Sports Illustrated released its annual ranking of the NBA’s top-100 players. Per usual, several members of the Dallas Mavericks made the cut. Last season, Dallas had three players—Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki—make the preseason cut. The season before, Nerlens Noel joined Barnes and Nowitzki on the list. Now, with Dirk retired and Barnes in Sacramento, new blood represents the Mavericks.
While some fans will certainly debate whether this player or that player maybe should have snuck onto the list for the Mavs, it’s hard to argue with the results that Rob Mahoney concocted. It is not an objective list, after all.
Unlike previous seasons, only two Dallas players rank in the top-100. Of course, you probably already know who they are. It’s Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic.
There’s potential for Kristaps Porzingis, who by the time of the Mavericks’ season opener will have gone 624 days without playing in a regular season game, to completely blindside this ranking. Few others in this range are as purely talented as a 7’3’’ game-breaking shooter. If Porzingis is anything resembling the player he was or could be, this ranking might look ridiculous. Unfortunately, there’s also the possibility that his first season back from an ACL tear could follow a fairly conservative course. There could be proactive resting, careful minutes management, and time missed due to injury regardless. There’s also some mystery surrounding the fact that we have little idea what a post-injury version of Porzingis will be like. All of these variables could normalize by the end of the season, but there’s still too much hanging in the air to just expect it.
Mahoney is making a safe bet here. There really are too many variables—not to mention an ongoing police investigation—surrounding Porzingis to get a firm grasp on who he may be when he steps back onto the court. If he returns to form, he could elevate the Mavs into playoff contention. If he’s slow to return, it will be disappointing, especially for Porzingis, but it won’t be surprising after missing almost two years.
Porzingis ranked 52nd on last year’s list.
While there are questions surrounding Kristaps, Mahoney appears to be all in on Doncic. Who can blame him? Doncic cracks the top-30, coming in at No. 30. He comes in ranked higher than DeMar DeRozan, No. 31, and just below Donovan Mitchell, No. 29. Mahoney, again:
Luka Dončić thrived from the start—and ultimately won Rookie of the Year—because he experiences the game differently. Where others would panic, he waits, dancing with his defender as he tracks the rest of the action. We see a crossover, but Dončić sees an open teammate in the dunker spot. We see a high pick-and-roll, but Dončić sees a defender on their heels. Not many players have the luxury of playing as deliberately as the Mavericks allowed Dončić last season, which makes sense because most don’t stay quite as balanced as a possession drags on. Some of Dončić’s best passes last season came late in the clock, when opponents assumed he would clam up. Outside of catch-and-shoot scenarios, Dončić was actually most efficient after dribbling more, according to data from NBA.com. The key is the way he keeps his options open. Dončić always seems to leave himself a way out, and his team a way through.
That’s an awfully good place to start for a teenager who wasn’t even in great shape last year. Dončić posted a rookie line (21.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 6.0 APG) matched only by Oscar Robertson. As he works on his body and tightens up his game, Dončić should grow into an even steadier player. Maybe time will make a better defender of him, too. So much is on the table for Dončić because of the way his size (at 6’7’’) interacts with his skill set. Could Dončić be a supersized point guard? Or, given his impressive rebounding and matchup options, should you move him around the floor? Should he continue to dominate the ball to focus his development as a playmaker? Or would it be impact enough to double as one of the best facilitators in the league? Dončić has options, which means the Mavericks do, too.
There’s not much to say beyond what Rob has already enumerated. Luka Doncic is really that good. Barring a sophomore slump, Doncic’s stock will only continue to rise once the season gets underway. That’s great for the Mavericks and all the fans frothing at the bit to see him suit up again.
Rookies do not make the cut for the top-100, so the list didn’t feature Doncic last year. Given his ranking this year, the reigning Rookie of the Year likely would have made it if it weren’t for such arbitrary rules.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, Trae Young came in at No. 62. Stew on that, Royce Young.