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13 DALLAS MAVERICKS

Author:

A MODEST PROPOSAL...

PASS THE TORCH

Harrison Barnes served his purpose as a placeholder star, but let's be realistic: The future of the Mavericks will be decided by the backcourt of Luka Dončić and Dennis Smith Jr. There's room within that framework for Barnes to score—but not as he did last year, when he isolated as often as Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving. Just as Dirk Nowitzki handed off most of his creative responsibilities to Barnes on his arrival in 2016, Barnes—upon his return from a hamstring injury—should cede the same to the 19-year-old Dončić.

It's an arrangement that serves everyone. By giving up control, Barnes will only end up with better looks: open jumpers, balanced action on the weak side and cuts that catch the defense unaware. Even Smith, a nominal point guard, will be able to put his speed to more devastating use when he's attacking a closeout rather than a battened-down front.

Plus, Dallas needs to learn quickly what Dončić can—and, maybe more crucially, can't—do, and to see how he fits alongside the 20-year-old Smith. The only way to evaluate their potential together is to let them roll and find out where they bump.

STARTING 5

COACH RICK CARLISLE

2017--18 RECORD: 24--58

PREDICTION: Miss playoffs

PG DENNIS SMITH JR.

15.2

PPG

SG LUKA DONČIĆ [ROOKIE/EUROPEAN STATS]

14.5

PPG

SF WESLEY MATTHEWS

38.1

3FG%

PF HARRISON BARNES (59 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

18.9

PPG

C DEANDRE JORDAN [NEW ACQUISITION] (43 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

Jordan should become the best rebounder in Mavs history. James Donaldson holds the single-season record of 11.9 rpg in 1986--87.

15.2

RPG

BENCH

PF DIRK NOWITZKI (96 [SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING])

SG DEVIN HARRIS

PG J.J. BAREA

(*) NEW ACQUISITION

(#) SI'S TOP 100 PLAYER RANKING

(R) ROOKIE/EUROPEAN STATS

ENEMY LINES

A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP DALLAS

RICK CARLISLE always gets the best out of his guys, and they're going to be tougher to beat. If LUKA DONČIĆ is the real deal, they could scratch the surface for a No. 8 seed. This could be DIRK NOWITZKI's last year, and I think Dončić could take the keys and run with it.... Can DENNIS SMITH play with Luka? That's going to be a big story, because if it doesn't work they could move on from [Smith]. They're both used to having the ball; Dennis isn't a pure shooter who can play off the ball. Maybe they end up using him as a trade chip.... HARRISON BARNES is not a first or second option, but they've been relying on him to be one. Still, he's young and he's solid.... They finally got DEANDRE JORDAN. He's getting older, but he's still productive [at age 30]. His offensive skills have never really expanded, so he's going to need a point guard to help keep his scoring up.... WESLEY MATTHEWS used to be an instant-impact guy, and since his [2015] Achilles injury he hasn't had it. He can shoot, but they need to get to a point where he's coming off the bench.... It's going to be weird when Dirk retires, but it has to happen for them to move on. He's taken those team-friendly contracts, so it's not hampering what they're trying to do—and hey, he averaged 12 points last year. But it hurts me watching him try to run these days.