“How are you doing?”….“Isn’t this sad?”….“I feel sorry for you.”
I’ve been getting a lot of that since the Mavericks season started, and potentially imploded soon thereafter. My answers to those questions, comments and many others of their ilk is always the same — I have the honor and privilege that only 29 other people in the world have — to do radio play-by-play in the greatest basketball league in the world. I get to watch the greatest players in the world do their thing, while also watching how coaches try to scheme to allow or prevent those players from doing their thing. It’s the greatest job anyone could ever have. So, the Mavericks are off to a horrible start. Maybe they won’t be able to recover from their 3-13 start. Maybe this is, indeed, the end of a glorious period. There is still plenty to watch and note.
Let’s start with Harrison Barnes. I wrote a pretty long piece for ScoreBoardTX back in the summer following his 12th man role at the Olympics for Team USA, about how we need to tap the breaks on slotting Barnes until we see how he plays. I think the early returns have been more than positive and speak to a very bright future.
He has been willing to shoulder a huge load, especially with Dirk Nowitzki’s uncertain status. He’s wanted the ball in crunch time. He hasn’t always succeeded, but when you see the fourth quarters of tight games like Indiana, Boston, Milwaukee, the Lakers and this past Sunday against New Orleans, he’s shown the “give me the ball” desire that all top players have.
Are there things that can improve? Of course. His three-point shooting is at an all time low of 28.6 percent (he’s a 37 percent three-point shooter in his career). He can also try to drive the ball more when he gets isolated as opposed to shooting the mid-range shot. He’s an 86 percent free throw shooter, so it behooves him to try to get to the line more often. Right now, he’s averaging about four free throw attempts per game. And given his minutes load he probably should be rebounding a little better (averages 5.8 per game). But on the whole, Harrison Barnes is a major plus, and a reason to watch every night.
In my mind the biggest reason for the Mavericks’ bad start (non-Dirk available category), has been the struggles of the young players. The way Dwight Powell and Justin Anderson finished last season, in helping rally the Mavericks to seven wins in their last nine games and a playoff spot, increased expectations for this season. The way Seth Curry shot the ball in Sacramento, playing primarily point guard, in the last eleven games of the season last year allowed you to believe that perhaps the Mavericks had found a potential answer to their lack of bench scoring. The way those three played on Sunday night vs. New Orleans was a snapshot of what the Mavericks hope they can get on a more regular basis.
Rick Carlisle’s message to young players is to play hard and keep it simple. All three of those players have been guilty of trying to do too much (Anderson particularly), whether it’s a bad shot, or poor defense, or just a loss of focus, but vs. the Pelicans, they played hard, simple and smart. All were on the floor in crunch time in the fourth quarter as the eight game losing streak came to an end. It’s in them. Now we need to see can they do it again and again. That’s a reason to watch every night.
If you’re inclined to spend more time on the college game this year and watch the likes of Washington’s Markelle Fultz (he’s at TCU tonight) or UCLA’s electrifying Lonzo Ball, and dream of the future that’s OK (you should be watching college ball anyway, but that’s another story for another time). But the present around the Mavericks remains extremely interesting to me, and as they play the Spurs tonight, you’ll excuse me if I keep my eyes on the game in front of me. I’ve got some things worth watching.