Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years last year. Last year’s roster was constructed using something of a holding pattern while the Mavs waited for the big fish in the 2012–13 free agent class, namely Dwight Howard and, to a lesser extent, Chris Paul. Team owner Mark Cuban loaded the roster with 1 year contracts for players with whom the team was more than willing to part, which is just what they did at the start of free agency. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, Chris Paul stayed home in Los Angeles and Dwight Howard took his act, along with his considerable talents, to Houston. At that point, the Mavericks had a choice between another year of 1 year contracts and pursuing a marquee free agent in the 2014 class- the year a certain guy wearing #6 in Miami hits the open market, again- or signing the best players with whom they could fill their roster.

After asking the face of the franchise, Dirk Nowitzki, for his patience for one year, the Mavericks opted not to ask him for further patience as he reaches the twilight of his career. Good for the Mavericks. They’ve built a team that should compete for one of the West’s final two playoff slots and Dirk Nowitzki deserves to be playing meaningful basketball come late April 2014. Plus, Nowitzki is good enough, even at this late stage of his career, that with a little bit of help he’s capable of carrying a team to a playoff series win. Good on Dallas management and owner Mark Cuban for giving him the chance to do just that. So just how much help has Dirk been given and what, exactly, do the numbers say we should roughly expect?

The Mavericks have the talent of a 45 win team, roughly. After plugging their projected relative strength in versus their opponents’ and accounting for home court advantage, my big spreadsheet predicted them to win 42 games, on average. The Western Conference, man. Most of the Mavs’ projected contributions come, unsurprisingly, from Dirk. Mavs management, though, has done an incredible job of getting players who project to be at least at or above replacement level. There are no other stars paired with Dirk, but this is a deep team with two very helpful scoring wings- Vince Carter and the, somewhat unfairly, much maligned Monta Ellis- surrounding the big German. They also added a point guard, in Calderon, who can actually get Dirk the ball in his favorite spots and knock down the open looks Dirk creates, unlike last year’s hot mess at the lead guard spot.

It’s a roster that fits together well; so well, in fact, that given head coach Rick Carlisle’s usual brilliance, this squad could easily out perform that 45 win talent. The Chicago Bulls have made a habit these last few years out of pairing teams that fit well with a brilliant coach to outperform the talent of the squad. I wouldn’t be shocked to see these Mavs run a similar formula, only instead of dominating on defense like the Bulls, this Dallas squad could put together some truly elite offensive stuff, provided Carlisle can rein in Monta Ellis’s worst instincts- a burning desire to shoot off-balance, off-the-dribble 20-footers, mostly.

Image from chrishimself via Flickr.

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