This is a big season for the Dallas Mavericks, with playoff aspirations buoyed by their young European duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Actual real basketball is within sniffing distance, so here are some of my bolder, hotter takes that have been stewing inside of me for most of this summer.
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis each average at least 25 points per game
This is by far my wildest prediction. A pair of teammates averaging at least 25 points per game has only happened 18 times in NBA history and just eight of them have happened since 2000.
The more I look at the Mavericks roster, the more I buy it. Dallas has a lot of playable rotation players, but almost all of them are players that don’t need a ton of touches to do what they do well — the Mavericks have surrounded Doncic and Porzingis with mostly low-usage guys that are fine just spotting up, cutting, or rolling to the rim. Porzingis, health permitting, seems like a lock to average 25 or more. They need his scoring punch and he’ll be fed consistently in pick-and-pops with Doncic. He averaged 22.7 points per game in his last healthy season, playing with blah point guards and next to a post-up center. It will be different here and he’s going to feast.
Doncic is the trickier one to predict. He had a crazy-high usage last season, especially after the trade deadline, and the team leaned on him to do all the heavy lifting offensively. Doncic’s shooting percentages waned as fatigue set in, but he still averaged 21.2 points per game. Now, he's in better shape (reportedly) and has a pick-and-roll partner that can scare defenses 30 feet from the rim. Porzingis can provide the space and relief Doncic needs to see cleaner looks. Even if Doncic’s touches dip compared to last season, his shots should be better, which means he might score more.
Seth Curry becomes the fifth starter by the new year
Rick Carlisle has been coy so far about who is going to start beyond Doncic and Porzingis. Easy money bets are on Delon Wright and Dwight Powell (when both are healthy) being starters — it’s the fifth spot that has a lot of intrigue.
The buzz during the summer pointed toward Justin Jackson, after he finished the season well. Dorian Finney-Smith was supposed to be the guy, but poor shooting continues to haunt him. Jackson is a career 33.5 percent three point shooter and Finny-Smith has never shot above 31.1 from deep. The Mavericks need as much shooting as possible around Doncic, and they don’t cut it statistically. Jalen Brunson is receiving a lot of hype during camp so far,--so much so that you wonder if Carlisle will roll out Brunson at the “1” (Doncic is the point guard) with Wright at the 2. The fifth starter spot truly feels up for grabs, which is why I think Curry will take it when the calendar flips to 2020.
Curry is by far the best shooter on the team. Beyond that, he fits Carlisle’s offense, he’s familiar with the system, and he holds his own on defense. During his first stint in Dallas, three of the top lineups featuring him were net positives. If the Mavericks start almost every game in a 7-2 hole (or worse) and rely on Curry lineups to get them back in the game, I bet Carlisle makes the switch. That’s not a given, though.
Brunson is the wildcard here. I think Carlisle will want him to help man bench units, as Curry isn’t great as a lead ballhandler (more reason to start Curry and play with Luka). There’s also no telling what the Mavericks can expect from J.J. Barea this season.
In the preseason game against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, the three starters around Doncic and Porzingis combined for 10 points. Dallas is going to need more than that and Curry can provide that punch.
Dorian Finney-Smith is no longer a Maverick after the February trade deadline
Finney-Smith is a 26-year-old undrafted free agent that played four years in college. He’s played three NBA seasons and here are his three-point shooting percentages in each one:
NBA player development isn’t linear, but at a certain point there needs be some signs of life outside of the Mavericks coaching staff talking about Finney-Smith’s rebuilt jumper. That said, Finney-Smith does a lot of wonderful things that you can’t always quantify — he’s a terrific defender, great offensive rebounder, and someone that won’t let the ball stick. These are valuable traits, especially for a player only making $4 million per year.
This is less an indictment on Finney-Smith and more a hunch. If the Mavericks are close to a playoff berth and want to make a move, DFS is moveable . His good analytics and affordable salary — plus the fact that he’s a wing — make him a piece that could grease a trade for a much bigger name/talent. Hell, Dallas is starved for rotation quality wings past Doncic. Jackson, Finney-Smith, and Tim Hardaway Jr. aren’t it. That’s a bleak wing rotation in a league that demands capable wings.
Trading Finney-Smith is probably my least likely bold prediction to happen because the Mavericks are already thin at the wing, but these are bold predictions, dammit!
Delon Wright wins Most Improved Player, makes an All-Defense team
This is cheating a little bit, since Wright is already a good player. This award doesn’t always go to a player that makes the most improvement. A good player that gets a bigger opportunity, and consequently puts up better numbers, usually wins it. So, it’s not bold to say Wright will make a huge role jump. He is a four-year veteran.
No matter what, I’m still really giddy. I think he makes a big enough splash to get the voters’ attention. Wright has never averaged double-digit points for a full season, but Wright’s smooth pick-and-roll game will fit well next to Doncic. He should be able to pick up a few extra points that way. He can do some of the things the Mavericks probably envisioned Dennis Smith Jr. eventually doing, like attacking scattered defenses after Doncic collapses them as well as creating cleaner spot up looks for Slovenian star.
There’s also a chance that Wright’s increased statistical production will shine light on his overall game, giving him a chance at making an All-Defense team. Wright is that good. Even if the voting for the defense teams is incredibly shaky and unreliable, he stands a chance. If the Mavericks overachieve and make the playoffs, they’ll be a feel-good story, and that helps with these lower-tier accolades.
Even if they aren’t a playoff team, Wright could deserve to be in the conversation. He’s very good and he’ll be a starter for the first time in his career. The Mavericks, honestly, will need him to be that good if they want want to be successful this season.
Dwight Powell is the Mavericks fourth-leading scorer
Here’s what Dwight Powell did as a starter last season in 22 games: 14.7 points per game on 64.6 percent shooting. Dwight Powell is good!
Powell should be a starter for most of this season, although a recent hamstring injury could derail it initially. Powell has been one of the NBA’s best roll men in the league over the last three years and those Mavericks rosters stunk! Imagine what he could do as a starter on a team with Doncic and Porzingis? He’ll certainly match his starting output from last season, at least, which would likely clear this bold prediction.
Hell, maybe he’s the Mavericks third highest scorer. Powell is so good off the ball, so smart at knowing when to roll hard, when to screen, and when to slip. Playing as many minutes as possible with Doncic and Porzingis in the starting lineup will be the best way to maximize those skills. Also, to be clear, I’m not even counting his three point shooting, which I’ve always felt to be a mirage of the late NBA season grind as a lot of teams check out. Next to Porzingis, Powell shouldn’t need to take many threes, if any — Porzingis will be picking, popping, and spacing while Powell just has to keep doing his Tyson Chandler/Brandan Wright impersonation. Powell has consistently made the Mavericks offense better, even when the team is bad, during this rebuild. I think this season will finally be the one he gets the wider acclaim that he deserves.