Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?
Welcome Golden State castoffs!
Even if this team wasn’t able to land the big fish in this year’s free agency with Hassan Whiteside and Mike Conley, the Mavericks did an excellent job of pivoting in the offseason and brought in a ton of great Plan-B talent in Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and the baby-baby faced killer Seth Curry. It may be just another one of Mark Cuban’s desperate attempts to reload around one of Dirk Nowitzki’s couple remaining years in the league, but it’s a somewhat compelling roster that should once again be able to compete for a lower playoff seed and a first round exit in the West.
I think everyone was a little too quick to write off Dirk Nowitzki last year. Sure he’s a goober-looking white dude pushing towards the wrong side of 40, but any offense built around an absolute knock down shooter of a big man can be incredibly efficient just by running simple pick-and-pops every time down the court (hint hint Knicks!). Dallas was a top ten offense last year, despite Chandler Parsons missing a ton of games and Wesley Matthews working his way back from a torn ACL. Dirk may be incredibly limited defensively, but he makes every point guard reclamation project that comes into Dallas look like an absolute money distributor. The days of arguing whether Deron Williams or Chris Paul is the best floor general in the game are long gone, but the Mavericks got a ton of production out of Williams last year and signed him to a very reasonable contract for the upcoming season.
Whether Barnes will be able to be a solid, near max-level player outside of the Golden State system might not be determined this season, but he’s already a huge defensive upgrade over the departed Parsons and can slide down to the 4 in crazy offensive lineups that feature Dirk at center. Add in Matthews another year removed from that terrible injury and hyper athletic youngsters Dwight Powell and Justin Anderson and the Mavericks may just have enough defense to surround their sieve superstar. On top of that, head coach Rick Carlisle is an absolute warlock and a hands down top 5 coach in the league. It’s no surprise that this team outperforms expectations every year and it has a lot to do with Carlisle throwing out wonky lineups that cater to his players’ strengths. With the Durant decision throwing the Western Conference into shake-up, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see these guys push for homecourt or the 5th seed and a not-terrible first round playoff matchup.
Of course, that’s assuming a best case scenario with good health and the continued offensive excellence of the ancient Nowitzki. It’s not too hard to imagine the guy plummeting from a cliff, not to mention the aging pint-sized point guard combination of Williams and JJ Barea. If Bogut hits his mid-season wall or can’t get it up for road games anymore, if Wes still isn’t all the way back from the Achilles, if Barnes isn’t worth half the money Dallas shelled out for him, well this could be the season that the wheels finally fall off in Dallas. I can’t say that I necessarily expect that this season; Cuban has provided his franchise star with more than enough to compete for the next few years and it always seems silly writing off a Carlisle team before they’ve even played a game. But, without a lot of young prospects coming through the pipeline and the chance for a talented, but predictable, offense to go belly up, this could be the year the Mavericks front office needs to seriously start thinking about life after Dirk.
Last year’s ranking: 25 (+3)