Team Preview: Dallas Mavericks
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Few seasons in NBA history have ended with as much disappointment and shock as that of the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks whom the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors ran off the court in their first-round playoff series. Still, that doesn’t diminish the fact that Dallas’s 67 wins were the most of any team since the 1997 Bulls or that their superstar power forward Dirk Nowitzki earned his first league MVP award. Moreover, small forward Josh Howard emerged as one of the league's top players, and Jason Terry continued to be a reliable source of production from the backcourt.
From a statistical perspective, however, the 2006-07 Mavericks were not as good as their 67 wins would suggest. They did not lead the league in any significant statistical category, posting just a No. 9 ranking in scoring per game (100.2 ppg), and they were only third best (behind San Antonio and Phoenix) in net point differential (points scored minus points allowed) at plus-7.2 per game. While Dallas did rank in the top five in field goal, free throw and three-point percentage, it should be noted that Phoenix ranked ahead of them in each of those categories. In fact, Dallas ranked 24th in the league in both steals and assists, and their 5.0 blocks per game were good for only 12th. The Mavericks were good in 2006-07, but they weren’t nearly the juggernaut that their record suggested. In the Playoffs, Golden State found the Mavs' weaknesses and exposed them, and you can be sure that the rest of the league will attempt to follow that blueprint this year.
During the offseason, the Mavs have stood relatively pat. The team re-signed elder statesman Jerry Stackhouse and picked up veteran guard Eddie Jones. Additionally, the Mavs traded Greg Buckner to Minnesota for Trenton Hassell, who should bring a solid defensive presence. Otherwise, Dallas will enter 2007-08 looking largely like they did in 2006-07.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The playing time on this year's Mavs will look strikingly similar to last year’s, especially in regard to the team's top three players. Nowitzki, Howard and Terry all topped 35 minutes per game last year, and we expect that trend to continue into this season. The number of games played by this Big Three should also increase, as coach Avery Johnson was criticized for resting his star players late in the season, leading to some rust during the Playoffs.
Center minutes should be split again this season between Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop. Dampier brings more offensive skill to the position, but he is expected to be out until December due to shoulder surgery. Diop will get the starting minutes until Dampier returns, at which point Damp should gain the slight playing time edge (25 minutes) over Diop (20 minutes), who is solely a defensive player. The combination of the two, however, proved successful last year, and we do not expect much tinkering with the center position playing time. Perennial project D.J. Mbenga should continue to play only sporadically.
The starting frontcourt spots are firmly held down by Nowitzki and Howard, but second-year player Maurice Ager should see backup time at the three, taking minutes away from veteran Jerry Stackhouse. Stackhouse's 24 minutes-per-game last year will probably be reduced to 15-20 this year, as the team really wants to develop Ager. Draftee Nick Fazekas should back up Nowitzki in the role previously held by Austin Croshere. He won't average more than 10 minutes per game unless Nowitzki gets hurt. New face Brandon Bass should only see mop-up duty, as should second-year player Pops Mensah-Bonsu.
Terry should hold down the shooting guard spot where he flourished last year in his first season away from the point as a Maverick. The point guard position, however, is a question mark and has been since last season's All-Star break. Devin Harris began the year as the team's starting point guard, but in the second half of the season was often relegated to second-team duty, with Trenton Hassell and Devean George absorbing some of his minutes. Harris will be given his umpteenth chance to solidify the position this year, but he’ll probably be benched when the team plays against bigger point guards. Expect Harris to average between 25-30 minutes per game, depending on the matchup. Newly signed veteran Eddie Jones should also eat up some guard minutes, and we expect him to see roughly 15 minutes per game. The injury-plagued George and defensive guru Hassell will probably see about 10 minutes per game, especially against smaller clubs. Second-year player Jose Barea should earn a roster spot, but will see only garbage time. Stackhouse and Ager may also fill in for Terry at the two when Howard is on the floor.
Erick Dampier - DAL [C]: Dampier was having a solid year when a separated shoulder derailed him for the very end of the season and the Playoffs. He improved dramatically on the offensive end last season, and his .626 field goal percentage would have led the league had he qualified. His ability to grab offensive rebounds (5.4 per 48 minutes) also makes him valuable in deeper leagues. While he's not the double-double threat he once was in Golden State, he's also not the bust that many make him out to be. Fantasy owners looking for high field goal percentage and rebounding could do worse than Dampier. You'll have to wait though. Dampier is expected to be out until December, as he'll be recovering from shoulder surgery. Which leads us to...
* DeSagana Diop - DAL [PF,C]: Diop has carved out quite the niche for himself during his time in Dallas, emerging as one of the league's top defensive centers, with no offensive skills to speak of. He can rebound and block shots in bunches, averaging 3.67 blocks and 14.2 rebounds per 48 minutes. However, he only averaged 2.3 points per game, with most of those coming on follow-up rebounds. Granted, he doesn't get a lot of playing time, but he has established himself as a defensive specialist at the center position. With Dampier out until December, you'll get consistent minutes out of Diop during the first month of the season. Pick him up if you're desperately in need of blocks and rebounds, but don't expect any scoring. Word on the street is that the Mavs might go after another big man to mitigate the temporary Dampier loss, so keep an eye on that situation.
D.J. Mbenga - DAL [C]: Mbenga missed most of last season with a torn ACL, and the injury may cause him to miss a chunk of this year as well. Whether injured or healthy, Mbenga is nothing more than a project and will not receive significant enough playing time to warrant fantasy consideration.
* Dirk Nowitzki - DAL [PF]: Nowitzki’s averages of 24.6 points and 8.9 rebounds were a slight tick behind the 26/9 that he pumped in during 2004-05 and 2005-06, but his all-around contributions on a 67-win team led to well-deserved MVP honors. Nowitzki set career highs in field goal percentage (50.2 percent), three-point percentage (41.6 percent) and free-throw shooting (90.2 percent), while also blocking nearly a shot per game (0.79). Nowitzki also set a career high in assists last year (3.4 apg) as the team often put him in a "point forward" role, letting him carry the ball up the floor and distribute. That Nowitzki's numbers dropped off in March and April can in part be blamed on his being rested down the stretch, which arguably contributed to his struggles in the postseason. We don't expect the key Mavs to be rested in March and April this year, and the perennially healthy Nowitzki should hold up fine under the increased workload. Nowitzki is one of those players who never seems to break down, so a summer stint with the German National Team may actually keep his game fresh for this season's start. Dirk is a certain first-round pick in most formats, especially given his newfound propensity to pass the ball and pick up assists from the power forward spot.
Devean George - DAL [SG]: George has always been a "glue guy" for the teams he's played on, playing tough defense and doing the little things on winning teams. However, these skills don't often translate to fantasy, and George's averages of 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game make him unrosterable. George's injury history is also cause for concern as a balky knee severely limited him last year. George may get the occasional match-up-related start, but his contributions are generally those that cannot be measured in the box score.
Nick Fazekas - DAL [SF,PF]: Fazekas was drafted by the Mavericks with the 34th overall pick in this summer's draft, and the team felt confident enough in his abilities to jettison forward Austin Croshere. Fazekas will now assume Croshere's backup power forward spot, behind reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki. Fazekas brings a sweet shooting stroke and rebounding ability to the Mavs, but he will probably only get garbage time minutes behind the team’s star.
Brandon Bass - DAL [SF,PF]: The Mavericks signed Bass to a two-year contract on the heels of his strong 2007 Las Vegas Summer League performance, in which he averaged 14.8 points and 6.2 rebounds. Still, we don't expect Bass to make much of a contribution in Dallas this year, should he even make the final roster at all. Expect Bass to spend much of this year in the NBDL, and he should not be a fantasy consideration.
* Jason Terry - DAL [PG,SG]: Terry's first year exclusively as a shooting guard could be termed a success, despite the fact that Josh Howard eclipsed him as the Mavericks' No. 2 scoring option. Terry actually averaged more assists at the 2-guard spot (5.2 apg) than he did while manning the point the previous year (3.8 apg). Terry also exploded as a three-point shooter last season, and his 43.8 percent clip was good for sixth in the league. Also, despite Howard's maturation, Terry only averaged 0.4 ppg less in 2006-07 than he did in 2005-06. Meanwhile, Terry's field goal percentage (48.4 percent), free-throw percentage (80.4 percent) and minutes (35.2) all improved. Terry is an optimal mid-round shooting guard pick for fantasy owners looking to add a pure shooter, and his ability to dish out assists from the two-guard spot makes him that much more of an attractive fantasy option.
* Devin Harris - DAL [PG,SG]: While Mavericks coaches keep waiting for Harris to break out and become an elite point guard, fantasy owners should harbor less optimism. Harris has trouble distributing the ball effectively, and, as a result, his starting spot always seems in jeopardy. While 2006-07 did represent a career year for Harris with averages of 10.2 points, 3.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game, much more was expected of a player who was handed the starting point guard spot for what became a 67-win team. The signing of Eddie Jones this season could also signal a few lost starts for Harris, especially against bigger lineups. While Harris shoots at a high clip (49.2 percent) and makes his free throws (82.4 percent), the team’s offense often runs through Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki, costing Harris assists.
Maurice Ager - DAL [PG,SG]: Ager was a non-factor in last year's 67-win Mavericks team, and even spent a good chunk of the year in the NBDL. However, big things are expected from the Ager this season, as he will be expected to eventually take the sixth-man mantle from the aging Jerry Stackhouse. Ager's ability to play both the 2 and the 3 also increase his value to the Mavericks. He possesses great athleticism, showed an ability to score while at Michigan State and has put up big scoring numbers in summer league play. While Ager is probably still a year or two away from being a viable fantasy contributor, keep an eye on him in case he arrives ahead of schedule.
Eddie Jones - DAL [SG]: Jones is a player in the dying days of his career, especially from a fantasy perspective. He was outright released by Memphis last season and picked up by Miami, for whom he averaged an underwhelming 5.6 points in 19.3 minutes. The Mavericks signed him this offseason for his veteran leadership and with the intention of playing him no more than 15-20 minutes per game.
Trenton Hassell – DAL [SG,SF]: You knew his stay in Minnesota wouldn't last much longer after the T-Wolves took a similar player with Corey Brewer in the first round of the 2007 NBA Draft. Hassell isn't asked to score when on the floor and was only a fantasy factor in deeper leagues because he got significant minutes. Monitor how he fits in with Dallas during the training camp and early into the season.
Jose Juan Barea - DAL [PG,SG]: Barea spent much of last season in the NBDL, and there is debate over whether he will even earn a roster spot this year. However, the Northeastern product has found success in various summer leagues, especially given his ability to score and distribute the basketball. Still, if he even makes the Mavericks roster, look for him to be the last guard off the bench and receive only garbage time minutes.