Once destined for a top draft pick, the feisty Mavericks have set their sights on a playoff spot thanks to some unlikely contributors.
When the Dallas Mavericks began the season 3–15, everyone believed this would finally be the season Rick Carlisle doesn’t coach mediocre talent to the playoffs. After all, the Mavericks had squeezed in to the playoffs as a 6–8 seed every season since 2013.
Coming in to the season, not much was expected from Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki turned 38 in the off season and their prized free agency move was to give Harrison Barnes a max contract. However, most people still expected the Mavericks to fight for .500, mainly due to the track record of Carlisle and Nowitzki.
Already a thin team heading in to the season, the Mavericks had to deal with countless injuries to crucial rotation pieces early in the season. Out of the Mavericks 50 games so far this season, J.J. Barea has only played 18 of them, Dirk has played 24, and Deron Williams has played in 37 games. That’s a recipe for a disastrous start, and it certainly was one for Dallas.
Sitting at 3–15 and at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, it was clear to see a path for the Mavericks moving forward: tank for a top three draft pick and take more swings at free agents in hopes of providing Dirk with one last winning team.
However, then something happened. Actually, multiple things happened, starting with the team getting healthy.
Soon after Dirk got healthy, Carlisle moved him to center, sacrificing on defense and rebounding in hopes of spurring the Mavs’ offense. This season Nowitzki has played 52% of his minutes at center, his highest rate since the 2003–04 season. In his return in January, Dirk posted a 107.3 offensive rating and 99 defensive rating, good for a net rating of 8.3.
Putting Dirk at center creates havoc for opposing defenses, as Dirk has the capability to not only play inside, but also shoot beyond the arc. Centers simply aren’t comfortable having to guard the three point line, and Dirk can catch centers like Mason Plumlee sagging off on trailing threes (video courtesy of 3ball):
More importantly, lineups with Dirk at center aren’t getting killed. The lineup of Deron Williams, Seth Curry, Wes Matthews, Harrison Barnes, and Dirk have posted a net rating of 1.1 in the 98 minutes it has played. However, the more interesting development in the Mavericks’ rise is the play of Yogi Ferrell.
Ferrell’s story is one from the movies. Undrafted out of Indiana University, Ferrell joined the Brooklyn Nets’ D-League team (the Long Island Nets) before getting called up to appear in ten games for the Nets. While Ferrell didn’t play well in those ten games (he shot 36.7% from the floor), he showed enough flashes to earn a ten day contract with the Mavs.
In his first four games with the Mavericks (all wins), Ferrell averaged 17.8 points, 5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game on 44.4 percent shooting from the field (including an astounding 52 percent on three-pointers). And of course, everyone is aware of his 32 point explosion the other night against the Trail Blazers:
The new starting lineup of Ferrell, Seth Curry, Matthews, Barnes, and Nowitzki have posted a net rating of 31.9 (!!!) in the 59 minutes it has played. The lineup has an offensive rating of 119.2 and a defensive rating of 87.4. If that isn’t one of the more shocking developments in the league over the past two weeks, then I don’t know what is.
In his four games with the Mavs, Ferrell is posting an offensive rating of 114.4 and defensive rating of 102.6, good for an elite net rating of 11.8. It is yet to be seen whether or not Ferrell can continue this level of play and when opposing defenses will figure out not to go under screens when guarding him (*cough cough Damian Lillard cough cough*), but his story is certainly one to follow and appreciate.
The question now begs: where do the Mavericks go from here? It is no secret the team has been shopping Andrew Bogut for several months now, and with the Cavaliers recent struggles, they seem to want in on Bogut and/or Deron Williams.
Bogut and Williams are both expiring contracts, and the Mavs should certainly look to get something back in return for at least one of them. Bogut hasn’t been able to stay healthy this season, only playing in 25 games. However, he can still provide rim protection and rebounding for a team that needs it, and could probably fetch a 2nd round pick and developing player in return.
Williams’ case is a little more difficult. With Ferrell’s emergence, Williams becomes more expendable. However, if the Mavericks are serious on making a run for the playoffs, do they really want to rely on Ferrell? Williams is an established veteran who is having a solid season (13.5 ppg, 7.1 apg). The options for the Mavericks would be to trade him for a low package, wait in hopes of desperate teams increasing their offers, or buy him out, with the latter being the least desired.
Neither Bogut or Williams should be in the Mavs’ long-term plan, so selling them for draft picks and/or developing players is in their best interest. The Mavericks should allow Ferrell (who earned himself a two year contract with his recent play), Seth Curry, and others continue their hot play in hopes it will be enough to catch the eighth seed.
At this moment, the Mavericks sit three and a half games out of the eighth seed. What was once a season destined for a tank job and top three draft pick has turned in to an improbable run towards a sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors (oh c’mon we all know that’s happening to the eighth seed). Bless you Rick Carlisle. Bless you.
All statistics provided by Basketball Reference or NBA.com