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The Mavericks from the outside looking in: Spurs edition

We asked some Spurs media members what they think about the Mavericks this year.

San Antonio Spurs v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Perspective is everything. And sometimes you get so locked into your point of view that you don’t see things clearly anymore. This is especially true in sports, and if you follow a team closely you might lose sight of the big picture. You start to love certain players more than you should, and hate other players more than is rational.

So I wanted to step outside of my Dallas Mavericks bubble and get the perspective of some people who cover other teams in the Southwest Division. Today I’m talking to people who cover the San Antonio Spurs—Noah Magaro-George of Pounding the Rock, Matthew Tynan of Corporate Knowledge, Trace Ronning of Fiesta Shorts, and Stephen Hale of the Blue Collar Sports Dad Program.

Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Besides Luka, who is the most intriguing player on the Mavericks’ roster?

Matthew Tynan: Maybe this seems like a copout kind of answer, but to me it’s Kristaps Porzingis by a Latvian kilometer. If he’s able to find a way over whatever wall is blocking him – injury history, chemistry with Luka Doncic, general unhappiness with his role in Dallas, whatever – it could unlock an entirely different level of success for the Mavs that propels them toward an interesting conversation about legitimate Western Conference contenders. That’s how impactful he is as a player when he’s right, and that’s how dangerous that pairing with Doncic could be. But if Porzingis is the same Porzingis to which Mavs fans have become accustomed, results may look frustratingly familiar. Even if Luka continues to imbibe the nectar of the gods and make yet another leap, Porzingis is the cog that needs to be in place for the Mavs to continue their ascent.

Trace Ronning: I’m gonna have to go with Frank Ntilikina. It’s very easy to forget he was a top ten draft pick, and it’s also very easy to lose track of just about anyone who spends time with the Knicks. The Mavericks shouldn’t long for points next season—or any season—so long as Luka is healthy, so the intrigue here is based on how well he can play defense and free up Luka to do things more efficiently. For his career, Ntilikina owns a league average point guard defensive rating of 113. If he can be even an above-average defender for Dallas, that’ll be huge for them.

Noah Magaro-George: It has to be Porzingis. He was a burgeoning superstar with the Knicks before Dallas acquired him via trade a few seasons ago, and he’s never quite lived up to the hype. That’s not necessarily all his fault. Several injuries have kept him on the bench or stopped him from playing at 100% when he’s on the court. He got a little too much flack for his performance last season, and it’s easy to forget just how good he was as a second option next to Doncic. It isn’t easy to go out there and average 20.1 points per game on .476/.376/.855 shooting splits. And he’ll likely be the key to unlocking their ceiling if he can regain some lateral mobility and get back to protecting the rim at an elite level. With that said, the Mavericks should start thinking about hitting the panic button if Porzingis can’t stay healthy again. Seven-footers with shoddy knees don’t exactly have the best track record.

Stephen Hale: Tim Hardaway Jr. seems to be the third most intriguing player on the Mavs outside of Luka and Porzingis. Hardaway shot a whopping 39% from deep last year and has the size to be a capable defender on the wing as well. The key to Luka’s success will be to surround him with shooters and as he gets more comfortable trusting teammates, Hardaway could be the guy that benefits the most. He’s locked in for the next four years on a friendly contract that actually diminishes by 2025, so the time is clearly now to maximize his window next to Luka. I wonder if Hardaway could be a new member of the 50-40-90 club.

Are you worried about the Mavericks unlocking Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, or do you what we’ve seen out of Porzingis is who he is?

Matthew Tynan: Did not see this question prior to answering the first one. Perfect. Yeah I think you have to be worried. There have been flashes of the excellence the team had envisioned when it put the two together, but those moments have seemed fleeting. And as a basketball fan you really want to latch on and go for a ride, but it just comes to a screeching halt before it ever really gets going. When Luka is doing Luka things, and Porzingis is flatly controlling the basket area on both sides of the court ON TOP OF being a 10-story floor-spacer, the Mavericks are very difficult to beat. Those guys are two of the most unique players in the game today, and when they’re rolling at the same time it is a nightmare for other teams. There really aren’t any good answers when dealing with that. But there’s no consistency, and it’s maddening. I don’t think Porzingis is a lost cause, but something has just been off during his time in Dallas. Whatever it is I hope it’s fixable, because nobody wants this dude’s body to be failing him, and nobody wants this duo to simply be a failure. The promise and potential is too intriguing and too good for basketball.

Stephen Hale: I’m super worried about the fit for Luka and Porzingis. From the outside looking in, it seems like they don’t necessarily like playing with each other, which is a real shame since they could be an absolutely lethal pick and roll combination. The problem is, Porzingis seems to have fallen in love with the three ball and has a lot more “pick and pop” than “pick and roll.” The “roll” component will be essential in any deep playoff runs they plan on making. Porzingis should accept his role as a Robin to Luka’s Batman and accept it quick, or else the next three years will turn into a very expensive headache.

Noah Magaro-George: I’m not all that concerned about Luka and Porzingis figuring things out. Theoretically, they should mesh perfectly with one another, so I’m interested to see how Jason Kidd utilizes them differently from Rick Carlisle. Still, there was a 17-game stretch a few years ago where injuries forced Doncic in and out of the lineup, and it’s certainly worth noting we saw Porzingis play some of the best basketball of his career without Luka. He dominated opposing defenses to the tune of 26.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game over that period, so there might be a chance they’re better apart? But it just feels like their playstyles should be complementary, and Dallas has little incentive to give up on that pairing unless they think they can upgrade without gutting the rest of their roster.

What is the Mavericks’ biggest weakness?

Matthew Tynan: I think it’s still got to be the defense. Again, there’s a Porzingis-sized caveat to this conversation but I’ll try and stop talking about him. I do like the effort to bring in more ready-made shooters to sprinkle around the Luka vortex of offense, and it should pay off, but there are still real questions about the team’s perimeter defense. Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown will provide the shooting, but how much of an impact will they make defensively? They’ve shown to be fine as defenders during their time in the NBA, but nothing much more than that. The offense should be humming this season, but I doubt we’ll see any major leap defensively unless that tall guy I keep talking about is all the way back. It’s rough when your perimeter defense can’t stay in front of people, but if Porzingis is engaged and healthy he can clean up a lot of messes.

Trace Ronning: Big men. If Porzingis is in fact limited to participating in ~50% of the games the Mavericks play, how will Moses Brown and Boban Marjanovich fill in? You know I’m still in love with Boban from his time with the Spurs, but there’s a reason they let him go when Detroit was willing to pay $5M a season. He’s not a starter. It’s hard to imagine Boban playing more than 8-9 minutes a game. As a fan of a rival team, I think I’m more worried about Dallas unlocking Brown than unlocking Porzingis, to be honest.

Noah Magaro-George: Frontcourt depth. As much as I sincerely hope Porzingis returns to form and avoids any further setbacks, I’m not entirely convinced either of those things happen. Moses Brown is mostly an unknown commodity, so perhaps his physical tools and raw ability translate into meaningful production in Dallas. However, the rest of the big man battalion of Willie Cauley-Stein, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, Marjanović, and Dorian Finney-Smith is rather uninspiring. There are some solid backups and spot starters among that group, though a lengthy Porzingis absence could put them in a difficult position.

Stephen Hale: I think it’s their big men. Powell, Kleber, Cauley-Stein, and Marjanovic are underwhelming . Each of them seems to possess one skill but lacks three. It would be nice to roll them all into one player that can be more versatile. But then again, none of them are immensely overpaid. It does however make things difficult if Porzingis intends to play the four. Kleber can at least extend the floor a little bit, but against the true star bigs of the league there will be a massive drop off.

What’s a realistic trade you’d like to see between the Mavericks and the Spurs?

Stephen Hale: I’d like to see the Mavericks add Al-Farouq Aminu for Dorian Finney-Smith and Cauley-Stein . A lot of attention has been placed on Thad Young, but Aminu’s 6’9” frame could be helpful in a playoff series where you can’t have enough bodies to throw at long wings like Paul George, Lebron James, or even Michael Porter Jr. He could also play the four with Porzingis and keeps the court big when going small. Finney-Smith gives the Spurs an athletic four to play with Jakob Poeltl and a decent backup for him in Cauley-Stein.

Noah Magaro-George: Dallas is a divisional rival positioned to compete for years to come, and I can’t see San Antonio picking up the phone unless they’re reeling near the trade deadline. I like the sound of a cents-on-the-dollar sort of deal for Porzingis if Dallas decides to move on from the former All-Star, but that doesn’t feel realistic.

What’s the best case scenario for the Mavericks this season?

Matthew Tynan: I’m going to say Western Conference Finals. What we saw from the Suns this past season brought a little life to the “if things break the right way” platitude, but I think the Mavericks are still at least a backcourt/wing piece (and a Porzingis resurgence) away from being legit title contenders. But I don’t think the idea of Dallas reaching the WCF is a pipe dream. There’s some serious parity in the league right now, and with it should come a healthy opening in the door to elevated success. Heath, improved chemistry and the right matchups could take the Mavericks a long way if they reach their performance potential.

Trace Ronning: Best case scenario is probably the Western Conference Finals. I wouldn’t put it past Doncic to carry the team there, but I don’t see them getting over the top with this roster.

Noah Magaro-George: The best-case scenario is probably making it to the Western Conference Finals. Doncic is the kind of player who can carry a team to victory. And if Porzingis pans out like they thought he would when they acquired him in 2019, that would make everyone’s life a lot easier. The Lakers, Suns, Jazz, Nuggets, Clippers, and Warriors stand in their way, so I’m not buying stock on this best-case scenario coming to fruition.

Stephen Hale: The thing about the Mavericks is they have THE BRIGHTEST young star in the league in Doncic and that cannot be understated enough. He has the ability to drag this team to a three seed, and maybe win a playoff series. But as constructed they’re a tweaked ankle away from being the ten seed and losing in the play-in tourney. Still, I’d bet on Luka and expect them to be a competitive team in the West. I see them winning more than 50 games and finish with a top four seed, with a second round playoff loss that will leave fans thinking it should have been more.