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Q&A with Mavs Moneyball: Harrison Barnes, Dennis Smith, Jr. and the future of the Mavs

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For insight on the Warriors’ opponent tonight, we contacted SB Nation’s Mavs Moneyball with a few questions.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

I actually began writing this breakdown of the Golden State Warriors matchup with the Dallas Mavericks over a week ago while I had some time during my holiday vacation.

The Warriors were about to play three of the four slowest-paced teams in the league — the Mavs, Utah Jazz, and Memphis Grizzlies -- and I was curious about how that set of teams could challenge the vanguard of the pace and space movement.

What made the Mavs interesting at the time is that they were last in the Western Conference, but actually had more commonalities with the Warriors than the other two teams. What separated them is that the Warriors are in the top five in pace while the Mavs are in the bottom five.

First, they were both at the bottom of the league in fast break points allowed. Heading into the final week of 2017, the Mavs (14.4 fast break points allowed) were the only team to give up more points in fast break situations than the Warriors (14 fast break points allowed).

It should be obvious how pace makes a difference with that stat: the Warriors give opponents about five more chances a game to score with their pace at 100.1 while the Mavs were at 94.8 possessions per game.

Second, the Mavs and Warriors were (and are) the two worst teams in the Western Conference in second chance points. That’s not particularly surprising for the Mavs as they rank 30th in offensive rebounding percentage — as the value of offensive rebounding is debateable, that’s not such a bad weakness in the grand scheme of things. But when your shooting efficiency (.512 eFG%) is just below league average and your free throw rate (.166) is third-last, those extra opportunities are necessary. For a team like the Warriors that is one of the most efficient shooting teams in NBA history (.574 eFG%) the second chance opportunities are both less frequent and less significant.

And...ohyeahbytheway...I guess that Harrison Barnes has played for both teams, of course (you thought you’d get through a piece I write about the Mavs without hearing about Barnes?). As vindication for those of us who knew that Barnes would never be a productive high-usage option, his true shooting percentage with the Mavs has been on a steady decline over the last few seasons to .538 (which, in fairness, is about his career average).

The former Warriors starter has struggled mightily in five career games against his former team: his usage rate in those games has been 25.9% (pretty much his average usage during his time with the Mavs), but his true shooting percentage has only been .475 and he has shot only 5-for-18 from the 3-point line. In a piece published two weeks ago at Nylon Calculus, Ian Levy observed that Barnes is one of the most likely players in the NBA to shoot when he drives, which is probably no surprise to those of us who noticed his struggle with dribbling and playmaking as a Warriors player.

But I digress...

In short, it looked highly unlikely that the Dallas Mavericks were going to beat the Golden State Warriors tonight.

Stylistically, the Mavs actually been at the forefront of the what David Locke described at the “slow and space” movement. However, they’re a mediocre shooting team that doesn’t augment that by getting to the line (third-worst in the NBA) or getting the offensive rebounds (last in the league) that lead to second chance points (last in the Western Conference). The Mavs lost the first two games to the Warriors by 30 and 15 points, respectively.

But now, they’re on a four-game winning streak. So all of my “hard” work over my vacation was about to be scrapped...then I decided to just ask Doyle Rader of Mavs Moneyball a few questions to complement my thoughts instead of just deleting them.

So here are his responses to a few of my questions.

Q&A with Mavs Moneyball

Nate P.: So...about Harrison Barnes…I’ve been a hater since day one (and really, before day one), but what’s something nice you can say about him with the Mavs? How does he (and his contract) fit into the Mavs’ future?

Doyle Rader: Barnes is fine. I was certainly not 100 percent sold on him after those misses in the Finals before joining the Mavs but that’s all in the past. Barnes is asked to be the workhorse for this team nightly and has risen to the occasion nicely. He’s the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. If there is a knock, it’s that his 3-point percentage isn’t as high as I believe most people would like it to be and that he can sometimes be a black hole offensively. Other than that, he’s extremely reliable.

As for his future with the team, that’s a good question. He’s the highest paid player on the roster and has two years left on his contract. I see him finishing out those two years for now but also believe that he will be a moveable asset once his final year rolls around. He’ll be 27 then and, while in his prime, might not have much more to offer than what you already see. I think his future with the team short term is granted but it all depends on the summer’s draft and what direction the team decides to go. I can’t see Barnes wanting to stick around while the team rebuilds around Smith (20) and another 19 or 20-year-old they get in the draft.

NP: Dennis Smith, Jr. hasn’t been shooting all that well during this winning streak -- or during the season generally -- but had a pretty big game in New Orleans recently. What do you think is the next step forward in his development?

DR: The next thing he needs is a floater. He’s been working on one for a while now and busted out a beauty over Anthony Davis on one play in New Orleans. Since he’s such a downhill player, it’ll do wonders for his game once he gets in the paint. Up until recently, a lot of his shots inside are challenged or blocked because he isn’t getting the ball up over bigs. A floater will go a long way to adding depth to his game.

NP: The Mavs are near the bottom of the league in pace and, until the last four games, haven't really been all that successful. David Locke wrote over the offseason that a few teams have been very successful with a slow pace and high 3-pt rate, but the Mavs haven't been able to turn that into wins. So do you think their style matches their personnel?

DR: It has to. Dirk Nowitzki is old. He jokes about being the last one down the floor from time to time in the locker room. As long as he’s on the team and playing significant minutes, the offense will cater to him and his abilities. Don’t expect the Mavs to play at a breakneck pace any time soon.

For more on the Mavs, check out Mavs Moneyball. Click here for our full preview of the Mavs and Warriors game tonight.