Remember when Nerlens Noel was a thing?
The 23-year-old center was a hot topic in the offseason as a restricted free agent and his saga lasted for weeks. In short, there were reports that Noel turned down a $70 million contract to stay in Dallas and, at the end of the day, the former Sixers big man elected to take the (relatively) piddling qualifying offer in hopes of future flexibility. Since that time, Noel has languished in relative obscurity but, this week, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle gave him a highly publicized DNP-CD while telling ESPN directly that “minutes have to be earned” for the youngster.
Noel is not some sort of dominant force that was expected to carry Dallas to wins this season, but the weirdness of that entire situation happens to speak to the mess that the Mavs are at the moment. The team sits in the Western Conference basement at 2-12 on the season and, in retrospect, the season-opening loss (at home) to the lowly Hawks feels like a microcosm of things to come.
Harrison Barnes (19.0 points, 7.1 rebounds per game) has been solid and rookie Dennis Smith Jr. has provided glimpses of optimism but, on the whole, there isn’t much going right for Mark Cuban’s team. Wesley Matthews continues to struggle, Noel can’t get on the floor and, most unfortunately, Dirk Nowitzki now looks like a 39-year-old basketball player is supposed to look. Are the Mavs this bad? Probably not, simply because they have the talent of a 35-win team rather than the 15-win team they currently resemble. Still, it hasn’t been a product of bad luck that Dallas has scuffled to this degree. They are flatly playing as poorly as the numbers indicate.
How far can the Mavs actually drop in our NBA power rankings? Let’s take stock.