parsons.

Barnes can play the 4 in some situations, and with Wesley Matthews and Justin Anderson occupying the wings, that’s a terrifying mix of length and three-point shooting in a potential small-ball unit.

Aging players like Dirk and Deron Williams will still be liabilities on the defensive end, but the Mavericks are as well positioned to compensate for them as ever thanks to that trio of wing defenders who can play multiple positions.

Defense will be a point of emphasis for the Mavericks in 2016-17, and if they can manage to elevate last year’s play on that end to something resembling a top-10 unit, they’ll be much more dangerous than most people think.

Dallas Mavericks

Sep 26, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle poses for a photo during Media Day at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Three Key Storylines: 3. Does Dirk + Rick + Role Players Still = Playoffs?

Ever since Carlisle took over the head coaching job in 2008-09, the general formula of Dirk Nowitzki plus Rick Carlisle plus glue guys has almost always equalled playoffs for the Mavs. But with Dirk another year older and the West still being the West, will that be the case again in 2016-17?

At this point in time, it’s hard to doubt Dallas’ track record. Even last year, when some expected the Mavs to be an under-the-radar tanking team because D-Will, Matthews and Parsons were all coming off summer surgeries, the Mavs wound up winning 42 games to secure the sixth seed in the West.

It’ll probably take more than that to lock up the sixth seed this season, with the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Pelicans all either getting better, getting healthy, or staying relatively the same.

However, Las Vegas’ over/under of 39.5 wins seems far too low for a team that won 42 games last year, added more defense to a similar core over the summer, and has been good for a .500 record or better in every single season since 2000-01.

At some point, Dirk Nowitzki’s game will fall off and he’ll become virtually unplayable. But after averaging a team-leading 18.3 points per game last season, that point has not yet arrived, and even if that moment rears its ugly head in 2016-17, Carlisle still has enough potential on this roster to squeeze another playoff appearance out of this group.

Dallas Mavericks

Apr 21, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) looks at the replay screen during the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center. The Thunder defeated the Mavericks 131-102. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Best-Case Scenario

Dirk shows no sign of decline once again in 2016-17, Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews stay healthy and the Mavericks quickly jell to punish the league with another high-powered offense and a overwhelmingly versatile defense.

Harrison Barnes flourishes in his first season of increased responsibility, becoming a borderline 20 points per game scorer and multifaceted defender. Justin Anderson improves his three-point shot and takes the next step toward being a lockdown defender.

Dallas unleashes a terrifying small-ball unit of Matthews-Anderson-Barnes, with Bogut, Mejri or Hammons occupying the center spot whenever Dirk’s not up to the challenge. The Mavericks win 48 games, secure the fifth seed in the West and draw on their experience and defense to pull off a first round playoff upset before bowing out in the second round.

Worst-Case Scenario

Nowitzki’s game finally starts to drop off, especially with the arrival of Barnes providing him something of an out from the responsibility he’s shouldered for so long. Unfortunately for him and the Mavs, Barnes largely struggles with all that added pressure, barely elevating his scoring totals as his efficiency dives off a cliff.

Without so many open looks served on a silver platter, Barnes undergoes a brutal learning curve and his confidence wavers like never before. Matthews, D-Will and Bogut all struggle to stay healthy, leaving Carlisle with even fewer options to extract miracles out of than ever before.

Seth Curry shows why the only substantial run he’s ever gotten in the NBA came with the Kings, the defense never comes together and Dwight Powell fails to live up to his gaudy contract extension. The Mavs win around 35 games and miss the playoffs.

Dallas Mavericks

Sep 26, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Andrew Bogut (6) poses for a photo during Media Day at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Predictions

Harrison Barnes is not going to emerge as some Most Improved Player of the Year candidate in 2016-17, but marginal improvements should be expected. He’ll put up career highs in points and possibly rebounds per game, and his defense will be solid too, but he won’t be a 20 points per game scorer either.

More than likely, Harry B will experience his ups and downs in an increased role. He won’t have the breakout season Mavs fans are hoping for, nor will he be the miserable failure his harshest critics are expecting. The overwhelming takeaway that he’s not Nowitzki’s eventual successor, however, will be fairly obvious to both parties.

Dirk’s numbers will continue their steady decline, but the drop-off won’t be so sudden to place even more pressure on Barnes to perform. With another solid season from Anderson, the Mavericks will be able to unleash some stifling defensive lineups whenever they choose to go small with that wing combination of Matthews, Anderson and Barnes.

Curry will able to spread the floor from three-point range if he earns run Rick Carlisle’s favor, and guys like Acy, Mejri, Devin Harris, J.J. Barea and Dwight Powell will do their part off the bench for an improved second unit.

There’s still no definitive answer to the question, “What happens after Dirk Nowitzki?” but at the very least, the Mavericks will be able to supply their seven-foot German with another playoff appearance in 2016-17 as they win 45 games…and bow out once again in the first round.

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