There’s no question the Mavericks are in a precarious spot. They’d lost five straight games before their "desperation'' win at Charlotte on Monday (our coverage here) and they have brutal games ahead of themselves on the schedule. The fifth seed once seemed like a likely outcome (and is still a possibility), but now the eighth seed and a matchup with the Warriors looks much more realistic, and falling out of the playoffs completely is still a prospect. (See our 'Week In The West In Preview'' here.)
That said, the goals of the season were always to compete in the playoffs and that’s why when I say that it’s time to go with the young guys, I don’t mean that it’s time to give up on the season. Justin Anderson and Jeremy Evans shouldn’t be (or in the case of Evans, shouldn't have been) getting minutes for the sake of their development; they should be getting minutes because they might help the Mavericks win games.
(Fish Update: Evans on Thursday underwent shoulder surgery and is out for the season. Nevertheless, Auping's point remains. Read on.)
Rick Carlisle has for the most part insisted that the Mavericks need to stay the course and simply do what they are doing a little bit better. There’s some merit to that stance; the Mavs have performed pretty well in the majority of their recent losses and a few lucky bounces could have turned them into wins. But by that logic, the Mavericks are maxing themselves out as a 50/50 type of team. Sure, the current level of play from the current level of players almost won some games, but the point is even if luck turns back in their favor, you lose as many of those games as you win.
So props to Rick for his "shake-up in Charlotte,'' with Felton in for Zaza and Dirk at center and, well, it doesn't sound perfect but it worked.
"We changed the lineup because we just needed a shakeup," Carlisle said. "But everything is on the table from game-to-game. ...''
Again ... props. Now I say it's time for more changes.
Devin Harris, Raymond Felton, and JJ Barea have all proven their worth on this year’s team. In a vacuum, it’s hard to say definitively that any one of them should be stricken from the rotation. But the problem is that all of them are very much in the rotation, and even more problematically, are all playing at the same time.
The three-veteran-backup-point-guard lineup doesn’t scare anyone, and yes I say that with the knowledge that Felton started and helped key the win at Charlotte as part of a -- you guessed it -- three-guard lineup. It might be crafty at times, but none of them are good enough shooters to compensate for the dearth of athleticism on the floor, even for the least athletic team in the league.
And that’s quite obviously the biggest flaw of the team. The most athletic player in the typical rotation might be Devin Harris, and that’s a problem. Evans and Anderson are both fast, athletic, and energetic and giving them minutes seems relatively obvious at this point. Trying to compensate in other areas isn’t going to be enough.
Anderson is a rookie and while he played eight good minutes in Charlotte, Carlisle clearly, as a general rule, doesn’t think he’s ready for NBA minutes. (The organization has given him much of his burn in Frisco, as you see above.) Obviously he would have a good perspective on this, but Anderson came into the league with NBA strength and stature, which is really rare in the grand scheme of things. If he’s not ready mentally that’s an issue, but unlike physical skills, it’s hard to say how quickly a player will adapt to the mental part of being on an NBA court. It’s not all that common, but things sometimes click suddenly for young players. The late-season development of other rookies this year has been clear. Look at Myles Turner, Devin Booker, D’Angelo Russell, or Nikola Jokic. Much less will be asked of Anderson offensively than any of those players. He will need to spot up and make three-pointers, and doing that in-game will be something he has to develop from playing in actual games.
Evans is an explosive athlete. He can finish plays at the rim, get offensive rebounds, disrupt passing lanes, and hinder opposing shooters. It’s hard to find ways to work him into the lineup, but it makes sense to play him spot minutes at power forward when David Lee is at center and Parsons is at small forward. Or if Parsons is playing power forward it is worth experimenting with Evans at center against smaller lineups.
(It's now not going to be Evans. So how about Powell, using some of a same reasoning?)
Energy and hustle are often associated with the less physically gifted on a basketball court, but it’s rarely acknowledged that both of those things go further and make a greater impact when athleticism is added to them. If two players are laying out for a loose ball, the quicker, longer-armed one will get it nine out of ten times. Anderson is willing to hustle for minutes. If he isn’t bringing more energy than everyone else on the court, then pull him after a few minutes.
It’s not an indictment on Devin Harris’ abilities to say that his role should be smaller on the team. The Mavericks survived the stretch without him just fine. And the reality is probably that the Mavericks don’t have enough talent to succeed with a set rotation anyway, which is why Anderson and Evans should be getting opportunities, even in meaningful games.
The Mavericks aren’t going to beat athletic teams at their own game, but trying to win games purely on execution requires flawless play for four quarters. Winning that way isn’t going to happen very often. You can’t scheme a good defense out of the players in the Mavs’ current rotation, but a little bit of athleticism can shake things up.
Playing Anderson and company wouldn’t be punting the season - it would be trying to save it.