A Link To The Past

Posted by Ian Levy on June 27, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

This old man

Every year Dan Feldman, of the TrueHoop Network blog, Piston Powered, organizes a mock draft including all the sites in the Network. One representative from each site makes the hypothetical picks for their team, and this year I represented The Two Man Game and the Dallas Mavericks. This is a straight draft and there are no provisions for trading picks, you simply select the player that best makes sense for your team at that position. With the 13th pick, I selected Michael Carter-Williams from Syracuse University.

Since he declared for the draft, Carter-Williams has been linked to the Mavericks in a variety of rumors, although very rarely with any substance attached. If you’re not familiar with his game, he’s a 6-5 point guard with questionable shooting ability. His percentages — 39.3% from the field and 29.4% on three-pointers — reflect not so much a broken shooting form as an undeveloped sense of what makes a good shot. He’s a solid passer, smooth in transition and capable of creating good looks for both himself and teammates out of the pick-and-roll. Although his defensive capabilities come with all the standard questions of someone who spent his entire collegiate career playing in Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, his length and athleticism suggest the ability to defend multiple positions, most more than adequately.

I know Carter-Williams is not the most exciting pick; while he may have the potential to contribute right away, it will mostly be in complementary ways. He projects to be a solid NBA player, but nothing about his game screams “instant-star.” The Mavericks are in the indelicate position of trying to compete at a high level in the immediate, for the sake of Dirk Nowitzki’s twilight, while still building for the future. It’s an incredibly complicated balancing act and one that doesn’t have a great historical track record of working out. In fitting Carter-Williams into this context he probably lands more of the future side of the equation. Using the 13th pick in the draft to build mostly for a later incarnation of the team inevitably takes something away from Nowitzki’s present, and I would completely understand if fans or the organization feel that is too high a cost.

But Carter-Williams is especially attractive to me from a stylistic perspective. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, unable to let go of a past that evolution has already blown by, but to me he represents a bridge to the 2011 championship team. That team was a prism, and depending on which angle you look from it’s easy to find a multitude of different defining themes. But to me that roster was all about versatility and flexibility. Every piece could be fit into the puzzle in multiple ways and directions, with the resulting image always seamlessly covering any holes or gaps. Almost everyone could fill several offensive roles and inhabit several different places in the defensive scheme. This gave Rick Carlisle an incredible amount of freedom to tinker and exploit matchups, making changes around the edges to gain an advantage but keeping the fundamental amorphous quality of their thrust intact.

Nowitzki and Shawn Marion are the last vestiges of that elastic group. The faces have changed over the past two seasons but it seems like this guiding light of versatility is still what has framed the front office’s decision making. The moves that the Mavericks made this past summer seemed like they were designed to chase the same goal. The problem was the individual pieces themselves weren’t versatile enough to fulfill the plan. Each player specialized, like their 2011 predecessors, but there just wasn’t enough overlap to create the ever-evolving blob that Carlisle needed to work his lineup magic.

It may be that the Mavericks have moved past this team structure and that overwhelming versatility is no longer among the team’s defining philosophies. But if there’s any trace of those elements in the plan of what’s to come in Dallas, it seems to me that Carter-Williams is too good a fit to pass up. He can defend three positions and has experience with zone defense, similar to matchup zone that Dallas employs situationally. His size and ability to handle the ball also create so many offensive options. Adding him could allow the Mavericks to chase a more scoring-focused point guard in free agency, perhaps even a shooting guard with reliable ball-handling ability. Putting him next to J.J. Redick seems like an incredibly intriguing back-court. He also could theoretically become the “big” guard in three-guard sets putting him alongside two smaller shooters, or even with two more proficient ball-handlers, working primarily as a cutter and spot-up shooter. Obviously a reliable jump shot would fully cement these options, but that doesn’t feel far away once the coaching staff helps him recognize what are appropriate shots to be taking. Slotting him into the rotation for next year also seems like the skeleton key for unlocking free agent options. More lineup possibilities would create viable options from a wide swath of free agents, while also keeping the team from getting locked into the pursuit of one or two players. The Mavericks have been lacking for skill overlap, and Carter-Williams seems to create some of that useful redundancy all on his own.

If Plan A is to chase Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, with Plan B being to simply chase the next tier of free agent talent, than this 13th pick is probably an asset to be moved. It’s difficult to recommend trying to replicate a roster that took years, luck and foresight to build, especially when time is of the essence. But I’m a basketball idealist. I would rather see the Mavericks chase the purest and most egalitarian form of basketball they’ve every played rather than hoping to amass talent for talent’s sake, and quickly enough to make Nowitzki’s last few seasons worthwhile.

In addition to his work for The Two Man Game, Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, and a contributor to Indy CornrowsHardwood ParoxysmHoopChalk and ProBasketballDraft. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

Photo from kitkaphotogirl, via flickr