The 2017 offseason was the wildest in NBA history. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are now Eastern Conference rivals. Out West, Chris Paul joined James Harden, while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony united with Russell Westbrook. Ten recent All–Stars changed uniforms, and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Durant’s strange summer, so let’s get to previewing. The 2017-18 NBA season is finally upon us.
2016-17 finish: 33-49, 11th in the West
• Offensive rating: 103.7 (23rd)
• Defensive rating: 106.3 (15th)
Did the summer help at all?
That depends on Smith, the ninth pick in June and the most promising selection since the Mavs drafted Dirk Nowitzki at the same slot in 1998. After winning a title with Jason Kidd at the helm, Dallas has cycled through a series of scrap-heap starting point guards, from Jose Calderon to Jameer Nelson, and they’re finally preparing to turn the keys over to a 19-year-old athletic freak of a playmaker.
Remarkably, Nowitzki not only remains on the roster, but a productive player entering year 20 of his career. Presumably, he will start alongside Nerlens Noel, Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews. The fifth spot is Smith’s to claim, if he can ever beat out Seth Curry, Yogi Ferrell and company this season.
The Mavericks played at the league’s second-slowest pace in 2016-17, but coach Rick Carlisle has put his foot on the pedal before. There’s no reason this team with Smith, Barnes and Noel on the run can’t play more like the 50-win Mavs of 2014-15, when Rajon Rondo and Nelson steered an admittedly more talented team to a top-10 ranking in pace and a top-five offensive rating. That’s the hope, anyway.
The acquisitions of McRoberts and Withey give Carlisle two more vets to work into what has suddenly and finally become a young mix of Mavericks, and the organization is probably just hoping some of Nowitzki’s German magic rubs off on 6-foot-11 newcomer and fellow Wurzburg native Maxi Kleber.
Best-case scenario: Nowitzki finds the fountain of youth; Smith emerges as a bona fide Rookie of the Year candidate; Matthews reverts to pre-Achilles 3-and-D stud form; Barnes enjoys another quietly productive, if not more efficient, season; and Noel becomes the rim-running and rim-protecting force we imagined when he earned Bill Russell comparisons as a prep player. Together, they all stay healthy and jell across generations to form a team that’s still capable of fighting for a playoff spot out West.
If everything falls apart: Nowitzki breaks down and misses the 30-40 games that he said would signal the end of his career; Smith isn’t ready; Curry and Ferrell revert to the G League dudes they once were; Noel stays stuck in a state of unrealized potential; and Barnes loses confidence like he did for the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 Finals. The Mavericks drop out of playoff contention and climb into Mark Cuban’s tank, Matthews becomes trade fodder, Nowitzki retires, and the blowup is complete.
Best guess at a record: 37-45
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2017-18 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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