The Dallas Mavericks are in the midst of an identity crisis heading into the 2017-18.
It’s a team with an aging star and franchise icon in Dirk Nowitzki. His heir apparent for that role could be in place, but Nerlens Noel is just a rookie and needs time grow.
Stylistically it’s a team that needs an identity as well. It’s no longer the fast-paced offensive Mavericks of a couple seasons ago, and the defense isn’t stout enough to take a bunker down approach into each night.
And it’s the perfect time to start establishing an identity, because a playoff berth in the loaded Western Conference seems a bit farfetched for the Mavericks.
A young backcourt with Dennis Smith Jr. and Yori Ferrell the one-two punch at point guard will be tested in a league filled with tough on-the-ball defenders. On a consistent basis Smith Jr. will be tasked with stopping or trying to contain the likes of Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. He likely won’t pass those tests at first, but it will be a valuable learning experience going forward.
An injury to Seth Curry makes things slightly more complicated, but Devin Harris should fill some early season gaps after the injury.
The front court comes with an interesting mix as well. Wesley Matthews could have a chance to make major strides this season, while Harrison Barnes will need to be a go-to scorer while Smith Jr. gets acclimated to the NBA.
And of course Dirk Nowitzki is back for his 20th season. The smooth-shooting German has lost a bit of speed -- and he didn’t have much in the first place -- but he’s the ideal personality to help mold the young group, and should be a positive impact on Nerlens Noel.
Noel is a freakishly athletic center coming off the bench and ideally he starts to find his role in the Mavericks young lineup and provides a spark as he continues to grow as a more fundamental player.
As stated early, there won’t be a playoff run for Dallas this season. The Western Conference is simply overloaded with top teams. But a strong season for Smith Jr. -- maybe even some Rookie of the Year votes -- and close to .500 record should create soem positive feelings for the future of the franchise.