After striking out several years in a row on top free agents, the Dallas Mavericks finally hit it big, signing up both Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan to big-money deals. But will that be enough to make the Mavericks a legitimate title contender in the West? Dallas is still in a conference with the Warriors (who will be bringing back the majority of their championship team), the Spurs (who just added LaMarcus Aldridge), the Rockets (who will be healthier for the start of the season) and the Thunder (with a recovered Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka), among other quality teams. The competition is incredibly tough, and just being a pretty good team won’t cut it.
The Mavericks’ contention this year rests on Jordan’s ability to step up and excel as a featured player. It’s suspected that one of the reasons Jordan left the Clippers, and the extra money they could offer him, was that he was tired of being the “third guy” on the team behind Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. If Jordan sees himself as a player capable of leading a team to a high level of success, this will be the time to prove it.
Jordan has always been best known for his defense, but he actually led the league in field goal percentage last season. This is the result of Jordan primarily dunking the ball and shooting from close to the basket, but this shows that when put in the right position, he can finish at a consistent rate. This could change if he’s expected to create more on his own and take tougher shots. Being the focus of the offense also means more attention from the defense.
Jordan had one of the lowest usage rates in the NBA last year, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens if and when he takes a greater role on offense. While on the Clippers, Jordan’s role offensively was to set screens and crash to the hoop. Paul and Griffin are two of the best passers at their respective positions, and a lot of Jordan’s scoring came from their passing. If Jordan needs that level of passing to be effective offensively, he could find a bit tougher sledding in Dallas.
Right now, the Mavericks’ starters for opening night would be Jordan at center, Dirk Nowitzki at power forward, Chandler Parsons at small forward, Wesley Matthews at shooting guard and … J.J. Barea playing the point if he re-signs as expected? I like Barea, but he’s not a starting caliber point guard. Right now, though, the alternative is Raymond Felton (or maybe Devin Harris?), making Barea look like the second coming of John Stockton. There have been stories linking the Mavs to Jeremy Lin, who would certainly add some depth to the position. If he could capture some of the old “Linsanity” magic, he could fill a sizable hole in Dallas’ lineup.
The roster is interesting, but the Mavs need a lot of things to break their way if they want to be considered one of the big boys in the conference (including Matthews and Parsons bouncing back from serious injuries). I like DeAndre as a fit to provide interior defense and make up for Nowitzki’s lack of rim protection, but Jordan trying to take on a major offensive role doesn’t fit into his primary skill set. He’ll be a big part of the pick-and-roll and finish around the basket, but expecting him to turn into Hakeem Olajuwon overnight isn’t realistic.
Even if Jordan remains a defensive specialist and rim protector, the Mavs will be a playoff team. If they want to be a contender, however, they need DeAndre to turn into the best center in the league. They’ll also probably need him to hit his free throws, and we know that can be a problem.