Written by Aljuš Pertinač
The last time we saw the Dallas Mavericks, they’d won their first playoff series since the now long distant championship run in 2011 this postseason. Dallas topped it out with a second-round Game 7 blowout win over the number one seed and by far the best regular season in the NBA team Phoenix Suns. The Mavericks made it to the Western Conference Finals where the later NBA Champions and their complete roster proved to be too high of a hurdle to handle after the abovementioned two historic achievements.
The Maverick fan base, for the first time in many years, headed into the offseason with high spirits. The biggest question was simply: can the new Maverick front office improve the team even further and make them a title contender for the upcoming season? With the acquisitions of Christian Wood and JaVale McGee followed by drafting a young and exciting prospect in Jaden Hardy, things looked to be going in exactly the right direction. All that was needed or so it seemed was to re-sign Jalen Brunson for a possible later sign and trade for a true second star (preferably a wing with ball handling skills) and then signing Goran Dragic, Luka’s long-time mentor and friend to a veteran minimum for the Mavericks fan base to become ecstatic and the Mavericks to emerge as one of the offseason winners.
Unfortunately, Jalen Brunson chose to sign with the New York Knicks and Goran Dragic went to the Bulls after Dallas supposedly offered him a deal but would not commit to a regular role with the team. Now the Mavericks still have one roster spot open and should try to fill it with another ball handler to supplement the Luka-Spencer Dinwiddie combination. Losing your second-best player, a starter and second floor general behind Luka for nothing after you have repeatedly missed opportunities to resign him of course hurts.
As my countryman and the basketball science wizard Iztok Franko likes to say, the NBA is a talent driven league. The Mavericks lost a considerable talent in Brunson and (so far) have not been able to replace him with a comparably talented player. The West keeps getting better each offseason and this time around it seems especially brutal. The Golden State Warriors seem to be poised to start another dynasty, while Kawhi Leonard, Zion Williamson, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Damian Lillard are all coming back from injuries. Then Minnesota established their version of twin towers by acquiring Rudy Gobert.
The predominant opinion among Dallas fans and basketball pundits is that the Mavericks got slightly worse or in the best-case scenario remained on the same level as the previous season. Of course, having Luka helps so, if healthy, the Mavericks are supposed to be at least a play-in team in the next season. As a Slovenian Dallas fan I should be additionally outraged that the Mavericks didn’t sign Dragic.
Based on all that it may come as a considerable surprise that I think the Mavs=ericks become a better team this offseason is a resounding Yes. I honestly think Mavs are a better team heading into the 2022-23 season and have a great shot to at least make it to the Western Conference Finals again. Here’s why.
In Luka we trust
Luka Doncic is getting better and better all the time. Entering his fifth NBA season, he is a legitimate super star, selected to the All-NBA First Team three times in four seasons, arguably top three player in the league, and once again bookmakers hot favorite to win the MVP.
He started last season out of shape, emotionally and physically exhausted after another grueling playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers and almost a fairy tale ending Slovenia’s Olympics run, he returned to Dallas to acclimate to the completely new coaching staff and Front office. During the season battled with nagging injuries and the Kristaps Porzingis problem that required the Mavs to essentially play two completely different styles of basketball with Porzingis on and of the court.
Despite all this Doncic helped lead the team to the Western Conference Finals and was, besides Steph Curry, the best player on the court. I am confident Luka will come into next season in shape and guns blazing largely because he’s playing with Slovenian national team at EuroBasket in September and has committed to his fitness level. Finally liberated from Porzingis and without Jalen Brunson on the team to keep the “ball hog Luka” debate going, I think we can look forward to a Luka MVP caliber season.
The Mavs regular season starting lineup got better
JaVale McGee is a better defensive and offensive version of Dwight Powell. Dinwiddie has already proven that he is at least as good a fit playing next to Luka as Brunson was (top of the league in isolation scoring and better than Brunson in catch and shoot situations). He’s in his second year of coming back from the ACL injury and from his workout videos, seems dead set on being even better. I believe the Mavericks starting five will be better than last year defensively, since they’ll be bigger and longer.
The bench unit is considerably better
Having a guy in Christian Wood who can give a team 18 points and 10 rebounds coming of the bench in a Luka Doncic team is really a luxury. Especially playing next to Maxi Kleber and Tim Hardaway Jr. That is why the scoring of the bench as Mavs coaching staff has repeatedly said, shouldn’t be a problem.
For defense the team has Kleber, Frank Ntilikina, and Josh Green. The last two should clock more playing time than Jaden Hardy, at least at the start of the season. Of course, the Mavericks are lacking a true point guard in this unit but since the Mavericks should stagger the Luka-Dinwiddie minutes, the mentioned five will rarely be on the court at the same time. Even if Dallas does play without a point guard in stretches, they have fou players who can handle the ball at least a little among them. When and if Christian Wood gets inserted into the starting lineup next or even over McGee, the bench unit will still be better than last year.
The offense could be even better
Wood is a center that does the things Powell and Maxi do offensively at least as well if not better than them. He also does something no Mavs center, including Porzingis, could do in the previous seasons: he can create his own shot. Between Wood and Hardaway, the Mavericks can more than replicate their offensive production they got last year from Brunson. Ball handling is another matter but having one roster spot still open and waiting to the Durant/Kyrie saga to unravel the Mavs can still remedy this before the trade deadline expires. For the regular season however, I think Dallas can be a top ten offense once again even without 3 primary ball handlers.
The defense should be better because of the improved depth and size
McGee is a true rim protector the Mavericks craved at times last season, especially after they traded Porzingis. Returning most of the elements a top defense from last year, factoring Luka and Dinwiddie will be in better physical condition, and Hardaway having a size advantage over Brunson, the Mavs should be a top 10 defense (if other teams improve defensively even more). Yes, Wood is not good on defense but in a Kidd defensive system defined by effort and scramble, a highly motivated Wood should do just fine. Having one roster spot open the Mavs still can improve their defense if the need arises during the season.
It’s a more talented team than the one that made the Western Conference Finals
This statement is probably the most controversial. Brunson was clearly the second best player and secondary ball handler. He is gone with no such player added to the roster for now.
However, strength in numbers will prevail. Dallas lost one rotation player (in Brunson) and gained at least 3 others (Wood, Hardaway and McGee). Of course, none of them can replace Brunson but all of them can and should improve the Mavericks on both sides of the floor. Imagine having this roster (healthy of course) at the start of the last season’s playoffs with a potential ten man rotation. Remove Brunson and still having Dwight Powell, Jaden Hardy and Davis Bertans as their emergency bench players respectively.
Wouldn’t you feel at least as confident in the team if your center lineup would be McGee, Wood, Maxi and Powell instead of just Powell and Maxi? If you had Hardaway and Hardy potentially coming of the bench instead of just Dinwiddie? I know I would. And if you wouldn’t, remember the Mavs have still one roster spot open and every opportunity to improve their team before the trade deadline and for the playoffs.
My Slovenian/Dallas fan uneducated basketball mind is telling me the Mavericks are a better team heading into the next season than they were at the end of the last regular season. Of course, losing Brunson for nothing hurts. But the Maverick front office gambled when they traded Porzingis and it paid of. Adding three more rotation pieces for the price of losing just one and having the potential to add one more piece sounds good to me. Especially if I remember the previous Dallas off seasons. Let’s wait and see how right or wrong I am. Until then, Go Mavs!