Barring any unforeseen setbacks, we know who the Dallas Mavericks’ starting five will be on opening night. That unit will be Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki, and Andrew Bogut. While it’s foolhardy to put much weight behind preseason predictions, it stands to reason that this will likely be Rick Carlisle's most-used lineup this season. Last season, the starting five, which included Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia, appeared in 40 regular season games. After the starting unit, it’s anyone’s guess as to how the rotations will flesh out. However, using last season as an example, one lineup stands out. In a post on NBA.com, John Schuhmann takes a look at how the Mavs fared with Nowitzki playing center last season. They played well. Extremely well, actually. Even though it was a small sample size, Dallas outscored its opponents by 6.7 points per 100 possessions. That’s a lot. So, how did the Mavericks do this? Simply, they surrounded Dirk with ball handlers and shooters. And that’s probably what they’ll do again this season.
A couple of the players that Carlisle employed with Dirk at center aren’t on the team anymore but that shouldn’t matter much. The Mavs are still loaded with guards. With Raymond Felton gone, a backcourt of Williams and Seth Curry could be a possibility. Preseason success doesn’t necessarily translate to the regular season but Curry has looked promising thus far. Barea could also be paired with Curry. However, it’s unlikely that J.J. Barea and Williams will share any time together as they are the team’s two primary ball handlers.
With two guards on the floor, Matthews will shift to small forward. Or, if Matthews is out of the game or stays at his normal shooting guard role, Justin Anderson can step in and play the 3. This means that Harrison Barnes will slide over to power forward.
Last season, the Mavericks played Parsons at power forward when they moved Nowitzki to center. With Parsons’ ability to handle the ball and create off the dribble, it worked well. Barnes, though, doesn’t have the same set of skills as Parsons. It will be interesting to see how Carlisle uses him in the same role. However, with Nowitzki’s gravity pulling in the defenders on the court, Barnes should find himself with room to work and open shots.
While putting Nowitzki at center is an offensive boon for the Mavericks, it hurts them defensively. At least it did last season. The team’s defensive rating dropped six points when he was at the five. Yet, with the players on this year’s roster, the defense might not take such a hit.
Barnes is a significant upgrade over Parsons defensively and can guard some of the larger, more physical power forwards in the league. He essentially shut down Zach Randolph in the playoffs last season. Pair him with Matthews, who was tasked with guarding every position at one point or another last season, and they can alleviate some of Nowitzki’s defensive shortcomings. If Carlisle plays Anderson with Barnes and Matthews, the defense gets even better.
Dallas has the potential to be very good with Nowitzki at center. It won’t be the Golden State Warriors’ “Death Lineup” nor can the Mavs afford to employ it for extended minutes but it gives the team an extra wrinkle. With the Mavs likely vying for one of the last playoff spots, this could be the difference between a few more wins or losses. Carlisle turned to it down the stretch last year so it stands to reason that he’ll do so again this year. Why ignore a good thing?
Doyle Rader is passionate about city politics and DART. But he Sticks to Sports on his Twitter account, where he serves up hot Mavs takes at @TheKobeBeef.