Mac Engel

Mavs enjoying the horrors of tanking in the NBA

Mark Cuban proclaimed before the start of the season that, “Last year, we were probably 12 sprained ankles away (from contending), this year we are maybe three or four from competing, if the right guys sprain their ankles.”

Three or four starters from every other NBA Western Conference team could sprain their ankles, break their backs and retire from the game and it still would not mean Cuban’s team is any closer to contending than they are today.

Thirty games remain in the NBA season for the Dallas Mavericks, and the only mystery remains which lottery pick the team will “earn.”

Welcome to Tank Hell.

The 2017-’18 Dallas Mavericks are painful to watch, as evidenced by their most recent butt kicking — 102-88 in Phoenix on Wednesday night. No, the Mavs weren’t the one dispensing the butt kicking.

Don’t fault the effort (save for a certain former Philly 76er center). The Mavs have one or two real NBA players. One of them isn’t Dirk.

The Mavs are 16-36, tied for the second fewest wins in the NBA. They are only 21.5 games behind the Houston Rockets for first place in the Southwest Division.

Before the season began, the over/under on the Mavs’ win total was 33 1/2. I took the over (it was the cough syrup).

They won’t come close to that lofty figure. Talking about tanking is one thing, and it’s quite another to actually watch it and live it. The scariest truth about the Mavs is just how far they are from contending for the eighth seed in the playoffs, forget anything else.

The Mavs are the Kings, Suns, or Hawks — another bottom tier NBA team praying their high draft pick results in a franchise-saving talent.

The acquisition of Nerlens Noel was a Rondo-esque waste, but the drafting of Dennis Smith Jr. is a serious hit. Because of the presence of Philly’s Ben Simmons, Smith has no chance at winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, but the real win for the Mavs is they have a legit young piece who should only improve.

But basketball is a big man’s game, and the team simply doesn’t have any good ones. They have guys who are big who play NBA basketball, but not guys who are good, big NBA players.

Harrison Barnes is a nice man, a good pro and an NBA player who is another case of a good scorer on a bad team.

Former Mavs coach Don Nelson once said most NBA players can lead their team in scoring; they were likely their high school or college team’s best scorer. The concern is, can their NBA team win with that player leading them in scoring?

Throw Wes Matthews in this category, too.

The “good news” is the top four players ranked in the 2018 NBA Draft are all bigs: DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Michael Porter, Jaren Jackson Jr. Expect Texas center Mo Bomba to join this list shortly.

But what if Oklahoma scorer Trae Young is available? You can’t have a starting backcourt of two 6-foot-2 guards. Would an NBA team pass on “the next Steph Curry?” Curry was the seventh overall pick, and his selection was shredded because he is 6-foot-3.

The Mavs and Cuban never wanted to tank, because of Dirk, but this is what it looks like. They are a bad team with a worse record with one real player on which to build. They are the Sacramento Kings.

The NBA lottery is May 15. The NBA Draft is June 21.

And the Mavs need a lot more than the other guys to sprain their ankles.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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