Dallas at Phoenix
Time: 9:30 PM (CT), ESPN
Spread: DAL -3
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Phoenix Suns have lost five-straight games to fall to 17-34 on the season. Phoenix is one-game removed from the cellar of the Western Conference, and it will enter tonight’s game as 3-point underdogs to the team that currently occupies that position, the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas has lost four-straight and seven of its past 10 but is still favored in this clash of future 2018 lottery teams.
The Suns really do not have a lot going for them outside of the strong play of one Devin Booker. Booker leads the team in scoring with 24.7 points per game, to go along with his 4.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists per night, but the former Kentucky Wildcat was snubbed for an All-Star selection, since Phoenix has been so poor this season. T.J. Warren has stepped up into something of a star, too, with 19.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.63 steals/blocks per game, but outside of this dynamic duo, the Suns have precious little.
To be sure, Phoenix is not necessarily short on talent, but most of its rotation is comprised of young, and unproven, players. Greg Monroe was obtained for the cost of Eric Bledsoe, but that downgraded the talent while pitting one of the worst defensive big men on a team that already struggles immensely on that end of the court.
Kansas product Josh Jackson has struggled some as a rookie, and second-year forwards Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss are both slumping, and neither seems ready to be an NBA starter yet. Alex Len has a clear role as a defensive 5, but with so many perimeter assignments being blown, his job has been that much harder in the paint.
The Suns just have a wealth of issues to address, but for the meantime, it has been a pleasure watching Booker excel and wondering what could be if Phoenix added some veteran leadership to help him corral the existing talent on this roster.
Dallas, while probably out of realistic contention for the 2018 playoffs, has several reasons to be excited about the progress of what has to be called one of the stranger rebuilds in recent history. While still clinging to what is left of Dirk Nowitzki’s career, the Mavs are nevertheless in something of a tank mode, bent on developing their young talents and positioning themselves for another high pick in the 2018 draft. And that is not all bad. The No. 8 overall pick from the 2017 draft has thus far panned out brilliantly for Dallas, as Dennis Smith Jr. is becoming a household name on a horrible team, which is something of a task in and of itself.
Smith has only been getting more aggressive and better as his rookie season has worn on. Over the Mavericks last five games (three of which were losses), he has averaged 18.8 points, 4.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 43 percent from the floor. His three-point stroke still leaves some room for improvement at just 32 percent on the season, but what he lacks in marksmanship he makes up for with extra-worldly athleticism.
Smith’s highlights should keep him on everyone’s radar until the Mavericks build a team around him, but in the meantime, it is difficult to ignore what he is doing already. Smith had 25 points on 11 of 18 shooting in the 105-102 loss to the Denver Nuggets Tuesday, and while outside of swingman Harrison Barnes, not much surrounds him, he does look to have the makings of a true superstar to cede Nowitzki after he finally decides to hang it up.
Dirk still has started all 45 games this season, but he is just playing 25 minutes a night and averaging a very humble 12 points and five rebounds per game. Perhaps the most telling part of his decline, however, has not been the reduction in minutes and usage, but the fact Nowitzki is shooting just 46 percent from the field and attempting just under 10 shots per game. While his guile and skill should enable him to remain at least this effective a little longer, there is no delusional Mavericks fan that is waiting nor expecting him to return to the MVP-caliber play by which his career became known for.
Nevertheless, Barnes (18.7 points per game) and Smith should keep Dallas relevant once Dirk does retire, and the Mavericks may ultimately look for a frontcourt replacement this year in the NBA Draft. It is a rebuild certainly that has more promise than others around the league, despite the fact it is hard to just call it a rebuild while rostering a Hall of Fame talent, still. The L.A. Lakers just rebuilt that way, however, so to say it is entirely uncharted ground would be a bit inaccurate, too.