Dennis Smith Jr., Maxi Kleber & the Reloading Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Dallas Mavericks Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Even after 11 straight years of at least 50 wins, the Dallas Mavericks have finally started to reload.

“It is where we are in the transition going from a perennial 50 win team. At some point you have to reload,” assistant coach Melvin Hunt said as we set down to talk about this current Mavericks team.

For 11 straight years, the Dallas Mavericks won at least 50 wins.

Let that sink in. From the 2000-01 season to the 2010-11 season the Mavericks won at least 50 games with three of those seasons being over 60 wins.

For a decade, fans in Dallas were spoiled as their favorite team had Dirk Nowitzki at the helm and  trips to the playoffs were an every year thing. But as the mountain top moments of franchise history come, a valley is on the horizon.

Now, the valley is here and the time for reloading has come.

“This is just the other shoe,” Hunt said.  “For years, Mark, Rick and Donnie have done a great job at sustaining us and keeping us at a high level but at some point you have to reload, you have to go get a Dennis. You have to find Maxi and we are in the process of doing that.”

After finishing with 33 wins last season, it was time for the Mavericks to own a top ten draft pick again and they were lucky enough to have Dennis Smith Jr. fall into their laps at the nine spot.

Named as the starting point guard on day one, Smith Jr. has shown in these first 45 games of his rookie season that he can become something special for a long time.

For Hunt, Smith Jr. reminds him of a couple high-flying point guards from the past few decades and one of them Hunt had in his time in Houston.

“Reminds me of a combination of Steve Francis and Baron Davis. Steve was 21 when we got him, this kid is 19. I was the guy out here doing this with Steve in Houston,” Hunt said as we watched Smith Jr. go through shootaround before a game.

“Reminds me of a combination of Steve Francis and Baron Davis” -Melvin Hunt on Dennis Smith Jr.

“The explosiveness is like Steve. Steve was a pretty good shooter and figuring out his shot because he was so explosive. A lot of similarities.”

At some point, every team has to reload and that time for the Dallas Mavericks is now. We then spent the next few minutes talking about the reloading period that the Cleveland Cavaliers went through almost a decade ago.

In the 2009-10 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers won 61 games with LeBron James at the helm. When James decided to go to Miami, this started the reloading period for the Cavs. Over the next multiple seasons, wins were hard to come by, but that allowed the reloading to happen at a faster pace.

The Cavs won 19 games the next season but was awarded the top pick in the draft where they selected Kyrie Irving. They won 21 games the following year where they selected Dion Waiters with the fourth overall pick. They would go on to win 24 games the next year and be awarded the top overall pick where they would take Anthony Bennett. Even after that, they won 33 games and were awarded the top overall pick again where they selected Andrew Wiggins, but flipped him for Kevin Love.

“All these other teams. They have already gone through the process,” Hunt said. Now it’s Dallas’s turn.

In addition to Smith Jr., Dallas seems to have found another undrafted gem in Maxi Kleber to join other young pieces like Yogi Ferrell, Dorian Finney-Smith and even Harrison Barnes who is still just 25 years old.

On top of that, Dallas will head into the offseason with a ton of cap space and most likely another top ten draft pick.

As Hunt and I chatted about things surrounding the team, we took some time to talk about the center position in Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki, Nerlens Noel and the other bigs on the roster.

“It used to be a novel lineup. We would start Dirk at power forward and slide him to the five in the game and mess up everybody’s rotation and game plans. We don’t have the luxury anymore,” Hunt said.

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For years, this was a lineup that Dallas would go to that other teams would have problems defending as suddenly you have a center that can hit from the outside. Now, almost every team in the league has a five man who can hit from the outside.

Going back before training camp even started, Dallas made the decision to move Dirk to the five-spot full-time. As a result, this pushed Nerlens Noel to the bench and eventually out of the whole rotation.

“Dirk became a five. A yes to one thing is a no to another,” Hunt said. “If you wanna see Nerlens, then you are saying you don’t want to see Dirk. As soon as Dirk became a five, which is the right thing, that just changed where the minutes go. Nerlens obviously can’t play four.”

As to why Noel fell out of the rotation, it was pretty simple.

“Practice. Salah was better than him,” Hunt said

Next: Dennis Smith Jr. Wanted to Guard John Wall

For Mavs fans over the past 20 years, this is rare territory with Dirk Nowitzki still gracing the court in Dallas. But reloading is inevitable for every franchise, including the Dallas Mavericks.