The Mavericks need more leadership on and off the court. That much is clear after the first part of the season is over and the team is struggling despite having a generational talent on their roster. Luka Dončić can’t do everything himself, it’s just too much to ask of him to average 30 points as well as being responsible for the vibes and energy of the whole team.
The Mavericks need someone to step up when Luka Dončić is struggling, who can yell at the guys at halftime and encourage the young ones on the bench. In short, help carry the mental load of leadership.
Someone who can say: Chins up, we’re still fighting out there. This team made it to the Western Conference Finals last year, this team can put up a fight. Let’s show them what we got! Someone like 38 year old Andre Igoudala on the Warriors, who makes his vet presence known and mentors the younger players.
Andre Iguodala’s veteran presence is so crucial for young guys like Wiseman, Poole, Kuminga, and Moody— Jay (@HoodieCurry) September 23, 2022
His presence was just as important for Andrew Wiggins this past season pic.twitter.com/e87vLgJVNN
Right now, the Mavericks have none of that.
Back when I was a player, often fighting for a championship or a final, that was my coach’s role - to get a little loud in order for the team to remember who we were, and what we were capable of. Someone who told us that we could beat anyone as long as we played together. Someone who would draw up plays to get us the winning layup in clutch.
The Mavericks do not have such a coach. Jason Kidd will sit on the bench, barely clapping when things are good or when they’re bad. If he feels like the expectation is that he needs to stand, he will, but with his hands in his pockets and an uncomfortable, awkward look on his face.
Animation is not Kidd’s thing. And so, the Mavericks need a vet leader, someone who can pick them up, check them - if that someone could check Luka once in a while, it would be a godsend - and restore some stability to the bench.
If Luka had someone he trusted, respected and listened to on the bench, who could take him aside and remind him who Luka Dončić is and who he wants to be, it would go a long way. Because we all know that Luka’s aware that the complaining and bad body language doesn’t do any good. He knows this is a problem, he just doesn’t know how to change it.
I know what you’re thinking - Goran Dragic - but it didn’t work out. Someone didn’t want to offer him a role big enough in Dallas, the front office wasn’t interested and if we keep rehashing that fact it just makes it worse to think about.
But there is someone on the roster, who just recently arrived, who may be able to fit the bill. This weekend with Luka and Spencer Dinwiddie out, he even showed that he can lead this team successfully and almost got Dallas a win against Cleveland.
I see Kemba Walker as a guy that could be that vet leader for the Mavericks on and off the court. Against Cleveland, he showed us he can lead the team on the court - but can he do it off the court too?
He’s known to be a great locker room guy around the league. A few weeks ago, Walker made clear that he knows that his new team could benefit from his leadership skills in an interview with TNT. When asked what he can bring to the team, he said:
“Just another ball-handler and some leadership qualities, I think. Good locker room guy. I’ve been around for a long time, so I just know what it takes to keep a locker room happy and to keep guys happy. I just think I can add in that element.”
He’s known for being a locker room guy, someone who cares about others and can make a difference on the bench. And he’s shown that he understands how that contributes to building a winning team. Right after he came to Dallas, he made clear that he hopes to take a little pressure off his new teammates.
“I’ve been around guys my whole career who have been that way, who can sense the locker room. When things aren’t going well, guys can get down. When guys are missing shots, they can get down on themselves. I can always sense that in guys because I’ve been through it. And I’ve had vets who have helped me get through it. And that’s something I know I can help with.”
Christian Wood, who’s played with Walker in Charlotte, only had good things to say about him too. “I’m just happy to see him back. His attitude, demeanor, and how he puts in work never changes.”
Having that locker room presence, that guy on the bench who’ll take the mental load off the guys by encouraging and bringing the perspective only a vet who’s been there before can, is a key factor for a winning team.
The Mavericks don’t have anybody like that at the moment. They’re very affected by each other’s energy, be it good or bad, and they follow Luka’s no matter how he approaches a game. And let’s be honest, Luka doesn’t always approach a game in the right way.
If things go bad, Luka needs help leading. That’s ok, he’s 23, we can’t leave the entire team’s energy and success up to him. So here’s to hoping - wishing - that Kemba Walker or another vet who Luka respects, like Dorian Finney-Smith, can find a way to take some of the mental pressure off Luka. Because Luka Dončić and this team need all the help they can get.