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Dallas Mavericks Season Preview: it’s Luka Doncic’s world, and we’re all just living in it

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The Mavericks will look to jump start the franchise with an NBA-ready draft pick in what is likely Dirk Nowitzki’s final season.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks-Media Day Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Holy crap, is it exciting that Mavericks basketball is back. That’s not a statement that has been uttered with any true meaning over the last three years, but it rings loudly now -- the Mavericks are back and they might be fun as hell.

It was one of the most eventful off-seasons for the Mavericks in years. In are Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan, along with a renewed sense of hope that the Mavericks are finally building toward something instead of puttering around aimlessly as Dirk Nowitzki ages.

Will it be enough to make meaningful noise in the Western Conference? Doubtful. Will it be fun as hell to watch? Most likely!

Team Name: Dallas Mavericks

Last Year’s Record: 24-58

Key Losses: Seth Curry, Kyle Collinsworth LOL they won 24 games last year there’s nothing key about any loss.

Key Additions: LUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUKA, DeAndre Jordan, Jalen Brunson, Devin Harris, my hopes and dreams

What significant moves were made during the off-season?

*stares intently*

*deep breath*

LUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUKA!

No, but seriously — the Mavericks finished tied for the third-worst record in the NBA, the lottery screwed them to fifth and they took matters into their own hands and got the best player in the 2018 draft. Luka Doncic is the most accomplished prospect to enter the draft...ever? There has never been a teenager on the planet that has accomplished as much as he has on a professional level prior to entering the NBA.

There are disagreements on where Doncic’s ceiling is, but make no mistake, his floor is tremendously high. Doncic’s high-level skill as both a shooter and a passer will make it really hard for him to bust at the NBA level and he should make an impact right away. Dallas has been thirsting for more size on the perimeter and more playmaking, and they get that in the same player with Doncic.

For years now Rick Carlisle has had to juice the Mavericks offense with small, overmatched three-guard lineups to keep the ball moving. Now with Doncic, Carlisle can have his playmaking and still put out a lineup that resembles current NBA basketball -- lots of length and switchability two through four.

Outside of Doncic, DeAndre Jordan is a huge acquisition and is a gigantic increase in talent compared to what the Mavericks were getting from the center spot for the last four years. Jordan is basically a bigger Tyson Chandler and will thrive in Carlisle’s offense that rewards rim-rolling bigs. Don’t be surprised if Jordan makes the All-Star team and threatens for an All-NBA spot this season -- he’s good and he has a team that maximizes players like him to their full potential.

What are the team’s biggest strengths?

This is strange to say since it was one of the Mavericks biggest weakness for the last handful of years, but rebounding. It sure is nice when the NBA’s best rebounder joins your team!

Perhaps the Mavericks’ biggest strength will be their versatility, which was also a massive weakness last season. Now instead of rolling out lineups with multiple players under six feet tall, the Mavs will toss out lineups where the shortest person on the floor could be 6’4. Doncic opens up so many lineup possibilities and now that Carlisle is okay with playing Dirk off the bench, the Mavericks won’t feel as hamstrung starting games with a lineup that felt like it was held together with tape and glue.

Dallas now will start games with Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Doncic and Jordan. I’m not sure how many wins that lineup generates, but it at least won’t feel like the Mavericks aren’t starting games with one hand tied behind their back.

What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

Jordan is going to clean up a lot of mistakes at the rim but the amount of mistakes he cleans up will inherently be a problem. While the Mavericks will be switchier than ever, they still don’t have a stout collection of perimeter defenders once you get past Barnes and Matthews.

Smith has potential, but his frame and wingspan will always be a hindrance. Doncic will get help defense faster than most rookies, but his foot speed will likely hold him back. The bench isn’t too stocked with perimeter stoppers either, with J.J. Barea and Dirk being main bench cogs. Dorian Finney-Smith is supposed to be good at defense but do we really know that? He hasn’t played enough. Devin Harris will probably be counted on to guard bigger wings way too often. Dwight Powell is fun as a havoc-inducing trapping big but his rim protection is terrible.

Jordan, Barnes and Matthews project as the only above average defenders on the roster, barring some growth from Smith and Finney-Smith.

Outside of defense, the Mavericks are awfully thin at the wing compared to the rest of the roster. The Mavs have Jordan, Dirk, Powell and Salah Mejri as bigs and Smith, Barea, Harris, Matthews and Brunson as guards. Doncic, Barnes and Finney-Smith are the only proven forwards, with rookie free agent signing Ryan Broekhoff a wild card. With Barnes already hurt with a tweaked hamstring, the Mavericks have no margin for error at forward. They need everyone healthy and even then, it’s a weak rotation past the starters.

What are the goals for this team?

To not be eye gouging-ly terrible. Seriously! The Mavericks are not the hottest ticket in town so long as the Dallas Cowboys exist and going from almost two decades of playoff relevance to bottom of the barrel has driven eyeballs and fan interest away from the team in droves. It’s not just an eye-test of the mostly empty seats in the arena the last three years -- people aren’t watching the Mavericks either.

The playoffs are obviously the goal for a front office that’s impatient in the rebuilding process, but the Mavericks need to crawl before they can walk. Driving fan interest with a fun team that actually has a youthful direction for the first time since Dirk arrived in 1998 is a big deal and can help set the team up well when Doncic and Smith hit their primes. Not only were the Mavericks bad the last two years, they were also dreadfully boring -- until Smith’s arrival, they had no blue-chippers on the roster for fans to look forward to watch growing and they couldn’t make a big dent in free agency, signing quality role players and not outright stars like Barnes and Matthews. Smith’s fun rookie season, Doncic’s arrival and Jordan’s free agent splash should draw significantly more eyeballs to a team that should be extremely fun to watch with lots of brilliant passing and offensive spacing.

If the Mavericks don’t make the playoffs but do all that? That’s still a win.

What will be considered a good season for Doncic?

The expectations for Doncic are so high, Rookie of the Year wouldn’t be an outlandish answer here. It’s possible too, since most of the other high draft picks were bigs, who can take a little bit longer to develop. Doncic is by far the most NBA-ready prospect and he’ll get the minutes and touches to put up serious numbers.

But without looking at any concrete stats or awards, a successful season for Doncic means him getting through the season healthy and translating his great skill to the NBA game. The biggest worry about Doncic is that he might crumble a bit going against NBA-level athleticism every night, so him using his skill advantage to make up for his speed disadvantage will be fun to watch. It’s been a long time since Doncic wasn’t the alpha and omega for the team he’s playing on, so maybe some time off-ball will help him adjust and boost his shooting numbers, which never represented how good a shooter he was in Europe thanks to how much he had to handle the ball and take tough jumpers off the dribble.

What’s your one bold and outlandish prediction?

As hinted above, it’s DeAndre Jordan making an All-Star team and an All-NBA team.

While the center position is exceptionally crowded with Karl Anthony-Towns, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Al Horford, Jordan could put up some bananas numbers this season playing in Carlisle’s spread offense.

Jordan shot 64.5 percent from the field last season and it’s not crazy to think that he could bump that number up back closer to the 70 percent mark he was posting with Chris Paul in Los Angeles. While the Mavericks might not have a singular playmaker as good as Paul, Doncic is an incredible passer and with the spacing provided by himself, Barnes, Matthews and occasionally Dirk, Jordan will feast rolling to the rim with the lane wide clear. The ability of Doncic and Smith to play off each other, with Doncic starting sets to give Smith a headstart on downhill drives or Smith starting a high pick and roll and Doncic spreading the floor with his passing and shooting, Jordan will have a huge opportunity to eat.

Consider that Carlisle has gotten good pick and roll play from bigs like Powell, Zaza Pachulia and even at times Samuel Dalembert and it’s easy to imagine Jordan throwing up monster numbers in a system that gets so much out of rim diving fives. Consider that in two seasons with Dallas, Chandler shot 65.4 and 66.6 percent respectively. Jordan is going to be really good, especially if his defense doesn’t drop off any more from last season and he can regain some of his block numbers.