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.

The Cavs make a smart bet on Andrew Bynum

The Cavs have reportedly signed Andrew Bynum, the much maligned center formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers… sort of. Bynum never actually played a minute for the Sixers, spending much of the year alternating between being injured and angering the good people of Philadelphia by bowling, despite his fragile knees, suffering a setback in his knee rehab in the process.


Going into the offseason, there was a lot of curiosity over what would be the market for Bynum’s services. The Sixers quickly took themselves out of that market, through their draft day acquisition of Nerlens Noel and a top-3 protected 2014 first round pick in exchange for All-Star point guard, Jrue Holiday. With that maneuver, Sixers’ GM Sam Hinkie signaled that he was committing to a rebuilding season and that Nerlens Noel would be his center of the future.

It quickly became clear that only three teams were really pursuing Bynum- the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Dallas Mavericks. As it turned out, the market for Bynum was pretty dry. The Cavaliers made the best offer, and from Bynum’s perspective, it’s not even that great an offer. Bynum’s deal will potentially pay him $12 million per season for 2 seasons, but he has to reach performance incentives, including a minimum numbers of games played in the first season. The second season is a team option. All told, Bynum is only guaranteed $6 million in this deal. This is basically a no brainer for the Cavaliers. The contract incentives Bynum must reach to get his money provide him a reason to care, to show up, and to not spend his time bowling instead of rehabbing. An engaged Andrew Bynum is a very, very good player. He’s arguably the second best center in the league, behind only Dwight Howard, when he’s on it. The trouble is his health and his attitude. This deal protects the Cavaliers from both of those potential downsides.

As far as things on the court go, the Cavs have built a neat team around star point guard, Kyrie Irving. They have a floor stretching power forward in the recently drafted Anthony Bennett. They have two very good big men, when healthy, in Anderson Varejao and now Bynum. They have backcourt scoring in bunches in Irving and promising shooting guard, Dion Waiters. Additionally, they added veteran guard and third place finisher for this year’s Sixth Man of the Year, Jarrett Jack. On the wing, they signed Earl Clark, who could intrigue if he builds off of a solid season of improvement last year. Head coach Mike Brown will get this group to defend better than last year, and now with Bynum, Brown has a very good rim protector to pair with Varejao’s active all-around defensive efforts. This is a team that should compete for a playoff spot, if things go right. Bynum will have a lot to say about that. Here’s hoping he takes advantage of this opportunity and reminds everyone of how good he can be when he’s right mentally and physically.

Feature image from Keith Allison via Flickr