After a busy and fruitful offseason, the Mavericks are high on both ESPN’s and NBA.com’s preseason power rankings, slotting in at the number 6 and 4 spots respectively. While it’s great for the team to finally get some recognition, are these rankings anywhere near accurate?
To try to determine exactly where the Mavs stand as contenders, in this new preseason mini-series, I will be taking a look at the teams that have genuine championship aspirations (the Clippers, Thunder, Spurs, Bulls and Cavaliers) and comparing their rosters to the Mavericks’, to see whether this new team deserves its lofty place among the elites. Today, the Thunder:
Perry Jones III
How I think they match up to the Mavericks:
Having finished as the 1st or 2nd seed in the murderous West the past three seasons, this Thunder team are the first team I’m covering in this series that I don’t hesitate for a second to call true contenders. Firstly, you have Kevin Durant doing such things:
And then you add Russell Westbrook doing such things:
Just… what?!?! The Thunder basically have two freaks of nature on the same team. With Serge Ibaka being a very competent (read: legitimate second option on any other contending team) third part of the core, this Thunder team should really be completely dominating the West.
Sadly, their coach holds them back. Now, I’m not saying Scott Brooks is a lousy coach. You don’t make the playoffs every full season you’re in charge, winning no less than 50 games each season* if you’re a bad coach. But in the playoffs, he’s shown a distinct lack of creativity or flexibility in adjusting the team’s offense to counter opponent adjustments. That’s probably why they’ve only made the Finals once despite entering each of the last couple seasons as overwhelming favourites to escape the West.
*Save the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season, in which they had a .712 win percentage anyway, good for 58 wins in a normal season
That’s probably the only reason why Dallas managed a 2-1 record against them last season. The Mavs, only just starting to be considered an upper-tier Western Conference team again, really should have had no chance against this still-young, explosively-athletic bunch last season. But the one edge that we have, is our coach. Rick Carlisle is a very, very good coach, something that is hopefully finally being recognized more by the media. But on paper, the Thunder roster is superior.
Besides their Big 3, the Thunder have decent, no-nonsense role players in Steven Adams, Reggie Jackson and Nick Collison coming off the bench, with the first two still young and expected to get even better. The jury’s still out on whether Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III can be actual contributors on a contending team, and I’m personally not very convinced, but at least they’re still young and there’s reason to hope for more.
So if the Mavs were to play the Thunder in the playoffs, who would win? Some might call me crazy, and I don’t know if it’s just my Mavs bias rearing its head here, but I really think that this is a matchup that could go the full seven games, with every game being super close. And I honestly can’t really pick one or the other to win. It’d have to come down to a lucky shot or a phantom foul or something like that to decide this series.
The Mavs have a good, deep roster, an aging superstar who still remains a force in his own right, and a brilliant coach. The Thunder have two of the top ten players in the league and one more likely falling within the top twenty. Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka can all legitimately be described as both ‘young’ and ‘experienced’, with the playoff know-how but still young and in full possession of elite skills and athleticism.
Which of the two is a better recipe for success? It’s a complete toss-up to me, but feel free to let me know what you think in the comments!