The Dallas Mavericks have a handful of capable players that will be fighting for minutes this season. What will the Mavs do with Justin Anderson?
Early in the 2015-16 season, Justin Anderson was struggling to find a spot in Rick Carlisle‘s rotations, even spending time with the Dallas Mavericks D-League team the Texas Legends. Being a first round pick with potential doesn’t guarantee minutes on the Mavs like it does on some teams, only production and efficiency will earn Carlisle’s trust.
Anderson slowly gained favor night after night, and then he got his chance. After Chandler Parsons went down with a knee injury Simba was thrust into the starting lineup, and he didn’t disappoint.
He played a critical role in the Mavs late season push to make the playoffs and had a significant impact in Dallas’ first round series with the Thunder. Simba shot the three, played physical defense, and hit the boards harder than most small forwards are capable of.
Now, Anderson has spent a year and an offseason working out and honing his game. It is evident that not only is he lighter and even more athletic than last season, but his game has been refined. His shooting stroke has improved, his decision making seems to have matured, and he looks far more comfortable handling the ball.
This seems like good news at first; having more talented players is a good thing, right? Maybe not.
Justin Anderson is 6’6″ with a thicker build, giving him the speed and quickness to play the SG spot with the size, strength, and leaping ability to play SF. Naturally, as he continues to improve and become more impactful for the Mavs, Anderson will want to be, and deserve to be, on the floor as much as possible at one of these two spots. He will likely be a bonafide starter caliber player within the next couple years of so, if he isn’t already.
However, Dallas has Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes who play SG and SF accordingly, and are both signed to long term big contracts. In the Mavs attempt to build a talented roster, ironically they may have limited their potential.
Justin Anderson is now on the outside looking in to the starting lineup, and there isn’t a real hole for him to fill. Having to choose between multiple good choices is a good problem to have, but remains a problem nonetheless.
The short term answer here is to use a small ball lineup with Barnes at the PF and Simba at the SF, and this does appear to work. Dallas gets all their young talent on the floor at once and everyone is happy. However, this isn’t optimal as a permanent solution, as Barnes is a better fit at the 3 position and likely wants to play there most of the time.
Even if Barnes didn’t mind playing the 4 long-term, what happens when he has to match up against true power forwards like Zach Randolph or Blake Griffin? This could cause all kinds of match up problems. Carlisle is a great coach and strategist, but he can’t use a defensive scheme to make Barnes or Anderson any taller.
Another possible solution is to simply play out the season with Simba being a highly used sixth man, and at the end of the season re-access things. If Simba doesn’t grow much as a player, then leave him as the sixth man. If Barnes or Matthews has a particularly disappointing season, then trade whichever one away to make room for Anderson. Its possible that this dilemma could simply fade away, but it is not likely.
There are far more pressing matters for the Mavericks to deal with this season, like handling the progression of Harrison Barnes and getting to the playoffs in one of Nowitzki’s last years. The Justin Anderson dilemma, however, should not go unnoticed or uncared for, as it will only grow larger as it goes unsolved. As the season wanes on, keep an eye on the measures the Mavericks will go to to satisfy both Anderson’s and their own ambitions.