12 MAVERICKS - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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12 MAVERICKS

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It was only a few years ago that Dallas was blinding with offense. Rick Carlisle blended an ageless Dirk Nowitzki with journeymen (Monta Ellis, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion), and they surprised the whole league. Those Mavericks weren't contending, but they were still a playoff team and they were fun. It felt as if they would find ways to score forever.

That changed last season. Dallas averaged 97.9 points per game, the fewest in the league by 2.6—a plummet that underlined the team's identity crisis, which for a decade had been built around Nowitzki's brilliance. Now, with Dirk in decline—his scoring averaged dipped by 4.1 points last season—the Mavs don't score as they once did, but they don't defend much, either. They look young in some key places (rookie Dennis Smith, Nerlens Noel) but old in others (Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, Wes Matthews), and it's not clear what the plan is.

Dallas will be on the outside of a crowded playoff race in the West, but maybe that's O.K. If one more miserable year caught between two eras forces the Mavericks to commit to a new look—old or young, offense or defense—it will be a step forward.

PROJECTED LINEUP

2016--17 STATS

COACH RICK CARLISLE

(10th season with Mavericks)

2016--17 RECORD 33--49

(5th in Southwest)

PG DENNIS SMITH JR. [ROOKIE, COLLEGE STATS]

18.1 PPG; 6.2 APG; 45.5 FG%; 35.9 3FG%

SG SETH CURRY

12.8 PPG; 2.7 APG; 48.1 FG%; 42.5 3FG%

SF WESLEY MATTHEWS

13.5 PPG; 3.5 RPG; 39.3 FG%; 36.6 3FG%

49 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]

PF HARRISON BARNES

19.2 PPG; 5.0 RPG; 46.8 FG%; 35.1 3FG%

71 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]

C DIRK NOWITZKI

14.2 PPG; 6.5 RPG; 43.7 FG%; 37.8 3FG%

BENCH

PG DEVIN HARRIS

6.7 PPG; 2.1 APG; 39.9 FG%; 32.8 3FG%

86 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]

C NERLENS NOEL

8.7 PPG; 5.8 RPG; 1.0 BPG; 59.5 FG%

SF DORIAN FINNEY-SMITH

4.3 PPG; 2.7 RPG; 37.2 FG%; 29.3 3FG%

• THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING

(R) ROOKIE, COLLEGE STATS

ENEMY LINES

A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP DALLAS

A successful season will be linked closely with the play of DENNIS SMITH. After the draft there were some question marks about him. Was he the right guy to take? Is he going to start? But at Summer League, everyone saw that he can play at that level. If he can develop quickly, he could be a top 30 player by his second year. This is a star-centric league, and they need a star.... NBA coaches like to be safe. If anything holds back Smith, it could be that. YOGI FERRELL is a safe player. SETH CURRY is a safe player. J.J. BAREA is a safe player. Smith is more like a wild card that could win a lot of pots for you.... I don't see HARRISON BARNES as a willing alpha. It hasn't been his personality, going back to high school. He's not a great passer. He's not a great rebounder. He's a decent defender. I just don't see him with that dog in him, and he doesn't really fill a stat sheet.... DIRK NOWITZKI is a watered-down version of what he used to be. We do player comps and say that some other guy plays like Dirk, but like a bad version of Dirk. That's almost what he is now. I think you have to keep him on the floor 24 to 28 minutes a game—it's not as if there are better options. I don't think Dirk has some understudy on the roster.... NERLENS NOEL is so limited offensively. He can hit a face-up jump shot once in a while, but nothing is effortless for him. He needs a major polish upgrade.... WESLEY MATTHEWS is a good player. He hits jump shots, he can score, he's a decent defender. But when I'm game-planning, I'm not worried about him.

TELLING 97.9 STATISTIC

BOTTOM LINE

Year 20 of Dirk Nowitzki and Year 1 of Dennis Smith will be fun, and then rebuilding should begin in earnest next summer.