Monday evening I had the chance to go to a Dallas Mavericks game as a spectator in seats that were unlike anything I’ve ever had before and unlike anything I’m ever likely to experience again. They were right next to the replay center on the scorers table, as close to center court and front row as a person can be.
Sitting close to the floor, heck even in the lower bowl, one ends up getting a fairly different view than what we all see on television. Though I have the chance to go to games as media, I choose not to because I’d rather watch from my couch and see the whole game with the television cameras moving.
But as you can see, this was too good a thing to pass up and taking the opportunity provided me with a view of things that was so much more intense than television can grant, unless it’s some kind of replay in slow motion.
I wanted to take a few minutes and write down what I noticed with that kind view. Most of my observations won’t be a surprise, we all watch this team a ton; I’d argue there isn’t much we don’t know about them to date. Now it’s figuring out their best use cases to succeed as Dallas works towards the playoffs.
Anyway, here’s what’s stuck with me a day later:
Luka Doncic is incredibly strong
Lu Dort is a different mold of a basketball player. Comparing his body type to that of back court mate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is as apples to oranges as professional body types can get. Dort is thick and extremely strong, as evidenced in the first half when on a drive to the basket he pushed Dwight Powell to the baseline with his off arm with ease and Powell weighs 25 pounds more than Dort.
Understanding Dort’s strength is key point in getting just how wild it is to watch Luka Doncic post him up, then move him with his left arm a foot or so with each back down power dribble. I’ve seen Doncic do this on television for years and there’s something about the slightly above angle that doesn’t do justice to how powerful Luka actually is.
On post ups, Luka Doncic doesn’t use his strength enough
Playing directly off the above point, there were multiple instances where Doncic would use his strength to get to a better position on a post up, only to fade away. When those shots are going, it’s magic to watch, but he couldn’t hit anything but his free throws Monday night. One has to wonder whether Doncic prefers the style points of certain kinds of baskets over the results depending on the situation. Dallas had Oklahoma City down for most of the game until that third quarter stretch, and Doncic certainly tried to impose his will using his strength later in the game.
With the hits Doncic takes, it makes sense why he might want to play at a higher weight
There’s been a lot of discussion, some of it from me, about whether or not Doncic’s playing too heavy relative to his younger years. Moving past the obvious point that he’s no longer 16 and a person’s body changes, it’s really something to see the kind of hits he takes when going to the rim. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander by comparison shot a similar number of free throws last night but Doncic takes much harder hits both from the side and when he gets to the rim. The attention Doncic draws is really quite absurd.
Doncic never stops talking to the referees
In previous seasons Luka’s earned himself the reputation of someone who complains to the referees too much, particularly in demonstrative fashion. Against the Thunder at least, it was less belligerence and more constant lobbying.
Those of you with children, particularly small ones, might relate to this. It reminds me of the days where my son, who is five, will not not leave my wife alone. He’s always asking questions, asking for a snack, asking when we can do an activity. None of it is rude or even intentionally annoying, but it’s constant. He really needs to curb even that behavior.
Jason Kidd doesn’t talk much to the team while they’re on the floor
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault spent a significant portion of the game directly in front of me, he walked up and down his portion of the sideline, talking to players, lobbying referees, and making calls. Jason Kidd, by comparison, is very, very reserved. He barked at the referees once during a free throw but left most of his lobbying to true stoppages in play and even then they were often quiet. He doesn’t seem to communicate to the team much while plays are ongoing, but the coaching staff as a whole is very active with players looking over for direction regularly.
Kristaps Porzingis is a magnificent athlete who uses that athleticism in bursts
Seeing Porzingis in person is a wild experience. He’s a graceful person and there are moments, like this early third quarter block and dunk, where we see it on bold display:
He’s still somewhat measured in how he uses his gifts. There’s clearly been a maturity process with how he views his body, perhaps understanding that just because he might physically be able to make a play, it might be something where he could end up hurt.
Jalen Brunson’s touch is still underrated
In terms of height, Brunson tends to be one of the shortest players on the court. It’s one of the things which make watching his touch within 15 feet so remarkable. He’s also a strong player, so combining that with his herky-jerky moves and balance usually means he gets a clean look at the basket on every attempt. But the NBA is filled with tall, athletic players so watching the arc of a Brunson shot, while in traffic, is something to behold up close.
Luka Doncic sees things like he’s Neo in the Matrix
“You can’t speed Doncic up” is a phrase I’ve heard repeatedly to describe how Doncic plays. Watching him distribute the ball in real-time, particularly passes from the top of the key or wing to the opposite corner is preposterous at ground level. The ball seemingly teleports between a host of NBA players and it’s very clear that he saw the opening for the pass develop seconds before he tries it. His size paired with a sense of precognition for what a defender is going to results in these otherworldly attempts and they’re something I have new appreciation for.
Watching this team up close gave me a different understanding of why the Mavericks might be reluctant to move any player. They’re playing well and even if the Thunder game went from a blow out to a close win, it’s still a win. The Mavericks are a good basketball team and it’s nice they’ve forged a new identity with so many of the same players.