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Who’s at the Center of the Mavs?

Sometimes things don’t work out the way you thought they would.  The Mavericks dealt with that reality in the worst way possible this offseason when Clippers center DeAndre Jordan spurned them at the beginning of free agency.  Jordan would have been the Mavericks’ starting center for at least the next four years and likely more, but he opted to go back to Los Angeles and left the Mavericks reeling to find a new starting center after incumbent starter Tyson Chandler went to Phoenix.

Dallas appears to be approaching the position with a “strength in numbers” attack.  They have acquired three centers in the last month and a half who could realistically vie for the starting job this season: Zaza Pachulia, Samuel Dalembert and JaVale McGee.  None of these three will have the best-selling jersey, none will sell more tickets and none of them will be the main focus of any marketing campaigns.  But which one offers the most hope for being a reliable starting center?

Tyson Chandler was an emotional and vocal leader of the Mavericks on and off the court. It’s unlikely any center currently on the roster can offer something similar.

The best way to answer that question is by looking for who can come the closest to replicating Tyson Chandler’s physical, not vocal, presence on the floor.  Tyson Chandler was tremendous for the Mavericks last season.  Sure, the footage showed he might have lost a slight step on the defensive end but all around, he was a top five center in the league.  A look at some of Chandler’s stats last season:

75 games, 30.2 MPG*, 10.3 PPG*, 11.5 RPG*, 1.2 BPG*, 20.12 PER*, 20.7 REB*

There are only a few centers in the league who can boast numbers than that.  Chandler has consistently been this good since his first stint with Dallas back in 2010-2011.  In that five year stretch, his average PER has been 18.52.  Which center has the best chance to even come close to this?

Starting with Dalembert, the 13-year veteran will have a slight edge over the others with his knowledge of the Rick Carlisle system after his stint in Dallas back in 2013-2014.  Let’s face it, some Dalembert moments that season were infuriating, but he was a passable starting center.  That has more or less been the reason he has lasted this long in the league.  From 2011-2014, he averaged a 17.49 PER and 19.03 REB.  That kind of combo together last season would have made him about a league average center.  You can’t ask for much more out of a physically and sometimes mentally limited player who is past his springiest days in the league.  The worry with Dalembert comes from the fact that he was just terrible last year with the Knicks.  He only played in 32 games and didn’t even make it to New Year’s with the Knicks.  Hopefully he was just negatively impacted by the organization’s lack of stability.

There’s a grit and consistency with Zaza Pachulia that neither Dalembert or McGee can bring. Will it translate to the starting job?

With Pachulia, there’s a player who has been a backup center fringe starter his whole career.  He had the best 2014-2015 season of the three being looked at so he likely has the inside edge on the starting job.   In 45 games as a starter for the Bucks last year, he averaged 9.8 points and 8.8 rebounds while logging 26 minutes per game.  That’s more than solid.  A red flag on Pachulia is that his offensive contributions will mainly be from pick and roll situations.  The Mavs have their pick and roll big man in Dirk Nowitzki.  Having two big guys do the same thing will likely mess with spacing for their outside shooters and create all kinds of rebounding problems.  The center next to the 37 year-old version of Dirk Nowitzki needs to be able to roll to the basket hard and be a threat to score in the paint a la Chandler, Brandan Wright or Amar’e Stoudemire.  That isn’t what Pachulia is known for.  However, he is by a mile the most stable, professional and consistent of the three options.  He’ll get minutes for the Mavs this season without a doubt.  It’s just a matter of how many.

JaVale often bites off more than he can chew.

Last is JaVale McGee.  The youngest of the three, not turning 28 until January, he offers the most room to grow.  He has shown flashes of brilliance in the league because he’s armed with a ton of athleticism for a big guy.  It’s well chronicled that what holds McGee back is his head.  Wherever it is, it causes problems for him.  The TNT halftime segment “Shaqtin’ a Fool” was created because of things done by JaVale.  McGee is one of those centers who swats shots into the seats for the sake of a highlight instead of hitting it in play so it could lead to an easy transition basket for his team.  He’s also incredibly injury prone.  Through nine NBA seasons, he has four where he has played twenty or less games.  That figure includes the last three seasons where he has played a combined 28 of 246 possible regular season games.  Greg Oden raises his eyebrows at that.  If healthy and in the right mindset, JaVale is probably closest to Chandler in terms of athleticism and being a lob threat.  Will he ever be in that state again?

Center position aside, there are so many questions for the Mavericks going into this season.  The offseason recoveries of Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons will likely have an impact on the start of the season whether they’re in uniform or not.  Deron Williams is out to restore his status as an upper-tier point guard in the league.  Nowitzki is another year older and needs to play even less minutes this year.  It would be an incredible blessing for one of these three centers to blossom into a reliable center in the midst of all the uncertainties.  When training camp opens in about six weeks, it will be a lot of work for the Mavericks to come together.

Statistics Key
MPG: Minutes played per game
PPG: Points scored per game
RPG: Rebounds per game
BPG: Blocked shots per game
PER: Player Efficiency Rating (the overall rating of a player’s per-minute production.  The league average is 15)
REB: Rebound Rate (the percentage of missed shots a player rebounds)

Follow me on Twitter for more Mavs articles: @DylanDuell

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