After two straight seasons of ending in the first round, the Dallas Mavericks bring back a similar group that looks to get over the hump. The Mavericks made just two acquisitions this offseason with Reggie Bullock headlining the free agency class. Based on their moves, it appears that the franchise is going to give Jason Kidd the chance to see if their superstar tandem can make it work one more year.
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis were supposed to be an ultra dynamic duo. Both remain fairly young with their primes on the horizon. However, the two have little to show for a team that hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2011, which was the year the team won the NBA championship.
With pretty much the entire team back from a team that went 42-30, can Doncic and Porzingis get Dallas into the contention conversation?
Point Guard - Luka Doncic
The MVP conversation is far down the road, but if you had to bet money, then Doncic would be an easy play. At 22 years old, Doncic is the future face of the NBA when LeBron James and Kevin Durant finally leave. At his age, he is displaying talent we have not seen since both were at a younger age. Last year, Doncic averaged 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists. It wouldn’t shock anyone if he averaged a triple-double this season.
Doncic is entering his fourth year in the NBA. Right now, he is one of the most exciting players to watch, but if he wants to be treated like Mt. Rushmore of the league, then he has to carry his team to more wins and a higher seed in the conference standings. The Mavericks have never been higher than a five seed in Doncic’s three seasons.
Shooting Guard - Tim Hardaway Jr.
When the Mavericks acquired Porzingis via trade, many thought he was the crown jewel of the deal. However, in terms of consistency, Hardaway Jr. has been the foundational piece, which is why the Mavericks elected to re-sign the shooting guard. Last year, Hardaway averaged 16.6 points, while shooting 39.1% from three-point range.
Is Hardaway one of the best shooting guards in the league. Absolutely not. He hasn’t ever shot over 40% from deep, while his career-high in points was 19.1 in New York when the Knicks were a bad team in 2018. With that said, Hardaway has been asked to be the second-best player on the court with Porzingis being hurt. That’s not his role. If Hardaway can return to his role of being the third option, then maybe the team will be more balanced.
Small Forward - Dorian Finney-Smith
The 32.0 minutes per game were a career-high for Finney-Smith last year. He managed to improve his overall shooting (47.2%) and outside shooting (39.4%), which were both career highs. Actually, Finney-Smith has steadily transformed his outside shooting, increasing the overall total by 10% since 2017.
For a small forward to average 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds are not terrible numbers. Finney-Smith owns an overall defensive rating of 112, while the league average is 110. He knows his role but keeps an eye on his three-point shooting. Can he get to 40% or better?
Power Forward - Kristaps Porzingis
When Porzingis was traded, he didn’t play a game as he recovered from a torn ACL. The following two years, the Porzingis and Doncic duo have played just 100 games together in the regular season. That includes just 43 games last year, where he averaged 20.1 points and 8.9 rebounds.
When healthy, Porzingis is a 7-foot-3 unicorn that can stretch the floor. His 47% field-goal percentage was the best of his career, which should be a positive sign for next year. However, his health has been a major question mark for three consecutive years. The talent has always been there, but bringing that talent on the court has consistently been a question mark.
Center - Dwight Powell
In 2019, Powell was brought back to Dallas on a three-year deal after a season that saw him lead the league with a 134.6 offensive rating, as well as finishing ninth in the league in win shares per 48 minutes. You wouldn’t have guessed that from a player that averaged just 5.9 points and 4.0 rebounds in 16.7 minutes last year, right?
With that said, Powell spent most of last year rehabbing an injury he sustained the year before. This year, he should be healthy. He’s very efficient when given the chance, shooting over 60% from the field in back-to-back seasons.
Jalen Brunson, Trey Burke, Tyrell Terry, JaQuori McLaughlin, Josh Green, Sterling Brown, Eugene Omoruyi, Reggie Bullock, Feron Hunt, Maxi Kleber, Willie Cauley-Stein, Boban Marjanovic, Moses Brown
Bringing back Brunson was a necessity. He is coming off a career season that saw him average 12.6 points and 3.5 assists. His 52.2% shooting was also a career-high. Since being drafted in the second round three years ago, Brunson has grown to be one of the most underrated backup point guards in the league.
Don’t sleep on the Sterling Brown signing, which was the team’s other major move this offseason. Brown averaged just 8.2 points last year for the poorly Houston Rockets but shot 42.4% from outside. Reggie Bullock shot 41% from outside, so the Mavericks have two legit shooters that can come off the bench to play big minutes.
With Powell trying to find his way back into the lineup regularly, Maxi Kleber closed most games out last year. He also shot over 40% from outside. If the Mavericks wanted to go “small,” they could move Porzingis to the five and allow Kleber to play his natural position at power forward. Rounding out the bench are Willey Cauley-Stein, who remains an effective backup in the league, and everyone’s favorite in Boban Marjanovic.
Doncic And Porzingis Have To Prove It Can Work
The key to the success of the Mavericks is keeping Porzingis healthy and allowing them to play alongside Doncic. The Mavericks had to believe that former head coach Rick Carlisle couldn’t find a way to make it work, which is why he is now the head coach of the Pacers and Kidd is now leading the charge. Porzingis is getting paid a lot of money and is not getting traded anytime soon. They have to find a way to make this partnership work.
Everyone and their mother wants to talk about how the Mavericks are better when Porzingis is not playing. That’s so far from the truth according to the numbers. In 112 games without Porzingis on the floor, Doncic has averaged 23.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. In 40 games playing alongside him, Doncic averaged 29.1 points, 9.2 assists, and 8.0 rebounds. Porzingis frees up space and allows Doncic to play better.
Granted, the jury is out on how well the team can go with both leading the way. The two first-round playoff exits are disappointing. One of those, two seasons ago, Porzingis got injured early and Doncic nearly led an upset over the Los Angeles Clippers. The two have to start having the Mavericks compete for a top-4 spot in the conference. Otherwise, this tandem will look a lot like the combination of Portland’s Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Both Lillard and McCollum are great players. Nobody is denying that, but the two have just one Conference Finals appearance in their long history, with many first-round exits. Again, the Mavericks haven’t made the second round of the playoffs or further since 2011. After winning the division for the first time since 2011 last year, there is optimism that this could be the year it happens.
Doncic is going to be an MVP candidate early on. Assuming Porzingis is healthy, fans have a lot to look forward to this season. However, if Porzingis gets injured again, we already know how this story ends. This is a critical year for the partnership, the legacy of each player, and the future direction of the Mavericks franchise.