Free Agency is approaching and its decision time in Dallas. With no first-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson are tasked with using free agency alone to improve a Mavericks team that won 49 games in 2013-14.
While finishing with the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference is not grounds for celebration, the Mavericks did push the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs further than their next two opponents, the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder did in the Western Conference playoffs.
For the 2013-14 season, the Mavericks allowed 102.4 points per game; this ranked No. 20 among the 30 teams in the NBA. Despite their struggles on defense in the regular season, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle worked his magic early in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The Mavericks allowed only 91 points per game in the first two games of the seven-game series. This was an impressive feat as the Mavericks were facing a superb offensive team in San Antonio.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, they were unable to sustain this level of play on the defensive end of the court. The Spurs eventually found ways to improve their scoring output, averaging 108 points per game for the remaining five games of the series.
The fact that Dallas had such a sound defensive game plan coming into the series is a credit to Carlisle and his coaching staff, but Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich eventually found a way to expose the Mavericks defensive limitations.
As the Dallas brass works to determine a strategy for the upcoming season, it’s important they address this glaring weakness from the 2013-14 season. Led by Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, the Mavericks were a dangerous offensive team, scoring 104.8 points per game.
Only seven teams in the NBA scored more points per game than the Mavericks, but they consistently struggled to contain the top offensive teams in the Western Conference. For the Mavericks to advance past the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, they must address their weaknesses on the defensive end of the court.
There were few key players on the Mavericks roster that specialized in playing defense during the 2013-14 season. Once again it was Shawn Marion who led the way for the Mavericks defensively. Marion has been the team’s most versatile defender since his arrival in 2009.
Marion’s ability to defend four of the five defensive positions on the court has made him an integral part of the success Dallas has achieved. Marion is now an unrestricted free agent at age 36 and his return to Dallas is far from guaranteed.
Marion has publicly stated that he is interested in a return to Dallas, but the Mavericks will likely explore their options in free agency before determining if Marion will spend another season or two in Dallas.
If the Mavericks fail to secure Marion’s services for the 2014-15 season, it will leave a significant void on a Dallas team that must find a way to improve defensively.
This surely won’t be lost on Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson, so let’s take a look at five free agents that could turn the Mavericks into a stronger defensive team.
One of the best players in this year’s free agents class is small forward Luol Deng. He plays at a position that the Mavericks have a need for, and one his best attributes is his defense. Sounds like a perfect fit doesn’t it?
Deng was in the process of having yet another good season in Chicago until he was traded to a complete mess of a team in Cleveland. Hey may have been thrown into a precarious position, but Deng still averaged 16 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Deng is a versatile player who uses his length and athleticism to pester opposing guards and forwards.
Deng is 29 years old and he will likely take advantage of a free agent class that is short on sizzle. In addition to what he brings on the court, Deng is a tremendous teammate and a hard worker as well. Any team in need of a quality small forward will surely look his way.
The Mavericks may have to overpay a bit to acquire his services, but Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have publicly stated they want to surround Dirk Nowitzki with the best possible teammates as his career winds down. If this is indeed true and the opportunity is there, the Mavericks should work to make it happen with Deng.
Trevor Ariza picked the perfect time to have the best season of his career. The nine-year veteran averaged 14.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in 2013-14. Ariza shot 46 percent from the field and he connected on career-best 41 percent of his three pointers.
Ariza’s play this year ensures he won’t be a bargain in free agency, but he could be a target for a Dallas team that finds the price on Luol Deng to be too high. There is always trepidation when signing a player coming off a career year, and it will be interesting to see what the market holds for Ariza. If Ariza does not command a contract that will be problematic down the road, the Mavericks will certainly have interest.
Ariza is the kind of versatile, athletic weapon the Mavericks need. Ariza can hit the open three-point shot and he would give the Mavericks starting lineup another dependable scoring option. Ariza is not a defensive specialist, but his length and athletic ability would upgrade the Mavericks defensive play on the perimeter.
While he wouldn’t stretch the court or impress with his scoring ability, Aminu would become an effective defensive weapon for Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle to employ. Aminu is 6’9”, 215 pound small forward who has the ability to cover shooting guards, small forwards, and power forwards. Sound like anyone that has played in Dallas recently?
Unlike the great Shawn Marion, Aminu will only be 24 years old when the 2014-15 seasons kicks off. While there are benefits to having a team full of veterans, adding a young, athletic player like Aminu would pay dividends. Aminu was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft and he averaged 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game for the Pelicans last season.
The 2013-14 season was disastrous for almost everyone involved with the Lakers. Everyone except big man Jordan Hill. Hill only averaged 20.8 minutes per game, but he put up 9.7 points to go along with 7.4 rebounds each time he hit the court.
Hill was the eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft and he has shown improvement in each of the last two seasons. Hill is 6’10” forward/center who is a strong rebounder and a hard worker on the defensive end of the court. The Mavericks ranked No. 22 in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game, and Jordan Hill would immediately help in that capacity.
Like Trevor Ariza, Avery Bradley picked a fantastic time to have the best season of his career. Bradley averaged 14.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game for the Boston Celtics in 2013-14. Bradley improved his scoring output by over five points per game from the 2012-13 season.
While the new-found scoring ability is impressive, the Mavericks should have their eye on Bradley for another reason. Bradley is only 23 years old and he is one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA. Bradley is a 6’2” point guard with a long reach, quick feet and a great motor. The Mavericks need defensive help on the perimeter and Bradley would immediately provide it.
The problem for the Mavericks is the Boston Celtics. Bradley is a restricted free agent and the Celtics may choose to match any contract offer that Bradley receives. Bradley was on the books for $2.5 million last season and he will be looking for a considerable raise. If the Mavericks do not resign Devin Harris, Bradley could be a worthwhile investment.