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3 reasons for Mavericks optimism after a dismal season-opening loss

Despite getting blown out on opening night, there are still reasons to be optimistic about this Mavericks team.

Dallas Mavericks v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s opening night. Dallas Mavericks basketball is back. Everyone’s excited. Flash forward two hours and the team is down 30 on the road. Everyone’s sad.

I get it! Opening night is supposed to be fun, and there wasn’t a lot of fun being had on the Mavericks’ side in Atlanta. After an offseason spent hyping yourself up, it’s not a great way to start the 2021-22 campaign.

But, let’s be a little optimistic. At the end of the day, it’s one game of 82. The Mavericks still have 81 games to prove they’re one of the league’s elite teams. Here are three things to be happy about going forward.

Kristaps Porzingis is moving well

Nothing bummed me out more last season than watching Kristaps Porzingis move on defense. He looked like a 7’3” stiff, not a shot-blocking unicorn. Despite some shaky pick-and-roll coverage, Kristaps had a decent defensive night, but most impressively, he looked physically special again.

Check out his first block from the season opener:

In this play, Solomon Hill weasels his way to the rim for what seems like it’s going to be an uncontested layup, but Porzingis has other plans. Despite being the last guy back on defense, he hustles back into the picture, goes straight for the rim, and times this block perfectly. Hill certainly isn’t Kyrie Irving around the rim, but this is still a nice play.

Now, let’s look at his second block:

Here, John Collins catches the ball above the break with the shot clock winding down. Porzingis has to stay alert when Collins has the ball in his hands because he’s a three-level scorer. KP does a wonderful job of staying in a low, defensive stance and moving with Collins as he takes his dribble. Then, Porzingis rises with Collins, uses his freaky long arms, and again times the block perfectly before getting out on the break.

These are the types of plays Porzingis wouldn’t have made last season, so seeing two of them on opening night was nothing short of awesome and a sign of good things to come. Now, he just needs to turn some of that defense into offense.

Potential rotation changes

I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic about this. Coach Kidd used too much Dwight Powell, too much Dorian Finney-Smith, and too much Willie Cauley-Stein against Atlanta. Because of that, he didn’t use enough Sterling Brown, Reggie Bullock, and Maxi Kleber — three of the more versatile guys on the roster.

Here’s a minutes breakdown of those six guys:

  • Powell — 20 minutes
  • Finney-Smith — 29 minutes
  • Cauley-Stein — 13 minutes
  • Brown — 11 minutes
  • Bullock — 15 minutes
  • Kleber — 17 minutes

I’d like to see Kidd roll out some more “small” lineups where Porzingis is playing the five and is surrounded by Luka Doncic and three versatile wings. That’s where the Mavs can find success. Whether or not Kidd actually does change up the rotation is a different story. But there is room to improve within the roster they already have.

Luka Doncic is still Luka Doncic

I know, I know. This is obvious, right? But it’s important to remember. The Mavs aren’t going to see many 30-point deficits this season — not when Doncic is on the team. Consider the season opener an anomaly.

There are two of his plays I want Mavs fans to focus on from yesterday. We’ll start with a fancy bucket.

All Doncic does here is use two very simple crossovers to get past Solomon Hill, and then one of his slow, deeply-convincing Euro steps to freeze the help defense (in this case, John Collins). After that it’s curtains for the defense. All he has to do is flip up an over-the-shoulder layup that everyone knew was going in. Elegant, masterful work from Luka Doncic — something we’ll see a lot of this season.

The next play happens when Trae Young gets switched onto Doncic. It’s not the creating a good shot that impresses me here, but how he does it.

The Mavs wisely clear out once they realize Doncic has Young on guarding him. He then does one of his classic iso moves: he drives right, and then spins to his left (over his right shoulder) in what looks like is going to be a mid-range fadeaway — something he’s perfectly capable of converting on. But Doncic’s spin to his left convinces Clint Capela to overcompensate his help defense, leaving Brunson in the right corner. Brunson stays ready, and Doncic hits him with an unreal pass made to look all-too-easy. Spinning to your left, and then hitting the right corner shooter right in the shooting pocket is next level — something maybe two guys in the league are capable of. But again, it’s something we’ll see a lot of this season.

Stay positive MFFL’s. It was just one game of 82, and despite seeing a number of concerning things that led to an opening night blowout, there’s still plenty to be happy about.