The NBA restart is getting closer by the day. Teams began mandatory practices on July 1, and with that comes plenty of speculation and projections. When Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson spoke to the media last week, he mentioned what will likely be the starting lineup at least to begin play in Orlando:
Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Seth Curry and Kristaps Porzingis
Plenty of fans have already voiced concern about certain decisions made in terms of the team’s travelling roster. The primary point of confusion has been the Mavericks decision to bring three players out with injury — Jalen Brunson, Dwight Powell, and Courtney Lee — with them to Orlando. The issue is that teams can only bring 17 players with them to Orlando. As of July 6, this will be the Mavericks roster that heads to the bubble:
The fans have been skeptical of the decision to bring three players who won’t play in Orlando not because they don’t value leadership, but because of depth. Many have begged the question, “What happens when/if ____ goes down with an injury and can’t be replaced?” Perhaps a more prominent and imminent foe — what happens when/if a player gets COVID-19? This concern begs a daunting question: Is there enough depth on the Mavericks to not only give them a chance to win, but also to sustain them in case of emergency?
To make this process easier, I will analyze and grade depth based on position groups. These groups will be based on play-style, not necessarily size. (For example: Luka is lined up as the SG or SF in terms of size, but we all know he is a primary ball-handling guard).
Starters: Luka Doncic, Seth Curry
Bench Pieces: Delon Wright, Trey Burke, J.J. Barea
When you look at the Mavericks starting five, it should be clear there is an emphasis on shooting. That is especially clear with the starting guards. The pair of Doncic and Curry is shooting the three at 36.7 percent. Obviously there’s some room for improvement, but I still think there’s a lot here in terms of offense. The duo also holds a plus/minus of plus-7.5. The defense is a bit of a question mark — the pair owns the Mavericks’ third highest defensive rating at 110.3 (of two player lineups who have played greater than 600 minutes together). Fortunately, defense can be offered off the bench.
I’m a firm believer in Delon Wright’s defense. He averages the highest steals per game on the team and also holds guards to less than 50 percent shooting when he’s defending them. No — he’s not the X-Factor coming off the bench — but I like what he has to offer as a defender, passer, and rebounder. J.J. Barea is playing the fewest minutes he has in over 12 years, but he’s still a reliable primary ball handler. Pass the ball and don’t turn it over - two things the Mavericks need off the bench and two things J.J. is good at.
I know the signing of Trey Burke was questioned by some because his spot was freed after Willie-Cauley Stein opted not to play in Orlando, but I like it. Burke is someone who played in the Mavericks offense just a season ago and still knows the system well. Lots of shooting in the starting lineup, and now even more play-making off the bench.
Strengths: Shooting, play-making, scoring
Starters: Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith
Bench Pieces: Justin Jackson, Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist, Antonious Cleveland, Josh Reaves
Before the hiatus, Tim Hardaway Jr. was shredding the league. In his 10 games before the break, he was averaging 21.5 point per game while shooting nearly 10 threes a game at 41 percent. If he can pickup where he left off, he’ll be the third best player on this team. Dorian Finney-Smith will likely be defending most opposing teams power forwards, but still plays the wing on offense. The Finney-Smith corner three is my favorite part of his offense. He shoots it at an incredible 43.4 percent, nearly five percent higher than league average. A lot of good offense here, but the defense is actually reliable as well. Finney-Smith is holding his opponents to nearly 30 percent shooting from three, while Hardaway is a little closer to 40 percent. Luckily for the Mavericks, reliable is good enough. The defense hasn’t been what has won them games this season. If the offense stays explosive and scores a lot, which it often does, they win games.
The Mavericks are not going into Orlando without a wing player they had in the regular season — these are the wings that have played all season. The depth is due to the ability of Curry and Luka to also be lined up at wing. As long as the two starters stay healthy, lack of depth shouldn’t be a factor.
Strengths: Scoring, shooting
Weaknesses: Replacement players (if necessary)
Starters: Kristaps Porzingis
Bench Pieces: Maxi Kleber, Boban Marjanovic
This is the group with the most what-ifs for me. What if Powell was healthy? What if Cauley-Stein was playing (I understand and respect his decision)? What if one of these guys goes down with an injury or gets COVID-19? None of these questions can be answered right now, so we have to work with what we know. What we know is that this group is small but good.
Porzingis will be the starting center in Orlando, which may sound strange as he typically plays the four. Before the break, Porzingis defended centers 34.7 percent of the time compared to his 46.4 percent defending forwards. It’ll be a small adjustment for Porzingis, but I think Finney-Smith can also guard fives in certain games. It’s not like Porzingis defending centers is an issue. He currently is holding them to 44.6 percent shooting, a promising number when you consider a majority of those shots come in the paint.
Earlier I said Delon Wright wasn’t the X-Factor coming off the bench, and that’s because that title is reserved for Maxi Kleber. There is no one better suited than Kleber to be a breakout player during the playoffs. His versatility on both offense and defense makes him incredibly useful for the team. I’d be more than happy with Kleber matching up with a team’s best forward when the starters need a rest. On offense, his 56.7 effective field goal percentage in catch-and-shoot situations makes him a nice pick-and-pop threat with Luka.
Boban will be used mainly when the team faces a true center. The playoffs almost always see smaller lineups, which is why as queasy as it made me at first, I understand not signing a big man to replace Cauley-Stein. Although it may be tempting to look at Boban’s 31-point, 17-rebound game before the season ended as a blueprint for what’s to come, I think that would be a mistake. Expect his usage limited but effective as a post defender. Although, if he wants to drop 31 and 17 every night, no complaints here.
Strengths: Versatility, defense
Weaknesses: Replacement players (if necessary)
Which player do you expect to have the biggest impact off the bench?
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