NBA

Four reasons why Luka Doncic and the Mavericks are a wild card entering the 2021-22 NBA season

The Dallas Knicks — I mean New York Mavericks, er Dallas Mavericks had a busy offseason. Following another first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers…again, the team completely revamped its front office and coaching staff. Exit longtime general manager Donnie Nelson and head coach Rick Carlisle, enter new GM Nico Harrison and head coach Jason Kidd. That’s leaving out all the messy details that led to this overhaul, but more on that down below.

After all of those moves, the Mavericks had an offseason that could be described as purely average. The biggest signing was bringing back Tim Hardaway Jr., who had an outstanding performance in the playoffs last season (17 points per game, 40.4 percent from deep). They also brought in Reggie Bullock, Sterling Brown and made a trade to ship Josh Richardson to the Boston Celtics in exchange for young big man Moses Brown. Most recently they signed guard Frank Ntilikina, who was the eighth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. So for those counting at home, the Mavericks now have five former Knicks players between Bullock, Hardaway, Ntilikina, Kristaps Porzingis and Trey Burke, making them the southwest Knicks from this point forward. 

Jokes aside, the Mavericks are largely running it back with the same roster, which the addition of a few role players, which makes them a hard team to read entering the season. With Luka Doncic at the center, Dallas could finish as high as fourth in the West, or as low as No. 6 or No. 7. It’s just hard to tell given the Mavericks will need Porzingis to have a bounce-back season, improved play from guys like Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith and they’ll need Bullock and or Brown to make a positive impact on the floor consistently. With all that being said, here’s a look at their roster and four reasons why this team should be considered a wild card in the West playoff race.

Dallas Mavericks roster

Guards: Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson, Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina, Tyrell Terry, Tim Hardaway Jr., Reggie Bullock, Sterling Brown

Forwards: Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Green, Kristaps Porzingis, Eugene Omoruyi

Centers: Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, Willie Cauley-Stein, Boban Marjanovic, Moses Brown

1. Doncic will be asked to do it all again

After an offseason that saw the Mavericks once again miss out on their top target — this time Kyle Lowry — Dallas settled for some ancillary pieces to surround Doncic. However, by not adding an adequate secondary playmaker, it means that Doncic will once again be tasked with carrying an unsustainable load throughout the regular season.

Obviously, the Mavericks can still make a trade or sign a player to fill this need. The constant rumors swirling about their connection to veteran guard — and close friend to Doncic — Goran Dragic, shows that Dallas is self-aware of this gaping need. But for right now, heading into the 2021-22 season, the fourth-year superstar guard will once again have to do everything on offense. 

That sets up a Mavericks season that could go one of two ways: more of the same from the past couple seasons where the team finishes in the No. 6 to No. 8 range, or an MVP season from Doncic helps this team finish fourth or fifth in the West. At the time of writing this article, Caesars Sportsbook currently has Doncic as the odds on favorite to win MVP this season (+425). So it’s not out of the realm of possibility given Doncic’s talents, and what we just witnessed him do in the Olympics by leading Slovenia in their first Olympic appearance in men’s basketball to a fourth-place finish.

We’ve seen Doncic will the Mavericks to incredible wins over the past few seasons, and in the playoffs. But he can’t do it all by himself all of the time. It’s just not sustainable. In each of the three seasons Doncic has been in the NBA, he’s led the league in usage percentage, showing just how heliocentric the Mavericks offense is around him. It’s similar to how the Houston Rockets used James Harden, and we saw how that ended up. Doncic will put up monstrous numbers per usual, but will it yield different results this time around for the Mavericks? Part of that answer lies in how No. 2 on this list goes. 

2. Now or never for Porzingis in Dallas

Assuming Doncic continues his MVP-caliber level of play this season, the most important player to determine how successful the Mavericks can be is Porzingis. After a playoff performance that saw Porzingis relegated to being used as a 7-foot JJ Redick, there’s pressure for him to prove he can be the Robin to Doncic’s Batman. 

But Porzingis’ two seasons in Dallas haven’t given great indication that he’s capable of consistently filling that role. There will be stretches of the season where he looks like the guy who became an All-Star playing for the Knicks while knocking down shots from deep, mid-range and throwing down dunks. But that was several years and several surgeries ago, and there are legitimate reasons to wonder if he’s able to be the second scoring option in Dallas. 

Even worse, on defense, it’s like he has cement blocks for feet. Gone are the days of Porzingis being a legitimate rim protector, at least from what we’ve seen in the past two seasons. When he’s on the floor, Dallas allows nearly 117 points per possession on defense, and when he goes to the bench that number decreases by nearly six points (111.8 points per possession), per Cleaning the Glass. Those aren’t inspiring figures to look at for your starting center.

After Dallas’ first-round exit from the playoffs, it was reported that Porzingis was growing unhappy in his diminished role, and while there was outside focus on trading Porzingis, the trade interest in him was minimal. However true any of that is, it’s clear K.P. and the Mavericks are tied to each other at least in the immediate future as he has two years and over $69 million remaining on his contract. His success this season will not only determine his future in Dallas but how far the Mavericks can go this season.  

3. All eyes on Jason Kidd

As if figuring out how Porzingis would perform this season wasn’t enough for the Mavericks, another major storyline for Dallas is seeing how Kidd fares as the franchise’s new head coach. Kidd is taking over after longtime head coach Rick Carlisle stepped down, which followed the exit of general manager Donnie Nelson. This was all after an explosive report that detailed dysfunction within the front office, and tension between Doncic and a front office executive. So yeah, it’s been a really interesting offseason for the Mavericks, to say the least. 

Kidd steps in after serving as an assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers for the previous two seasons. Before that he served two tumultuous head coaching stints with the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets, with an overall record of 183-190. From a basketball perspective, it was a head-scratching hire from the jump. He hasn’t been a particularly successful coach, and the stories that have spilled out about his coaching antics don’t paint the picture of a guy who can get this team over the hump of not winning a single playoff series in a decade. 

Then there’s the optics off the court that also make this a puzzling hire. Just three years ago Dallas was the centerpiece of a report detailing a toxic company culture rife with sexual harassment claims and domestic assault charges. So to hire Kidd, who pled guilty to a 2001 domestic violence charge where he hit his now-ex-wife, and had a lawsuit filed against him during their divorce that detailed “perpetual physical and emotional abuse,” is an eyebrow-raising move, as there were several other candidates who don’t come with so much baggage.

But here we are, the Mavericks picked Kidd to be their coach and right out of the gate he’ll have a significant amount of pressure on him to show that he’s the right coach to mentor Doncic and lead Dallas to at least a playoff series win. As a Hall of Fame point guard who won his only championship with the Mavericks, Dallas is hoping that Kidd’s extensive knowledge of the game will benefit Doncic, who reportedly clashed with Carlisle in the past. It will be intriguing to see how Doncic responds to his new coach and to see how Kidd’s coaching tactics have changed. 

4. Weighing the impact of Bullock and Brown

Although the Mavericks didn’t land the player at the top of their list, they did snag some solid complementary pieces to put alongside Doncic on the floor. Something that was made abundantly clear when Doncic played in the Olympics with Slovenia, was that if you surround him with enough quality shooters, good things will happen. 

Dallas knows that, so it went out and got Bullock, who shot 41 percent from deep last season and is a plus on the defensive side of the ball. They also signed Brown, who despite being on a lottery-bound Houston Rockets team, shot a career-high 42.3 percent from beyond the arc and averaged a career-high in points per game (8.2) and rebounds (4.4). Those two players will surely benefit from the looks Doncic will get them on the wing, while also giving Dallas some much-needed shooting depth on the roster. 

Against the Clippers, Doncic, Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. were the only players on the team whose 3-point shooting got better in the playoffs. Kleber lacked assertiveness when he got open looks, backup guard Jalen Brunson, who by all other accounts had a solid season, became unplayable as the series wore on and Porzingis shot an abysmal 29.6 percent from 3-point range. Bullock and Brown’s performance this season will carry some weight in how the Mavericks fare. 

If those two manage to carry over their success from last season, or even better, improve upon it, then Dallas could find itself higher in the standings. But if they aren’t able to be consistent shooters, then the Mavs will essentially be running with the same players from last year, and we saw how far that has taken them over the past two years.



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