It’s okay if you need to pinch yourself. Yes this is real, no this isn’t a fever dream. Basketball is back, and the Mavericks did the unimaginable over the summer. It was clear for so long that Luka Doncic was the ideal player to add to the Mavericks roster. For so long it seemed destiny had intertwined their paths. Still the lottery gods would not will it so.
But the Mavericks took fate in to their own hands. And look at them now.
This is a big season for the Dallas Mavericks. Attempting to bypass a traditional rebuild timeline is no easy task. But Carlisle has both new and old weapons at his disposal — none more important than 19 year old Luka Doncic.
Even with all the accolades — being one of the most accomplished 19-year-olds to enter the NBA — there are doubters to be sure. And granted, the track record of highly touted European transfers has been less than stellar overall.
There will be questions about his outside shot, his athleticism and ability to transfer his playmaking skills to the league. But the biggest question for Luka entering the season is how he will look on the other end. How does he matchup defensively, and how versatile can he be on that end?
The Mavericks haven’t been defensively intimidating since back near the title run. But they do have a few solid defenders in their starting lineup, with Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes and DeAndre Jordan. That should ease some of Doncic’s burden. And Carlisle is probably wise to start Doncic at the four in this regard.
But make no mistake, if Luka shows that he can be exploited on defense, teams will try to switch him on the perimeter constantly. And what should be part of the beauty of playing Barnes and Doncic together is there ability to play both forward positions seamlessly. That only holds true if Doncic can guard at least two positions.
Doncic looks to be an intelligent player, and not just on offense. He won’t be a shutdown defender any time soon. But expect him to play quality team defense. It may just take some time for him to adapt.
Best Case Scenario
Often when this question is asked, the first thing that springs to mind is Rookie of the Year. And by all means, yes. For any first year player, winning that award is a stellar measurement of success to start a career.
But what does that actually look like?
Looking at the last ten ROYs, eight were playmaking guards — not all traditional point guards, but primary creators. Those eight averaged 17 points, five rebounds, and just under six assists per game. They tallied that averaging 34 minutes, with shooting splits of .462/.277/.767 (Ben Simmons last season famously went 0-of-11 from three). Just as a reference point, because they aren’t fully comparable, last season in 61 games with Real Madrid Doncic put up 14.5 points, five rebounds and just under five assists per game (25 minutes per game). His shooting splits were .456/.309/.801, putting him in a similar window of the players above.
With the recent breaking news of a Harrison Barnes injury that could sideline him indefinitely, Doncic’s role or the Mavs might be ever-expanding. And even with Barnes healthy, it is a feasible thought that Luka could put up similar numbers to previous ROYs. With a game that is more well-rounded than most rookies, Doncic should be able to find unique ways to contribute, even if one area is slumping. And with Carlisle orchestrating the system, and taking Luka under his wing, the tools will be there for him to make a special rookie campaign.
If his game is clicking, it most likely means the play of Matthews, Jordan and Smith Jr., and more, will be elevated. When that happens, this team will start finding success that hasn’t been in Dallas for a while.
Worst Case Scenario
Some critics around the draft complained that Doncic’s ceiling just wasn’t as high as someone like, say, Jaren Jackson Jr. or DeAndre Ayton. But the inverse of that is Luka Doncic having one of the highest floors of any prospect ever. And that I’m sure, among many other things, was a major selling point for the Dallas Mavericks — a team bent on being shortcutting any sort of traditional rebuild. So even in most worst case scenarios for the young playmaker, know that he still looks to be a contributor early on.
The worst case for the Mavericks and Doncic will rest heavier on what this season might tell us about his future. Make no mistake, the Mavericks need Doncic to pan out. It’s not just because of the draft pick they gave up to get him. It’s clear they see him at the center of their future success. So if this season puts that future in doubt in any way, that will be their worst case.
Expect his defense to go through rough patches. Expect his outside shot to go through droughts. But if suddenly it seems like Doncic can’t see the floor the same way he did overseas, or can’t keep up with the pace of the NBA game, look for all the doubters to come out of their caves and start screaming.
Lucky for Donnie, and Cuban, and Carlisle, and MFFLs everywhere, from all the stories many are already telling from playing just some pickup with Doncic...this worst case scenario is just a mirage.