NBA – Teams To Watch: The Dallas Mavericks

Can Ellis, Nowitzki and Co take Dallas to a new level in '14-'15, or will they see another first round exit?

The Dallas Mavericks have been one of the most active teams this summer. They didn’t get their hands on LeBron or Melo, but unlike the Lakers, they did an awesome job recovering and bringing in solid NBA players and stockpiling depth. The Mavericks made the first official move of the off-season by packaging Jose Calderon, a pair of second rounders, and a bag of rocks for a premier NBA center in Tyson Chandler, who’s in a contract year. Chandler is an anchor in the middle, something they severely lacked last season with the pathetic Samuel Dalembert struggling to make an impact at center. Also in this deal, the received Raymond Felton. The point guard was heavily maligned last season as he had arguably the worst year of his career on the Knicks. However, just about everyone not named Carmelo Anthony played poorly on the Knicks last season (Chandler was injured). Prior to that season, Felton proved to be more than capable of running the point, so if he can bounce back it makes losing the talented Calderon sting less. On top of this, they signed veteran PG Jameer Nelson and re-signed PG Devin Harris, who played admirably last season, to bolster the unit. Soon after, the Mavericks made one of the best value deals in NBA history, re-signing Dirk Nowitzki to a three year deal worth just $25M, a supreme bargain. The Mavericks of course didn’t stop there, they signed SF Chandler Parsons to a three year deal worth $46M. Parsons is now in an ideal spot, as he will now be a focal point on offense after being just a complementary piece next to James Harden in Houston, where he managed to average 16.6 PPG on 47.2% shooting. He is a lethal three point shooter who can score in a variety of ways. Outside of these guys, the Mavs also brought in some other talent. So without further adieu, let’s take a look at the 2014-15 Mavericks:

BOLD = New Acquisition

PG: Raymond Felton, Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, Gal Mekel

SG: Monta Ellis, Ricky Ledo

SF: Chandler Parsons, Al-Farouq Aminu, Richard Jefferson, Jae Crowder, Eric Griffin

PF: Dirk Nowitzki, Brandan Wright, Ivan Johnson

C: Tyson Chandler, Greg Smith, Bernard James

Total: 17

Who else is new?

Jameer Nelson

After being the starting PG for the Orlando Magic for 8 straight seasons, the team waived him this offseason after he had played all 10 years of his NBA career with the team. About a month later, the Mavericks signed him to a 2 year, $5.6M deal. This was a move I liked, as Nelson was not cut because of the traditional reason. He put up averages of 12.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, and 7.0 APG, on par with his career averages of 12.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 5.4 APG. The Magic have failed to be a relevant team ever since Dwight Howard was traded, and the team is now in full rebuilding mode. After the team traded for rookie PG Elfrid Payton on draft day, who was selected 10th overall by the Sixers, the 32 year old one-time All-Star really had no place on the team, and they knew a playoff team could use his talents, so they released the man who is fourth on the team’s all time scoring list. Nelson is a capable scorer, a veteran leader, a very good shooter, and a decent distributor. I would not be surprised in the slightest if he beats out the aforementioned Raymond Felton for the starting spot. Although I am somewhat confident Felton will bounce back, seeing as he continues to reiterate he intends to do so. On July 8th, not only did he say he was in the best shape he’s been in 4 or 5 years, he also vowed that he would be an “elite” PG. Moreover, today he announced that he wants to show everyone he’s “still got it” with the Mavericks this season.

Al-Farouq Aminu

The former lottery pick is just 23 years of age, and while his shooting is rather mediocre, he is a solid perimeter defender who plays physical and tough. He’s also a great athlete who can slash to the rim and rebound at an efficient rate (He led all small forwards in rebounding percentage for each of the past two seasons). The 6’9 Nigerian brings size to the wings, something Dallas desperately needed. Because he is so young, he can continue to develop his shot and game as a whole. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle conceded that Al-Farouq Aminu needs to work on his shooting, but Carlisle intends to “put him in position to play to his strengths now.” Dallas got him at a great bargain on a two year deal for just the veteran’s minimum, a move I loved. He can also slide down and play PF when needed. He finished 2013-14 with averages of 7.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.5 blocks in 25.6 minutes per game.

Richard Jefferson

Not the most impressive of moves, but bringing in the 13 year NBA Vet for the vet minimum was a decent move, at the least. He’s no longer the 20 point scorer he was with the Nets, but he did start 78 games last year for the lowly Utah Jazz at SF. His defense was atrocious, but his scoring ability was on display, as he averaged 10.1 PPG in 27 MPG. Most impressively he shot 40.9% from deep. In Dallas, he figures to be a mentor and a three point specialist off the bench.

Eric Griffin

Griffin (6-8, 194) was signed by the team after playing in four games for the Mavericks at the Las Vegas Summer League where he averaged 9.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.3 steals in 19.3 minutes. The 24 year old is a big dunker who is a good shot blocker and can rebound decently all thanks to his athleticism. Eric Griffin may seem like a long shot to make the team, but if he can beat out the 34 year old Jefferson, he may have a chance, especially if he can turn all that athleticism into solid defense, which would make coach Carlisle happy.

Ivan Johnson

I did a pretty in depth write up on Ivan in my NBA Free Agency Grades, so I will just quote from the article accordingly:

Dallas Mavericks sign PF Ivan Johnson to a 2 year deal for the minimum

Grade: B+

I wasn’t planning on grading this signing seeing as I rarely ever grade signings from players signed from the summer league because they seldom even make the final roster and when they do, they hardly last the full season, but I am making an exception for Big Ivan here, because I am confident he will make the team and he will be a contributor throughout the season. Ivan needed money to raise his one year old and two year old sons, so he took a year off from NBA to make more money in China where he averaged 26 PPG and 10 RPG a game to go along with 3 SPG. Anyway, prior to that he was one of the toughest players in the league as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, where he earned the reputation as a bruiser and a solid rebounder. He is also useable as a stretch 4. He only made 4 of 20 threes in the summer league for the Mavs, but his mid range shot is adequate and his stroke is decent. There are very few stretch 4s who are physical in the paint like Ivan is, not to mention he is very passionate. Johnson holds career averages of 6.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 15.8 minutes per game in 125 NBA games (five starts).

Greg Smith

Greg Smith was traded by the Bulls to the Mavs for essentially nothing, as a salary dump move as the Rockets were desperately trying to clear space to make room for Gasol. The 6’10 23 year old can play either PF or Center. He was signed by the Rockets in December of 2011. He spent some time in the D League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and only made 8 appearances his rookie year. His sophomore year, he became apart of the rotation. He played in 70 games (started 10) and averaged 6 PPG and 4.6 RPG in 16 MPG. Last year, however, he fell out of the rotation and went through a plethora of knee injuries and only made 11 appearances before being released. He signed with the Bulls at the tail end of the season, but never made an appearance for the squad as he was recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Since the Mavs are so thin at center, he has a viable chance to make the roster. He uses his freakishly large hands (the largest ever recorded at the NBA combine) to help him rebound at a solid rate and he is a good finisher around the rim as well, a career 62.3% shooter from the field.

Roster Battles

Shooting Guard Depth:

How have the Mavs ignored this position? Outside of the electrifying Monta Ellis, the only other shooting guard on the roster is 21 year old NBA sophomore Ricky Ledo. Ledo was the 43rd pick of the 2013 NBA Draft and made just 11 appearances (33 total minutes) for the Mavericks, doing little in them, as he mainly spent time in the NBA D-League. Gregory Mason of Upside & Motor had this to say about the Puerto Rican

At 6’7”, 200 pounds has great size for a guard. His best skill right now is his ball handling. Ledo is an NBA-level athlete but he isn’t explosive and he doesn’t blow by defenders. As such, he utilizes a vicious crossover and a bag of tricks to break guys down and get to the rim. This approach has its pluses and minuses. When executed effectively, Ledo shakes guys off balance and gets to the bucket for a finger roll or an easy drop off pass. On the flip side, Ledo tends to over dribble or drive wildly in order to compensate for his average athletic ability. Additionally, because Ledo isn’t an explosive athlete and his wing span is “only” 6’7”, he also struggles at times to finish at the rim. This was a major reason, along with spotty shot selection, why he only shot 45.7% on two-point field goals in the D-League last season.

Ledo certainly isn’t expected to be a  major component of the Mavs offense by any means, but seeing as they are so thin at SG, he should see his minutes. However, the Mavs do have four point guards on the roster, and I expect all of them to make the team. Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson in particular are most likely going to get minutes at shooting guard. Also, Richard Jefferson can play some SG as well. It seems rather than bringing someone in, the Mavs will just use what they have and move on. Although, I suppose backup SG isn’t too big of a deal, seeing as Monta Ellis has great stamina and can play a ton of minutes. He not only averaged 36 MPG last season, but he averaged 41.4 MPG and 40.3 MPG in the 09-10 and 10-11 seasons as a member of the Warriors respectively (led the league).

Center Depth:

I talked about Greg Smith already, but evidently I believe Brandan Wright will be the main backup center in Dallas. However, Wright has never been the strongest off big men, despite his great athleticism, and his defensive efforts are sporadic. This means Dallas will need to have a tall, lengthy rim protector to back up Tyson Chandler. Right now, that man is Bernard James. The 29 year old was the 33rd pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. He’s played his both of his NBA seasons in Dallas. He has an interesting story, as he dropped out of High School when he was 16 to join the Air Force. More can be read on that here. He then went on to play for Florida State, where he got All-ACC Defensive Team honors. Long story short, James isn’t the most talented of bigs, and he has only played in 76 games in two seasons (46 games/11 starts came as a rookie), as he’s spent time in the NBA D-League. However, with DeJuan Blair and Samuel Dalembert out, James actually has a chance to prove himself. He is a good rebounder and shot blocker, and he played very well in the summer league. James is actually unsigned, but with Blair gone, I think James has a chance to find himself a spot because of his defensive ability, something that lacks from Brandan Wright.

Final 15 prediction?

I say Eric Griffin gets released. I also think Bernard James will sign a contract to participate with the team in camp, but will ultimately be released prior to the season starting. I say Ricky Ledo makes the team because he provides what’s needed at the SG spot: size, athleticism, and shooting. At 6’7, 200 perhaps Carlisle can mold him into a solid defensive presence as well. I think the team will keep the following 5 bigs: Dirk, Chandler, Wright, Ivan Johnson, and Greg Smith. As for Griffin’s situation, the team currently has 5 small forwards, and Carlisle is known to favor playing vets over rookies, so Richard Jefferson gets the nod. As for the 24 year old Jae Crowder, he’s a lock to remain apart of the rotation as Carlisle loves his work ethic, defense, and versatility. Griffin will probably mainly play in the D-League, while James may find a spot with another team.

Overall:

I think this Mavs team is going to be solid. I have a feeling that with Dirk, Ellis, and Parsons, they are going to be a force offensively, and one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. They will miss the leadership of Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, but with the additions of a defensive anchor in the middle in Tyson Chandler, and a legitimate offensive scoring threat in Chandler Parsons, this squad clearly improved. They also have two hungry point guards in Nelson, who has stated he just wants to win, and Felton, who wants to show everyone he’s still an elite PG. Re-signing the former All Star Devin Harris was another savvy move as he’s a solid backup PG. I can see them struggling on defense, as neither Ellis nor Parsons are known for their D, but Chandler will hopefully minimize easy shots in the paint. Overall, I see this team finishing well in the West, and I think after the Spurs and Thunder, they are going to be right up there competing for that third spot, which was occupied by the Los Angeles Clippers last season.