We’re about a month out from the NBA restarting in the Orlando bubble and we’re all trying to refocus our brains on thinking, writing and talking about basketball. Well, at least I am. There’s a lot going on, okay!
Having said that, we thought it’d be best to take a look at some of the most important storylines going into this truncated NBA restart, which will probably be the most unique sporting event I’ve ever seen. This is going to be weird and unpredictable, so we’ll do our best to point out what to watch for when the games start up at the end of July.
How will the Mavericks three point shooting hold up?
This is not only a Mavericks question, but a league-wide question — in a weird, shortened restart and playing in a neutral arena that most players have never been in before, will shooting percentages dip as players are uncomfortable with their surroundings? These guys are professional athletes, but they aren’t robots. It’s not wild to consider this.
For the Mavericks specifically, how are guys who are having career seasons from deep going to adjust? Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber are all key players and all of them are hitting at career-high rates. What do those numbers look like in these eight regular season games the Mavericks have left? Dallas has turned a roster with a lot of question marks about its shooting into the eighth-best three point shooting team in the league. It’s a massive reason for their turnaround, spurred by Luka Doncic’s brilliant creation.
The Mavs take the second most threes per game in the league. This is their life-blood. Seeing how those three players shoot (along with Kristaps Porzingis) might be the key factor in how successful the Mavericks are in Orlando.
Does recharged Luka rampage the league?
It’s no secret that Luka in his rookie season ran out of gas after the Mavericks traded away most of their starting lineup. It was also no secret that this season, Doncic has been banged up for a lot of it.
He’s had two ankle sprains that have kept him out for a week or so worth of games, plus a nagging wrist/hand injury that he’s tried to fight through in the month or so before the shutdown happened. The wrist/hand injury was especially killer, since Doncic wasn’t going to sit out and teams were clearly targeting it as Luka drove into the paint. It was the type of injury that was never going to be bad enough to force him to sit, but also one that was never going to get totally better unless he had some time off.
So let’s see what Luka looks like with a couple months of rest. I doubt it means his three point shot looks better, but in November of this season, Luka averaged 32.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game on 49.3 percent shooting from the field. That was Doncic fresh at the start of the season. Does he look like that in Orlando?
Will the Mavericks short-handed rotation catch up to them?
In a death by a thousand paper cuts type way, the Mavericks rotation has been slowly hampered since the start of 2020. First it was Dwight Powell, then it was Jalen Brunson, both out for the season with major injuries. This isn’t an injury, but Willie Caulie-Stein will be absent Orlando as he expects a child this summer with his partner. The Mavericks rotation has been thinned out.
With Powell and Caulie-Stein gone, that leaves Dallas with just three bigs — Porzingis, Kleber and Boban Marjanovic. Thankfully the Mavericks have transitioned to Porzingis at center, so needing more big men isn’t a huge concern with the Mavericks mostly now playing just one at a time. But that’s still a lot of pressure on Porzingis and Kleber to stay healthy and play major minutes. We all love Boban, but he’s just not suited to play a major role on a playoff team rotation. He’s just too limited due to his size, outside of certain matchups.
Brunson out is bigger than we might think, since Rick Carlisle has been cautious to only let J.J. Barea be a “break glass in case of emergency” solution. Brunson was the full time backup point guard when healthy and Barea, coming back from an Achilles tear, was mostly just a last resort spark plug. Barea is now the full time backup once again and we don’t know if he’ll be able to handle the increased load after that major, career-altering, injury. This forced the Mavericks to use their extra roster spot with Cauley-Stein’s absence on guard Trey Burke, to help shore up the guard rotation without Brunson.
Thankfully, the Mavericks are only playing eight regular season games and then it’s the playoffs, which feature shorter rotations anyway. This could all not matter thanks to the unusual circumstances of the restart, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Does Kristaps Porzingis pick up where he left off?
Basketball-wise, the worst part of the shutdown was that it occurred during Kristaps Porzingis’ best stretch as a Maverick by far. Thanks to being moved to center full time and getting some additional touches that weren’t just shots, Porzingis looked more comfortable and his production increased dramatically.
In February, he averaged 25.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game on 48.3/39.8/88.1 shooting splits. He cooled off a bit in March thanks to a back-to-back stinkers right before the shutdown but he was still performing well. Does this shutdown disrupt that? It’s hard to say. All of this is so weird and new that it’s hard to predict how players will respond to it.
Thankfully, the Mavericks have seemingly figured out the formula: play Porzingis at center, involve him in more pick and roll with Luka and give him non-shot touches throughout a possession to keep him engaged. If the Mavericks continue to do that, then hopefully Porzingis won’t miss a beat in Orlando.