The Dallas Mavericks have their fair share of concerns with health entering the 2015-16 season. Chandler Parsons had knee surgery on May 1. Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles in March. Dirk Nowitzki is 37 years old and entering his 18th season. Those three players represent the top projected scorers in the Dallas starting lineup, and all three could miss time or not be at full strength early on this season.
The projected starting five for Dallas have injury or minutes concerns at every position beyond Parsons, Matthews and Nowitzki. Point guard Deron Williams has missed 30-plus games the past two seasons and last season saw his minutes reduced to the lowest numbers since his rookie season. When you look at projected starting center Zaza Pachulia, things get even more shaky. Pachulia has started less than 37 games per year the last four seasons and has played more than 30 minutes per game only once in his 12-year career, and that was way back in 2006.
More than most, if not all, other teams in the league, Dallas will be heavily reliant on its bench from the outset. So who will the Mavericks be relying on to eat up minutes and help sustain their winning ways? Let’s take a look.
Devin Harris projects to be Dallas’ sixth man and will likely earn the start at shooting guard while Matthews battles back from Achilles surgery. While Harris is not the picture of health himself, as he’s suffered through toe and hand injuries the past couple of seasons, he’ll provide a steady hand in the backcourt. A starter for seven out of his 11 NBA seasons, the former All-Star brings valuable experience and offensive firepower to the Mavs’ rotation. Harris has put up 14.1 points, 6.0 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.8 three-pointers per 36 minutes of action in his last two seasons in a backup role with Dallas.
The re-signing of J.J. Barea to back up Williams at the point not only allows Harris to shift over to the 2 spot full-time, but also provides Dallas with another reliable veteran in the backcourt.
Barea played a crucial role in the 2011 NBA championship run for Dallas, and the fan favorite was brought back last season and proved to be a much-needed spark off the bench. In the playoffs last year, the diminutive point guard notched 11.8 points and 7.4 assists per game. Barea makes up for his deficiencies on defense with superior offensive awareness and production. He helped Dallas put up 110.0 points per game in his 10 spot starts last season.
With Harris and Barea over 31, the Dallas bench got a much-needed infusion of youth with the drafting of Justin Anderson No. 21 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. Not since the Mavs drafted Josh Howard back in 2003 have they spent a first-round pick on a player they believe will be a significant part of their future.
Anderson, a 6’6’ small forward from Virginia, figures to play a prominent role off the bench for Dallas. His versatility and size will allow the rookie to play both shooting guard and small forward. On a team with many offensive minded weapons, Anderson will also bring a defensive presence to the wing not possessed by Parsons or Harris, especially when paired with a healthy Matthews.
Anderson isn’t the only shot of youth on the Dallas bench; Dwight Powell at 24 could be the power forward of the future. While he played less than 10 minutes per game his rookie season last year (8.1 to be precise), Powell is expected to play a sizable part in the Mavs’ plans this season. Even more so if the organization follows through with their plan to limit Nowitzki’s minutes. Powell showed off his potential when he lit up the Summer League to the tune of 18.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Powell will not fill all of the extra time at power forward either. Carlisle may also elect to go small ball as well, putting Parsons at the 4 with newcomer John Jenkins filling in on the wing. Jenkins, a former 2012 first-round pick for Atlanta, could provide extra shooting from deep. He hit 38 percent of his three-pointers in 98 games for the Hawks the last three seasons.
Jeremy Evans was also brought in to compete for playing time at the 3 and 4. The 2012 Slam Dunk Contest champion, Evans definitely possesses the athleticism to play in the NBA. Dallas is hoping he can fill the same role Al-Farouq Aminu and Brandan Wright did the last couple of seasons: the high energy defender with highlight-reel dunks.
While the backcourt, wing and to a lesser extent the power-forward position seem to have a clear rotation, the center spot will be a toss-up all season long. Pachulia is pegged as the starting center for Dallas, but the 31-year-old has played only 23.5 minutes per game the last three seasons. Pachulia was also the Mavs’ last-second replacement after they failed to convince DeAndre Jordan to leave Los Angeles and lost Tyson Chandler to Phoenix. Apparently unsure themselves about what to expect from Pachulia, Dallas signed Samuel Dalembert and JaVale McGee in the hopes that one of the three will be a competent play at center.
Last season, Dalembert played in only 32 games for the Knicks due to poor play and injury. However, the 34-year-old Haitian started 68 games for Dallas in 2013-14 and managed to put up respectable numbers in the process. His 6.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 20-plus minutes of play provided stability to the 49-win squad. While not spectacular offensively, Dallas feels his defensive presence at the rim can help make up for the lack of defense elsewhere on the floor.
Defense, defense and more defense is what Dallas is hoping to get out of McGee this season. The highly talented but oft-injured center has shown off his shot-blocking talents before. With a career 1.8 blocks per game in less than 20 minutes per game, McGee could be a force down low for Dallas. The problem is the 27-year-old has only played in 28 games the past two seasons due to injury. He enters this upcoming season a question mark for training camp, as he’s still recovering from a leg injury suffered in March. His signing was a low-cost gamble for Dallas, though, and if he could ever return close to his 2011 form when he blocked a career-high 2.4 shots per game (including 12 in a single game), McGee could be the answer at center for Dallas.
It goes without saying that if Dallas will be close to contending for the final playoff spot out West, they can ill-afford any of their big three to be out for an extended period. However, with Harris, Barea and Dalembert first off the bench, Dallas has a few proven players who can help pick up the slack. They also have a couple of exciting young prospects in Powell and Anderson filling out the rotation. Add in the low-risk bets Dallas has placed on McGee, Jenkins and Evans, and the Mavs’ bench could be one of the deepest and strongest in the entire Association.