Since the Mavericks traded for Kristaps Porzingis back in January, it has been a long eight months waiting for the new era of Mavericks basketball.
The Mavericks patiently kept Porzingis on the sidelines as he recovered from his ACL injury. Dallas has played a lot of bad basketball over the last three years and this season has by far the most excitement in some time. And now, Dallas kicks things off against Oklahoma City in Tulsa Tuesday night.
Preseason basketball is far from an exact science, but I’ve done this before as a nice primer to help myself stay focused. Here’s what I’ll be watching for tonight and all throughout preseason.
Who’s going to be the fifth starter?
Since the Mavericks mostly decided to punt on splurging on free agents this summer, there was some mystery to who would exactly start once they wrapped up their summer spending by inking Porzingis’ new deal.
After Luka Doncic and Porzingis, Delon Wright and Dwight Powell seemed like the closest things to locks. That left one more spot and the decision kind of reveals what the Mavs philosophically want their team to be.
Do they want to be big and rangey? Go with Justin Jackson or Dorian Finney-Smith. Do they want to go all in on offense? Then start Seth Curry or Jalen Brunson. Dallas is in a weird spot where they have a lot of quality rotation guys but not a ton of clear-cut starters. Further adding to the intrigue is that Rick Carlisle has no qualms with mixing things up.
Brad Townsend from The Dallas Morning News offered a hint at what it could be from the Mavericks game notes of the first preseason game.
Per Mavs media notes, tomorrow’s probable starters. But we’ll see. Carlisle wasn’t in divulge mode today. pic.twitter.com/cwKEeVN1Ds— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) October 7, 2019
Jackson has been the rumored favorite for that fifth starter spot all summer, so it looks like we’ll get to see if he can carry over his strong performance from after the trade deadline. The Mavs will desperately need Jackson to hit some shots — Delon Wright isn’t a great shooter and Powell will be a rim runner. Dallas needs as much shooting as it can get next to Doncic, so there’s a lot of pressure on Jackson to hit spot up shots, which we can get a glimpse of in the next two to three weeks.
A new wrinkle to watch due to Powell’s injury means we should all keep an eye on the Porzingis/Maxi Kleber duo. Powell won’t play in at least the first two preseason games, so there’s a chance that Kleber can show something to make a case to start in the regular season. I’m keener on Powell, as his rim running and general off-ball awareness makes more sense around Doncic and Porzingis, but if Maxi can stay at 35 percent or better from deep, Dallas could truly play five out offense with Kleber up front next to Powell. Also, all the shot blocks. All of them.
Kristaps Porzingis playing somewhat real basketball for the first time in 20 months
When Porzingis steps on the court in Tulsa, it’ll be the first time he’s played in any sort of NBA game since February of last year. That’s 20 months. Elite athlete or not, that’s a long time for anyone.
Thankfully the reports on Porzingis in training camp so far have been overwhelmingly positive and he looked great during the Mavericks open scrimmage over the weekend. Porzingis is the key to everything — the off-season, the fifth starter, the questions about the rotation, none of it matters unless Porzingis is really good.
Where Seth Curry fits
There’s a good case to be made that Curry should be the fifth starter, as the best three point shooter on the roster should play as many minutes as possible next to Doncic. It looks like Jackson will get the first shot, so it’ll be interesting to see if Carlisle tips his hand at all with how Curry will be deployed.
The beauty of Curry is that his shooting allows him to play basically anywhere. There could be some super fun bench lineups with him and Brunson turbo charging the offense against overmatched opposing bench units.
Will any of the end of the roster guys pop?
The strange thing about the Mavs roster is that while there are question marks about how many starter quality players they have, they have a lot of rotation quality guys.
That doesn’t leave much room for some of the fringe training camp and back of the roster players to make much of an impact. Brunson, Curry, Finney-Smith, Boban Marjanovic, Kleber, Tim Hardaway Jr. — that’s a lot of guys who all figure to earn minutes off the bench.
Even so, that doesn’t mean there won’t be anything to watch. Antonius Cleveland had a great summer league and one wonders if he can parlay that to a roster spot. Josh Reaves has earned rave reviews for his defense and is a fan favorite, so let’s see what he can do. Isaiah Roby will spend most of his time in the G-League, but this will be his chance to work on his game against NBA level competition.
Luka, always and forever
I don’t care what level of basketball it is, I will always watch and cherish Luka.
Are the Mavericks ready?
There’s a ton of hype locally around the Mavericks right now and for good reason — any team that features two young potential cornerstones should be thrilled.
This also means increased expectations and while these games don’t count and a bad preseason won’t be indicative of anything grave, I’m interested to see how the Mavericks carry themselves. Dallas has lost a lot of games over the last three years and a lot of the prominent players on the roster have never been on a winning NBA team before. Any sort of winning or positive reinforcement will be nice to see. This is the most anticipated Dallas basketball season in years; it'll be fun if they can keep the excitement rolling before the season starts.