With the tip-off of the 2015-16 season upon us, the Dallas Mavericks have finalized their team roster this week. They’re down to 15 players after waiving Maurice N’dour, Samuel Dalembert, Brandon Ashley and others.
Now that we know the players, what will the rotation look like this season? Let’s break it down.
Center – Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, Salah Mejri
Pachulia enters the season as the unquestioned starter at center. Even with his spot secure in the starting lineup, Pachulia has never been a player to receive heavy minutes. Even while starting over 60 percent of his games played the last four years, the 31-year-old has averaged only 24.7 minutes per game. That leaves the door open for backups McGee and rookie Mejri to see ample playing time this season.
Another wrinkle the Mavs are likely to use this season, especially with McGee not ready to play as he continues to recover from a leg injury, is small ball. Jeremy Evans is expected to see a good amount of time at the 5 as coach Rick Carlisle decides to run out smaller lineups to exploit matchups or just simply fill in until McGee is 100 percent.
Whomever the Mavs play at center, they’ll need to be a solid defender, rebounder and rim protector more than a scorer. While Dirk Nowitzki is one of the greatest scorers of all time, teams routinely attack him on pick-and-rolls, leaving the need for a stout center able to protect the paint.
Power Forward – Dirk Nowitzki, Charlie Villanueva, Dwight Powell, Jeremy Evans
Nowitzki continues to roll as he enters his 18th season. Even with a decline in athleticism, Nowitzki was able to put up 17.3 points in less than 30 minutes per game in 2014-15. His minutes are expected to be capped at 26 per game this season, leaving the door open for Evans, Powell and Villanueva to see the court.
When Evans isn’t playing center in a small lineup, he’ll see some action at the 4. When Dallas has McGee healthy, they can insert a solid defensive frontcourt of Evans and McGee, providing excellent rim protection even if their one-on-one defense isn’t ideal.
We all know Carlisle’s reluctance to play young players, so don’t expect to see Powell getting much more than 15 minutes per game in his second season. While that seems low, it’d still nearly double his average of 8.1 minutes played in his rookie season.
Villaneuva at 31 years old has transformed himself into purely a three-point specialist off the bench. Last season he played in only 10 minutes per game but managed to hoist 3.5 three-pointers per game, connecting on 37.6 percent of them. The Mavericks will not ask or rely on Villanueva for more than that this season.
Small Forward – Chandler Parsons, Justin Anderson
Parsons is expected to be the leader of the offense this season. As the top scoring threat and, at times, the primary ball handler, the Mavs need him to be healthy. He missed the entire preseason and his status for the first week of games remains in doubt. While he should make his return from offseason knee surgery fairly soon, Dallas will need to get creative to fill in for Parsons while he’s out.
If the preseason finale was any indication of how Carlisle will handle Parsons’s absence, then expect to see a lot of three-guard lineups for the Mavericks in the early part of the season. Against Chicago, Dallas started Raymond Felton, Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews to go along with Nowitzki and Pachulia in the frontcourt. With Matthews and Williams still coming off of injury, I wouldn’t expect heavy minutes from this lineup, but they could likely be the starting lineup on opening night.
The extremely versatile Evans will also see some time on the wing, along with power forward and center, with Parsons out. He tried hard to add a three-point shot in anticipation to playing a few minutes at small forward, but to no success. Evans went 2-for-15 from deep this preseason; he was 10-for-18 on his two-point shots, though.
Anderson is the only true small forward on the roster, behind Parsons. While Anderson had an explosive Summer League, his preseason numbers didn’t do anything to build up the confidence level Carlisle needs to play him more than 15-20 minutes per game. Going 34.8 percent from the field and 16.0 percent from behind the arc, Anderson will likely take a backseat to some combination of a three-guard lineup.
Shooting guard – Wesley Matthews, Devin Harris, John Jenkins
After initial reports that Matthews would be out until Christmas, the Mavs’ prized free agent has already logged time this preseason and will be ready to go the first week of the season. While his official status for Wednesday’s opener in Phoenix is questionable, the expectation is Matthews will see the court, albeit with a minutes restriction. Even in limited time, Dallas has to be excited that Matthews will be playing in a meaningful game in October.
The likely starter at shooting guard if Matthews is out will be veteran Harris. A point guard most of his career, Harris has spent 57 percent of his time at the 2-guard spot the past three seasons. At 32 years old, Harris isn’t an explosive scorer like he once was. The best part of his game last year was as a spot-up shooter. He made 37 percent of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers, similar numbers to Matthews.
The emergence of Jenkins this preseason has made the Dallas backcourt an area of strength. A lights-out shooter, Jenkins averaged 19.7 points in under 30 minutes per game. In the regular season, Jenkins will be limited to a reserve role, but his solid preseason provides the Mavericks’ lineup with even more flexibility as they try to get healthy.
Point Guard – Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, J.J. Barea
By far the deepest area on the team, Dallas is set with Williams running the show. After missing all of training camp due to a calf injury, Williams finally saw some preseason action in the exhibition finale against Chicago. In 16 minutes of action, the point guard had six points and four assists to one turnover. His strong play will be vital if the Mavericks are going to contend for a playoff spot in the West this year, especially with Matthews and Parsons limited early on.
Backing up Williams, and sometimes starting alongside him, will be Felton and Barea. The pair combined for 9.2 assists per game this preseason with Felton providing the better scoring at 9.2 per game. After playing 281 minutes all year last season, Felton is looking to have a bounce-back season in Dallas. A career 12.7-point and 6.2-assist per game player, Felton showed flashes of his former self this preseason, making it easier for Carlisle to place him in the starting lineup if need be.
For all of Barea’s success in Dallas in spot-start duty, he’s the best candidate to lead the second unit. His energy on the floor pairs well with Evans as they connected on countless alley-oops this preseason. His knowledge of a Carlisle-run offense will help the inexperienced second unit grow and advance all season long.