The Dallas Mavericks got lucky this summer. After their initial free agency plans fell apart, again, the team lucked into some quality players after Kevin Durant decided to join the Golden State Warriors. While a lot of focus has been on Harrison Barnes and his large contract, it’s center Andrew Bogut who may be the most important addition.
My colleague, Andrew Tobolowsky, recently wrote that he’s concerned about the depth at point guard on the Mavs. However, the depth at center should also raise a few concerns. If Bogut hadn’t picked Dallas over Houston this summer, the Mavs would be in trouble. Luckily, he chose wisely.
If would be easy to rank Bogut as one of the best centers in franchise history even though he hasn’t played a single minute yet. His pedigree as an elite center is unquestioned. For his career, he’s put up averages of 10.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.6 blocks. Bogut has also a career defensive rating of 102. That number, however, hasn’t climbed above 100 since the 2008-09 season.
Simply put, on paper, Bogut ranks right up there with Tyson Chandler where the Mavs are concerned. And while his numbers are impressive; he does come with a few concerns, the most notable of which is a history of injuries.
As Andrew pointed out in his post, Bogut hasn’t played more than 70 games in a season since the 2007-08 season. To be fair, though, he appeared in 70 games last season and 67 in each of the previous two. The Mavericks’ training staff, headed by Casey Smith, is somewhat legendary for their ability to keep veterans healthy but it’s almost a given that Bogut will miss some time this season.
So, if or when Bogut goes down, who will step in to fill his shoes? And, for that matter, who will be coming off the bench for him when he rests? His primary backup will be Salah Mejri. This will be Mejri’s second year with the team. Last season, as a 28-year-old rookie, Mejri turned some heads with his enthusiastic play and aggressive shot blocking. He averaged 3.3 blocks per 36 minutes and swatted the likes of Durant and Russell Westbrook.
However, when given a bigger role on the team -- he started six games -- his performance dwindled and he wasn’t as effective playing against opposing starting centers. Mejri was much more in tune with being an energetic presence off the bench, playing against second units. If his role remains similar, then I expect that his production will be on par with his averages from last season.
Behind Mejri is A.J. Hammons. The 7-foot rookie second round draft pick probably won’t see a lot of playing time this season. While at Purdue, he displayed good post skills and an ability to finish around the rim. However, during his time at Summer League in July, Hammons frequently looked fatigued as he ran the court and turned the ball over often. Hammons is just 24, like Barnes, but will need some time to adjust to the NBA game.
Beyond these three true centers, the Mavs will likely employ Dwight Powell as a small-ball 5. He was inserted into that role often last season. It’s also possible that Quincy Acy sees time in a similar role. Even Dirk Nowitzki should see time at center as Rick Carlisle rolls out smaller lineups. But none of them will play significant minutes at center.
In reality, the Mavericks have two viable centers that will be ready to go once the season starts. With Bogut’s all-around game, it’s not unlikely that he becomes the most important player on the roster not named Dirk Nowitzki. But if he misses a significant amount of time, things could get extremely dicey. Carlisle is pretty good at making lineup adjustments on the fly but he only has so much to work with. So, for everyone’s sake, let’s hope that Casey Smith and his staff keep Bogut as healthy as possible.
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