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. The Clippers were covered previously, and this time it’s on to the Bulls:
How I think they match up to the Mavericks:
This Chicago Bulls squad, under Tim Thibodeau, is about as predictable a team as a contending team can be. You know they’ll play stifling defense, you know their starters aren’t strangers to playing 40+ minutes every night, and you know that their offense is… functional at best.
Of course, they hope to change that last bit with the return of Derrick Rose and the addition of Pau Gasol. In theory, Rose’s dynamism and Pau’s passing and scoring will help. But will that be enough?
Pau has had a rough few years, slowed by age and injuries and constantly clashing with Mike D’Antoni. In the last three seasons, he’s only managed to play in 65, 49, and 60 games. That’s rough, and with Thibodeau apparently unwavering in having his best players log the most time, seemingly regardless of injury history, things could get ugly if he breaks down again.
Rose’s return also comes with a giant asterisk. While his explosiveness seemed present and accounted for at the FIBA 2014 World Cup, he shot a horrendous 25% from the field and FIVE PERCENT from the shorter international 3-point line. It seems that while he can still explode to the rim, he can’t finish there, and although he’s never been a lights-out long-range marksman, 5% is an unimaginably low percentage.
But of course, even without those two, the Bulls still managed to grind their way to the 4th seed in the East, an accomplishment even in the weak East. Until proven otherwise, they have to be regarded as contenders.
The Mavericks-Bulls games are likely to very much be ‘unstoppable force-immovable object’ affairs, with the Mavericks’ clear strength being on offense and the Bulls on the other end of the court. At the guard spots, unless Rose returns to MVP-caliber play, I don’t think the Mavs actually have much to worry about. Jimmy Butler is young and a solid defender, but I would say he’s still a role-player. His 3-point shooting fell off a cliff last season, dropping from 38% in 2012-2013 to 28% in 2013-2014. If he’s unable to be a threat from distance, a Rose-Butler backcourt pairing won’t be terribly difficult to defend against, something that the Mavs, with no defensive stopper among their guards, will appreciate very much.
At small forward, Mike Dunleavy provides spacing. That’s important considering the shooting issues the backcourt has. But… as far as I know, that’s about all he provides. He’s another one of those players that quietly plays his role and does nothing else. He’s unlikely to come up with any highlight plays, nor is he likely to appear on any blooper reels. A solid veteran, but not a difference maker. Chandler Parsons wins this round by simply providing more on the offensive end, and it’s unlikely he’ll have much trouble keeping Dunleavy in check on defense.
Power forward becomes more interesting. If Pau performs at the high level he’s capable of, it opens up all kinds of possibilities. The Bulls may try to have the offense run through him, and he should be able to link up with Joakim Noah in many interesting ways. I can’t think of another frontcourt with this much passing ability in the league. But, once again, a lot hinges on Pau’s health.
As a one-to-one matchup, Dirk shouldn’t have too many problems with Pau. Pau’s not a super-athletic bruiser who can run and jump all over Dirk, and on the other end, Dirk should still be able to get his patented fadeaways over him. It will still be an interesting battle to watch however. Two skilled and silky smooth European big men going head to head; I think I’ll enjoy that.
Rounding out the Bulls starting five is Noah, their MVP from last season. There’s nothing I can say that isn’t already known about him. He’s tough and smart, and although his passing ability is well-known, I have to say it’s not something I expected from someone who’s all mean and business elsewhere. His energy and rebounding ability is something the Mavs have to take note of; it’s a weakness of this team, always giving up offensive boards and second chance points as a result. Having Tyson will help, but Noah still wins this matchup.
Now for the bench. The Mavs’ bench should beat almost every other bench in the league, and it’s no different in this case. Only Taj Gibson is a threat with his energy and rebounding. The rest are either just safe, unspectacular backups (Hinrich), NBA unknowns (Mirotic, McDermott), or bit-part players (everyone else). Aaron Brooks could actually be a wild card of sorts; he’s a solid shooter from distance and could become this season’s version of D.J. Augustin for the Bulls. But unless Mirotic and/or McDermott show that they can be legitimate contributors in the NBA, the Bulls bench is quite thin.
All in all, this is a tough matchup. The Mavs can certainly beat the Bulls, but if they do, it won’t have been easy. Unrefined as their offense is, they still can eke out enough points to supplement what they do on defense. And if Rose is back to his 2011 standards, that makes things all the more difficult. I’d love to watch the games these two teams have, because I’m fond of both teams and games between them should be balanced and tight affairs.