Dallas Mavericks

The definitive Dallas Mavericks starters tournament: part 1

It is August, perhaps the slowest basketball month of the year. And while we wait for training camp to begin and, oh right I almost forgot, Nerlens Noel to finally sign a contract, this part of the offseason is prime for endless bar debate.

You know the kind. You and your buddy have had a few, now you’re yelling at each other about Dirk with a beard or Dirk without, “Run DMC” or “Diop! Diop!”, and suddenly you’re hugging and crying and getting matching Mark Cuban tattoos.

That’s the idea here. Dirk Nowitzki is entering his 20th season with the Dallas Mavericks, and we need to know the best starting five in his era. With fewer drinks (none) and fewer Mark Cuban tattoos (none…so far), Sam Guertler and Jordan Brodess break it all down over the next two weeks, tournament style.

A few points before we begin:

  • The seeding was determined by regular season win-percentage. In the event that there was a tie, higher seed was given to the team who finished better in the conference standings.
  • The starters were determined by regular season starts only. And no consideration for a sixth man coming off the bench logging more minutes. Starters only.
  • It is difficult to create a 20 team bracket, and we wanted to include the upcoming season starters, so two things had to happen: one team was removed, and the four teams with the lowest win-percentage had to “play-in” for the 16th seed (similar to the way the NCAA tournament works). The 2007-08 team was removed because it was the only time there was a repeat of the same starting five (2006-07), before the midseason trade to acquire Jason Kidd.
  • Sam and Jordan alternated picking teams, with the lower seed required to make their case first.

Here is the bracket to keep track of future match ups:


Today, we’re taking a look at our two play-in games to get this tournament going!

PLAY-IN GAME 1: #16 vs #19

#19 98-99 (19-31, .380):

SAM: The 1998-99 Mavericks were a fairly young squad. Four of the five starters were under 26 years old, with 35-year-old A.C. Green bringing the veteran flavor. Finley, a budding all star, played an absurd 41 minutes per game and pumped in 20 points per contest. With a 24-year-old Nash and a 20-year-old rookie named Dirk Nowitzki accompanying Finley, this Mavs team was average on offense and bad on defense.

The 1998-99 starters would give the 1999-00 starters a good matchup simply because the lineups are so similar, but inexperience would probably be the deciding factor. Only Finley scored in double figures and rookie Dirk was not a good NBA basketball player, especially when you consider the strides Dirk made from year one to year two. Finley was not quite an All-Star but was on the cusp. Shawn Bradley’s best days in Dallas were behind him, but the statistically this version of Bradley was more productive than the 1999-00 version. Sadly though, Bradley doesn’t move the needle. This season was monumental in the fact that it was unknowingly the beginning of the big three but not much more aside from that.

#16 99-00 (40-42, .488):

  • Steve Nash
  • Michael Finley
  • Erick Strickland
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Shawn Bradley

JORDAN: Sam, imagine with me a world where Shawn Bradley is the highest paid player on the team, making less than 10 million per year. And the entire player payroll is under 50 million dollars. We are living in different times.

The 1999-00 Mavericks were similar in many respects to the year before. This squad made definite improvements, being one of only three teams in the west to score over 100 points per game. The only problem is that they were also in the bottom five in points allowed per game (102 points allowed). I think you’re right Sam, the growth and chemistry of the four returning starters may prove too much. Finley, in his first all-star season, was averaging more points per game. And Dirk made a considerable jump in his second year in the league, averaging nearly 10 more points and four more rebounds per game – so he’d own Rookie Dirk. But it might be the insertion of Erick Strickland, in a career season, that would send the 99-00 Mavs over the edge. A 35 year old Iron Man A.C. Green wouldn’t be able to keep up with Strick for a full 48.

Winner: 1999-00 Mavs

PLAY-IN GAME 2: #17 vs #18

#18 16-17 (33-49, .402):

SAM: The 2016-17 Mavericks starters are an interesting bunch. Due to injuries, Rick Carlisle tinkered with the lineup, and ultimately landed on a small, offensive-oriented starting five. With Harrison Barnes at the four and Dirk Nowitzki at the five, this lineup struggled to rebound, but played a slow, controlled and efficient offense. Simply put, this group was a collection of seasoned professionals that lacked star-level talent.

This squad doesn’t turn the ball over, and forces other teams to beat them. Any given night they can throw haymakers at the league heavyweights. However, the 2016-17 starters don’t match up well with the new guys. The only real advantage is 2016-17 Barnes matching up with 2017-18 Dirk. We saw Barnes flourish when he moved to the four and matched up against big men. On the flip side, 2016-17 Deron Williams and Dirk would age 15 years trying to guard a 2017-18 Dennis Smith Jr. and Nerlens Noel pick-and-roll.

#17 17-18 (Projected 38-44):

  • Dennis Smith Jr.
  • Wesley Matthews
  • Harrison Barnes
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Nerlens Noel

JORDAN: Two things – I collected win projections from a few sources and averaged them together to get to 38 wins – but still, we’ve never seen these guys on the floor together, so it still requires some guessing. Second, this whole exercise really highlights the relationship between Dirk’s career and the Mavericks’ success. His first two seasons and the two most recent seasons being the lowest win-percentage for the team. There have been plenty of premiere teammates, but there’s no doubt Dirk has been the franchise for TWO DECADES. Now to the matchup.

Even though it’s still a Carlisle managed offense, and an older Dirk on the floor, you’ve got to think this team will be running more. They have too many open floor weapons to only play in the half court. Just by throwing Smith Jr. and Noel out there, the athleticism on the court grows exponentially. Last season’s team will be vet savvy and force this younger crew to make mistakes. I’m thinking Curry would be tasked with taking on Dennis Smith Jr.; but like you said Sam – imagining DWill and Dirk trying to go out there and guard DSJ-Noel pick-and-roll sets might force the NBA to dub Dallas Lob City.

Winner: 2017-18 Mavs

PLAY-IN FINAL: #16 vs #17

#17 17-18 (Projected 38-44):

  • Dennis Smith Jr.
  • Wesley Matthews
  • Harrison Barnes
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Nerlens Noel

JORDAN: I’ve tried hard to temper the hype I feel thinking about the future of the Mavericks. So forgive me if, while compiling this list of starting fives, I looked at all these teams and felt like the 2017-18 unit might be better than a handful. In fact, if it would have been subjective seeding, I probably would have put this five around #12.

The matchup of young Steve Nash and rookie Dennis Smith Jr. is compelling: Nash being a near perfect symbol of the traditional distributor and Smith Jr. repping the evolution of the scoring guard. But with Nash not exploding until the following season, I’m calling it a draw. I’d also keep my eye on Matthews guarding a prime Michael Finley. Lockdown defender vs. all-star guard.

The 2017 Mavericks would have to force an uptempo game, and rely on Barnes and Noel exploiting their match ups. Barnes’ offensive maturity and position versatility, combined with Noel’s switching ability and athleticism to destroy Bradley on the offensive end sell it for me.

#16 99-00 (40-42, .488):

  • Steve Nash
  • Michael Finley
  • Erick Strickland
  • Dirk Nowitzki
  • Shawn Bradley

SAM: Here’s where the matchups are intriguing with two teams that played in completely different eras. The 1999-00 Mavs scored 101.4 points per game – good for third highest in the league! Last season though, that would have been good for the 26th highest scoring offense. Now clearly, in this pace-and-space era, I’m confident a lineup consisting of Steve Nash, an all-star shooting guard scoring 22 a night in Michael Finley, and a power forward in Dirk Nowitzki shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep could keep up. Furthermore, Nash and Finley both shot 40 percent or more from deep. This squad could light it up today.

Jordan is right. Examining the cross matchups is fun. Matthews is one of the better wing defenders in the league today, but 1999-00 Finley was dynamic, recording four triple-doubles that season. If we look at per 36 minutes stats, old Dirk has the advantage over young Dirk. But could the 38-year-old keep up with the 21-year-old? I would give the nod to second-year Dirk. He was just starting to come into his own and made significant improvements in year two. The glaring weakness in the 99-00 starters is 7’6” tall. Bradley doesn’t have enough athleticism to play with modern NBA players. Smith Jr. and Noel would pick-and-roll Bradley into oblivion. Going one step further from what you said, Jordan, I think Noel is the X factor here. If he can rim-run and corral Nash’s drives, I think the athletic, new starters would be too much.

WINNER: 2017-18 Mavs

With the squad from this season surviving and advancing, they get the honor of playing in the big boy tournament that we will kick off this week. Be on the lookout at Mavs Moneyball for this, and more off-season debate!

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