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First Quarter roundtable: Who is the Mavericks’ non-Luka MVP so far?

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This team rolls DEEP

New York Knicks v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Through the first 20 games, who is the most important Mavericks player (past Luka Doncic, of course)?

Jordan: This is probably splitting hairs, because I think second best and most important might be two different players (if that’s even possible). Kristaps Porzingis remains the second best player on any given night. His defense and shot blocking have been solid, he’s scrappier on the boards than anyone could anticipate, and the attention he gets on offense (even on off nights) is underrated.

I answered a similar question in the most recent Mavs Mailbag. KP is the second best, and while Tim Hardaway Jr. may have solved the question of starter, Delon Wright remains the next most important Maverick outside Doncic. His perimeter defense remains vital - his defensive numbers are second to only Luka in most categories - and he does things on both ends of the floor no one else can. His change of pace coming off the bench is such a nice shift when Luka sits. If it weren’t for his penetrating attack of the defense and forcing shifts, the offense would be in a different place.

Christian: After sitting on this question for hours and arguing between three to four different players on the Mavericks, I finally found my answer. I do not believe there has been a single second best player for the Mavericks when looking at this season as a whole. I know this is sort of a cop-out, but hear me out. No single player on the Mavericks has consistently performed on a nightly basis and played side-kick to the boy-wonder Luka Doncic.

However, each and every game this role seems to shift from player-to-player; impossible to guess who’s turn it is to be “Robin”. Whether it’s Porzingis in games like Houston, where he looks much closer to the player we all expect him to get back to in the future. Tim Hardaway Jr., where the ultra-green light pays off and every “Oh no!” shot falls. Delon Wright, in games like Sunday, where the point-guard simply runs other back-ups off the court. Even Dorian Finney-Smith against New Orleans posting a career-high in points and sinking unorthodox last-second jumpers in crunch time.

The Mavericks’ depth has allowed them to succeed during the beginning of this season simply because every night there is someone capable to step up and play side-kick. All this being said, there’s no number two without a number one, and sheesh do the Mavericks have a number one.

Kirk: I have a different answer every game, but the one who springs to mind when I think big picture is Maxi Kleber. Out of the three player big man rotation with the Mavericks, Kleber’s been the most consistent. With both Kristaps Porzingis and Dwight Powell having to figure things out to start the season (Porzingis returning from a long absence and Powell working his way back from a hamstring injury), Maxi’s been invaluable.

Offensively, he’s doing what is asked of him, which is to say hitting threes and rolling at the basket. Defensively he’s been a workhorse. Just look at some of the guys he’s been asked to guard in the first 21 games: Brandan Ingram, Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis, Pascal Siakam, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Maxi is a huge piece of this Dallas team’s success.

Kevin: I might be under-thinking this, but I don’t want to overthink it, so here we are. I’m going to go with Kristaps Porzingis as the second most important Mavericks player. I’m not certain that he’s been the second best Maverick, but importance goes to more than that. Porzingis has shown enough this season for us to be extremely optimistic for the Luka/Kristaps pairing. Porzingis is the second most important Maverick for the future of the team. He’s the second most important Maverick for what this team could become, even if he doesn’t get there this season.

Matt: //Everyone took my answer and I had to get creative//

The second most important Maverick is… J.J. Barea. There are a lot of stats in basketball. An ever-increasing amount, it would seem. But none of them are the reason that J.J. Barea is crucial to the Mavericks as a team. Barea is important to Dallas in the same way that being able to measure the speed of light is important to scientists, or speed limit signs are important to daily commuters. J.J. Barea is a measurement of a constant value, the Planck length of Dallas, and when he’s playing, it’s for a very specific, measurable and actionable reason. Either the Mavericks are playing badly and Rick needs him to stabilize the offense, or they’re either winning by so much or losing by so much, that it just doesn’t matter.

Sure, there is a level of “veteran locker room” presence that J.J. brings that’s a bit unquantifiable, but it’s the minutes he does play that really provides the team with a sort of on the fly system’s check that can re-calibrate how the team operates. When Barea is in, everyone knows what they should be doing, because there’s only, like, three things that could possibly be happening. It’s the ultimate “refocus and slow the game down” move for a roster full of shifting lineups that are only now beginning to solidify. The lack of surprise, the defined role, the instantly clarifying presence of Barea is something no other Maverick can provide. And for that, J.J. Barea is the second most important Maverick.