Here’s some things we noticed.
Jalen Brunson was outstanding
Brunson scored a career-high 34 points and was the best Maverick on the floor. He went 12-of-16 from the field with three 3-pointers and generally was part of all the Mavericks best stretches of play.
Everything was working for Brunson. He used his patient and shifty game to maneuver into the paint, he hit spot up threes and used the space from Luka Doncic’s primary offense to create good shots for others. He only had four assists, but he kept the ball moving when Luka drove and penetrated.
Since the All-Star break, Brunson is averaging 14 points per game on 49.5/35.1/89.5 shooting splits. I’m not sure if the Mavericks have found their starting point guard next season for sure — his defense still needs some work — but it’s clear the Mavericks got a steal of a pick in the second round. As someone critical of the pick due to how many small guards the Mavs roster had at the time, it’s hard to complain now. The second round of the NBA draft is such a crap shoot and it’s hard to blame a team for taking such a good player at 33 overall, even if there was a lot of positional overlap. Just take the best player and the rest works out.
Why was Luka Doncic playing?
Doncic hurt his knee against the Rockets on Sunday night and was very limpy as he finished the game. He was listed as questionable with a knee strain entering tonight’s game and he played anyway. Not only did he play, he played 33 minutes.
While Doncic wasn’t noticeably limping or showing much pain, he was obviously not his normal self. He finished with 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting and an even worse 1-of-9 from three and 1-of-7 from the free throw line. He missed his first six free throws. He had nine turnovers. It was bad. It was also weird.
Why was Doncic playing? Obviously I’m not doctor and the Mavericks training staff has earned all the benefits of the doubt over the years. But the Mavericks aren’t in the playoff hunt and Doncic has incurred a lot of bumps and bruises this season. A really good trait of his athleticism is that he is apparently less prone to bad injuries, but there just didn’t seem to be much of a point of seeing him struggle out there. Luka hates to lose and loves to compete, so I’m sure he fought hard to be out there. At a certain point a franchise needs to do what’s best for Luka for the next five seasons, not just one game in a losing season.
Rest Luka for a bit. He already has the Rookie of the Year award locked up, missing a handful of games won’t change anything. The dude has played a ton of professional basketball over the last two years and will in the future due to his national team obligations. Maybe this is just big overreaction, but Luka’s health matters more than wins.
Tim Hardaway Jr. off the bench a sign of things to come?
Hardaway Jr. came off the bench for the first time since the Mavericks traded for him and it was honestly due — Hardaway hasn’t been good since the trade and his career numbers never seemed to indicate he needed to be a starter. He’s shot 29.8 percent from three since the trade.
So Hardaway off the bench tonight makes sense. He’s a high-volume shooter and not a great defender, so being able to try and cook bench units makes more sense as the Mavericks try to balance their starting lineup around Luka and Kristaps Porzingis. Those two need shooters and defenders all around them and Hardaway hasn’t ever really lived up to his reputation as a shooter (34.2 percent from three for his career).
Unfortunately against the Spurs, Hardaway wasn’t much better. He shot 4-of-13, 2-of-6 from three and had 10 points and a minus-14 in his 22 minutes. It might not have been effective tonight, but hopefully it’s a sign of where the Mavs are thinking for Hardaway’s role in the future. The Mavericks really need to find themselves an upgrade there in the starting lineup. Hopefully Hardaway can adjust to his new role quickly.