Which Point Guard Should Start for the Dallas Mavericks Next Year?
The Dallas Mavericks have had one of the better off-seasons of any team in the NBA. Through trades, offer sheets, and free agent signings, they’ve managed to add Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Richard Jefferson, Chandler Parsons, Al-Farouq Aminu, and now Jameer Nelson. That sextet accumulated a total of 23.3 win shares for their respective teams last year, and the Mavericks brought them all in without having to sacrifice either of their two leading scorers in Dirk Nowitzki (who took a major pay cut to allow the team to reload) and Monta Ellis.
With all that new personnel, some interesting depth chart questions have arisen. The starters and main minute getters are all but a given at positions two to five - Ellis, Parsons, Nowitzki, and Chandler are all no-brainers - but it’s hard to tell what Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle plans to do with his point guard position.
Apart from acquiring Raymond Felton in a June trade and being on the verge of signing Jameer Nelson today, the Mavs also re-signed Devin Harris in the early goings of free agency. That’s three point guards, all small, all relatively close in age, that have all started for their respective teams for the majority of their careers.
|Player||Height||Age||Years Exp.||Career GP||Career GS||Start %|
Coming from a background of starting doesn’t exactly guarantee a starting position, of course, and you’d have to imagine that it’ll be one of the biggest questions for the Mavs entering training camp.
All three point guards have relatively recognizable names and have enjoyed modern success during their careers. Nelson and Harris were each named All-Stars once upon a time, and Felton was believed by many to be an All-Star snub in 2010-11 for averaging 17.1 points and 9.0 assists for the Knicks, prior to being shipped off to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony deal.
That said, all three are noticeably past their primes and in decline. Each player had a negative nERD last season (an estimate of wins above or below .500 a league-average team would finish the season with the player as one of its starters), on top of a win share total that ranked in the bottom three seasons of their respective careers and their worst player efficiency rating ever.
|Player||nERD||WS/48||WS||Career Rank||PER||Career Rank|
|Jameer Nelson||-3.9||0.062||2.8||8th of 10||13.9||10th of 10|
|Raymond Felton||-4.3||0.053||2.2||8th of 9||12.9||9th of 9|
|Devin Harris||-0.4||0.094||1.6||10th of 10||14.6||10th of 10|
Considering the relatively uninspiring overall numbers are all so close, perhaps it will come down to their ability to play within a specific role. Jose Calderon, the Mavericks starting point guard for 81 games last season, had the lowest assist percentage (22.4%) and assist per 36 minute average (5.5) of his entire career last year. This was largely due to the fact that Monta Ellis, the team’s shooting guard, handled a large portion of the team’s ball handling duties. In fact, Monta’s 24.8% assist percentage led all starters for Dallas last season.
Calderon instead became a catch-and-shoot three-point assassin. He took a career-high 5.2 attempts from deep per game last season and hit on 44.9% of them. Of those 5.2 attempts, 4.1 of them were of the catch-and-shoot variety, on which he hit an outstanding 45.9%. He actually had one of the lowest usage rates of the main minute eaters for the Mavs last year, but that’s easy to understand when you consider how many possessions Nowitzki and Ellis eat up. With Parsons now in tow as well, there will likely be even fewer possessions for whoever plays the most minutes at the point for Dallas next season.
With that in mind, who has the best catch-and-shoot potential out of our three contenders to start at the one? All three players shot under 40% from the floor last season, so we’ll focus on their three-point shooting, considering that’s likely to be their biggest responsibility (at least if Calderon’s performance last year is any indication).
|Player||C-and-S 3PM||C-and-S 3PA||C-and-S 3P%||2013-14 3P%||Career 3P%|
Harris had the best catch-and-shoot percentage from deep out of the trio last year, but that’s likely a benefit of already playing in a system that created such excellent chances of that nature for point guards. Nelson and Felton both had better overall three-point percentage marks than Harris and their career numbers match the spread. Given Nelson’s superior percentages both last season and on his career, he seems destined to thrive the most out of the three in this respect.
Of course, ball handling will still be a large part of the duties, even if it is in a reduced role. Out of the three, which one was the best distributor last season?
|Player||USG%||AST / 36||AST%||TOV / 36||TOV%||AST/TO|
Nelson’s 35.1% assist percentage ranked him seventh in the league last season and should be enough to give him the edge in this area as well. He has a slightly higher turnover percentage than the others, but his assist-to-turnover ratio is certainly comparable.
Overall, it seems like Nelson is the best choice to start at point guard for the Mavericks this coming season, given his shooting ability and high assist percentage. Raymond Felton may claim to be in the best shape that he’s been in for years, but that story seems to come up every single summer without tangible evidence.
Harris was once a given as a starter, but after years of bouncing around and dealing with various injuries, he looks unlikely to get back to that level. Besides, he’s spent the majority of his last two seasons playing more shooting guard than point guard, according to basketball-reference.com’s position estimates. Nelson and Harris, on the other hand, played roughly 99.9% of their time at the point over that period. Harris seems primed to spend more time backing up Ellis at the two while Nelson and Felton split point guard duties, given the roster’s current construction and the lack of depth at shooting guard.
The results of that might be an incredibly small backcourt (Ellis is only 6’3” as well), but perhaps one of the best at distributing in the league. Two-point-guard sets are growing in popularity around the league, after teams like the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors found success with them last season. Considering Ellis’ penchant for ball handling as a combo guard, the Mavericks will be in a good position to always have two capable ball handlers and distributors on the floor at all times, by trotting out any combination of Monta, Nelson, Felton, and Harris. All four of those players had an assist percentage of 24.8% or higher last season, while most teams only had one to two players that hit that percentage in their regular rotation.
Any of those backcourt combinations is likely to give up a fair bit on the defensive end, due to a lack of size, but hopefully the re-acquisition of Tyson Chandler (a former Defensive Player of the Year) can reduce that issue. Regardless, there’s something interesting going on in Dallas’ backcourt. If it works well, not only will the Mavericks be a fun team to watch, they could also be a dark-horse contender in the Western Conference next season.