The 2015-16 NBA Season starts soon, preseason hoops are in full swing, and playoff prognostications have begun in earnest. Because season previews can get bogged down by team-specific minutiae, and we cover every basketball team, we’re providing our readers reasons why you should care about all 30 teams in the Association.
This might’ve been a totally different preview if only DeAndre Jordan adheres to his verbal agreement. But that’s why you have to add a caveat for everything that happens during the moratorium. Despite what his U-turn might mean for the NBA moving forward, the Mavs have to try and do the same. It’s not going to be easy.
Dirk is an old man now, discussing hypothetical races with other old-time Hall of Famers. Deron Williams will turn 32 next summer, and his prime years have been anything but. Chandler Parsons didn’t play a minute during preseason games as he tries to get his knee right.
Instead of DJ, the Mavs will be starting long-time Buck, Zaza Pachulia with — wait for it — JaVale McGee backing him up. Oh yeah, Chandler and JaVale are both questionable for the start of the season.
But, the big free agent signing that did go through — former Blazers swingman, Wesley Matthews — played in Dallas’ last preseason game and looked okay. Offensively, he drained a couple of contested three-pointers and even took E’Twaun Moore down into the post and scored on a pretty right hook.
Things aren’t that bad, Mavs fans. And for non-fans, there are a few reasons to tune in to Dallas next week when the season tips off. Primarily, to see how Wes will hold up and whether he’s worth the four-year, $70 million deal he signed with Dallas over the summer.
Aside from Wes, will Dirk and Deron complement each other as well as Monta did with Dirk over the last two years?
Is Wes Matthews worth his contract?
Wes Matthews is one of the best wings in basketball.
The former undrafted free agent an elite three-point shooter in terms of both volume and accuracy. He’s an absolute marksman in spot-up situations, but has grown increasingly comfortable launching treys off the dribble. At 6’5 and a sturdy 220 pounds, Matthews is a multi-skilled bully down low who’s become one of the most effective perimeter poster players in basketball. And though hardly James Harden, he can certainly initiate offense and make nuanced plays for his teammates, too.
Defensive, however, is where the 28-year-old first made his mark in the league. While Matthews’ fiery disposition and ceaseless commitment is the greatest reason for his success on that side of the ball, he’s no slouch physically by any stretch of the imagination. He’s strong enough to check small forwards, quick enough to chase sharpshooters around screens, and disciplined enough to be disruptive when he’s away from the ball. Matthews will never be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but is simply the type of player coach can count on to make an overtly positive impact on a nightly basis.
Check all of that, actually. Matthews was a wildly underrated offensive player, and was a near-elite defender. To say the Dallas Mavericks guard still deserves those distinctions is premature considering he’s played a single exhibition game since tearing his Achilles tendon – the most harrowing injury in basketball these days, by the way – last March.
There’s reason to believe Matthews will reach his exalted prior form again. He took that relentless in-game approach with him to rehabilitation, and seems primed to start Dallas’ season opener just seven months after surgery. They didn’t call him “Iron Man” in Portland by accident. Matthews has made a career of staying on the court and defying expectations.
But he’d be due an adjustment period in 2015-16 even if entering it completely healthy. Changing teams is difficult for all players, and Matthews’ new status as something close to a primary playmaker represents a potentially arduous role change. And here’s the elephant in the room fans will complain about at Matthews’ first sign of struggle: He signed a four-year, $70 million contract this summer that will pay him $19 million as a 32-year-old.
What’s crucial to remember is those numbers don’t mean what they used to. As the salary cap rockets to $90 million in 2016-17 and approaches $110 million the following season, it’s increasingly important to look at individual salaries as a percentage of those sky-high numbers as opposed to their dollar amount.
Matthews, for instance, will take up approximately 19 percent of the Mavericks’ space below the cap next season. That’s a bit high for a player of his caliber, but hardly the albatross less educated league followers assume – and that share will only become more palatable as the salary cap explodes again one year later.
Did Dallas overpay to get Matthews? Perhaps. Even so, his contract – like all those signed this summer and the following two – just isn’t close to as outlandish as the raw millions suggest. In the late 2010s, players of a limited but excellent quality make what superstars used to when they signed max-level rookie extensions. Get used to it.
Nevertheless, Matthews’ deal is still a double-edged sword. If he can’t regain the form that made him such a valuable cog of the Portland Trail Blazers, his contract will prohibit the Mavericks’ flexibility during the time of transition they might need it most. That’s a real possibility to consider.
But considering Matthews’ unblemished track record of beating the NBA odds, don’t count on it happening.
Can Dirk and Deron Williams reach the peak pick-and-roll efficiency of pre-Rondo Monta and Dirk?
When Monta Ellis signed in Dallas in the summer of 2013, he had just finished one and half unsuccessful seasons in Milwaukee after six and a half sorta successful seasons in Golden State. We write sorta successful because he was a part of that miraculous 2007 Dubs team that everyone in the Bay talked about in reverential tones until last year’s title.
He was Mark Cuban’s backup option that year after Chris Paul re-signed in LA and Tyreke Evans signed in New Orleans for what was considered — at the time — an overpay. Dallas got Monta for what turned into a little more than $16 million over two years (he opted out this past summer and signed in Indiana for four years and $44 million).
In Dallas, he turned into a pick-and-roll maestro with Dirk as his Evelyn Glennie. They were really perfect together. Monta has an explosive first step and is one the greatest stylists around the rim in NBA history. He’s also shot adequately in the mid-range, even if his three-point shooting dropped below the Kendall Gill line.
But enough about Monta, it’s Deron Williams who’ll be running the high pick-and-roll with Dirk now. That is, until one or both of them injure themselves. But here’s what one of those NBA scouts said of Deron’s move to Dallas. (Keep in mind, they also got some things wrong, too)
If I was buying shares, I would buy big on Deron. He’s going back home, he’s better in a small market, he’s better without all the pressure. He has said that he wants the structure he had with Jerry Sloan. He will get it with Rick Carlisle… Last year Rick went to what he calls his flow offense: free-form pick-and-roll, just play, attack your man. I think he’ll go back to being more of a play caller, and they’ll run a more rigid offense. Deron could thrive in that.”
Perhaps they’re right. D-Will wasn’t dreadful in 68 games last year. He shot more than 36 percent from beyond the three-point arc for the third year in a row. Except, he also shot a career-low 38.7 percent overall, the first time he’s ever dropped below the Jason Kidd line.
According to Synergy, he turned the ball over on more than a fifth of his possessions that ended in a shot, turnover or foul. That’s not very good. One of the worst in the league. Plus, his adjusted field goal percentage (including 3-pointers) was under 40 percent. The only other players who turned the ball over that many times last season and shot so poorly were Michael Carter-Williams (when he was still in Philly) and Ricky Rubio in 22 games for Minney. Being that Rubio is perhaps the worst shooting starting point guard in the NBA, and MCW was flailing all over the place before getting dealt to Milwaukee, that does not bode well for this pick-and-roll heavy attack in Dallas.
But Brook Lopez isn’t Dirk, and Deron was around average in offensive real plus-minus. But we could look at stats all day and it wouldn’t account for the achy way he moves. Or, maybe that’s just how we picture him.
He looked pretty agile burning Jimmy Butler on this side pick-and-roll with Dirk in his lone preseason appearance against Chicago on Friday. Except, watch for what happens when he gets to the basket along the baseline side.
Is Tony Snell that imposing a presence at the rim? No. In fact, if you look at D-Will’s field goal percentage from 0-3 feet last season (remember, the league average was more than 62 percent from that range last season) it was 45.7 percent. Conversely, Monta Ellis took around 25 percent of his shots between 0-3 feet last year in Dallas. He made more than 62 percent on them.
Before last season, the worst D-Will ever shot in his career from the 0-3 foot range was his rookie year, when he made a little more than half his attempts (50.5 percent). So, last year was really bad; it’s almost an outlier it was so bad. It also explains the sub-Jason Kidd level of shooting from the field for the first time in his career, too. He took more than 20 percent of his shots at the rim, like any efficient and quick point guard would. But he made so few of them, if altered the rest of his shooting numbers, which were near his averages — including from beyond the arc.
Watch D-Will’s ability to finish at the rim because it could go a long way towards predicting how well Dallas scores the ball this season.