Who do you expect to be the most improved Maverick by the end of the season? Last year, Josh Green seemed like an easy choice, but over the course of the year, Jaden Hardy really grew as a player. This year, you could choose from any of Hardy, Green, Dereck Lively, Oliver-Maxence Prosper, or even Dante Exum or even someone else.
David: I expect Derek lively to be the most improved this year. In my mind, he finishes the years as the starting center and plays 20+ minutes the last month or two. For him to get there, he’s going to have to improve a lot. The coaching staff is going to be huge in this because his improvements are going to be with the basics of screening passing and not fouling. Not only do I think Lively will be the most improved, but he kind of has to be if the Mavs want to be competitive down the stretch. He’s their best option at center at his best and his development is going to be key for a playoff run.
Chris: Early looks at the Dallas depth indicate Jaden Hardy might get buried on the bench. Lively can probably take the biggest jump, O-Max too, but Green and Hardy wouldn’t be a huge surprise, everyone is expecting them to continue to improve. Dante Exum is a wild card. My eye test says he’s a real basketball player, so it will be interesting to see if he gets minutes. Since I have to pick now though, most improved at the end of the season, I’m going Lively.
Kirk: It’s Dereck Lively II for me as well. This is largely because I think he has to be good. At some points in the off-season we’ve talked about how him needing to be good would be nice, but that it’s not needed. I am changing my mind, the Mavericks need Lively to rapidly improve and what’s great is that they’re actually saying this. Grant Williams said so in a post-practice media session. He’s so big, he has good instincts... this is going to work out. And if it doesn’t it’s going to be one of many reasons why this season could stink.
Matthew: The Mavericks need the answer to be Luka Doncic. This may seem counterintuitive due to Doncic being the Mavericks best player by a mile. However, there is one more level for him to reach and the jump from where he is, to that level is the hardest jump there is to make.
Ben: Grant Williams will probably be better by the end of the year. He seems like a veteran player, and sort of is, but he’s not even 25 years old yet. He’ll be getting the best looks of his career playing with Doncic and Irving, and will be playing with more space than he did in Boston. Jason Kidd has plenty of flaws, but so far he’s shown an ability to develop young players quickly. I think that pays dividends with Williams
Isaac: Dante Exum is one of the X-factors of this team for me. He hasn’t played in the NBA since 2021, but I think he’ll be a solid contributor with the second unit when Dončić/Irving get their rest. Hardy’s uncertainty with playing time leads me to pick Exum for this category. He’ll be a veteran guard who (hopefully) doesn’t get flustered in tight spots. He’s looked good in preseason but that’s not super significant.
If the Mavericks want to be successful, they need a guard who can run the show with Luka and Kyrie out, either with rest in games or when one of them misses games to injury/load management. Look for Exum to fill that Dinwiddie-esque role.
Jordan: I get trapped every preseason, overly excited by the possibilities of too many rotation players. It often leads to mild heartbreak, but that’s the beauty of being a fan. I think the Mavericks need big play from Dereck Lively and Jaden Hardy. Lively because he doesn’t just represent the future (and that’s very important) he also is the only real rim protection the team has right now outside of the overworked Maxi Kleber. If Lively can be a contributor the Mavericks could take a big step forward. Hardy is essential as the bench engine this team has been desperate for quite some time. Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving both battle injuries, and both need to have stretches of rest during games. The Mavericks need Hardy to step into a larger role in his third season. The team needs one of these two to be most improved. But if we’re talking about wildcard look at who is better from Game 1 to Game 82, I think it might be Dante Exum. There has been plenty to like from his play in preseason. He may only fill a small role, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see his responsibilities expand by end of the year. Exum has me falling in the trap.
Matt: Improvement from any of the young guys would really help move the needle, but I’m personally rooting for Jaden Hardy to take a big step if for no other reason than he’s the kind of player who’s exciting to watch. He showed flashed last season of what a pure bucket-getter he can be. It’s always a thrill to watch a rotation guy go on an absolute heater and help steal a game. If Hardy can become the go-to scorer off the bench, that would be a big development for year two.
Matt Martinez: I love a young, brash potential bucket machine (alas, Roddy B, you left us too soon), so sign me up for some Jaden Hardy this year. I want to see him take the next step and win us a couple of games this year. He’s going to force the coaching staff to do a little soul-searching this year if he does take that next step. Hardy can be a great catalyst off the bench, and I’d love to see him push for even more than that this year.
Brent: Can Olivier-Maxence Prosper push his way into the rotation and - by season’s end - into the starting lineup? The Mavericks have rarely had this combination of athleticism, size, and ability to defend on the wing. In a perfect world, Prosper would not be counted on until his second or third year but the Mavs need him to hit right away. If his shot beyond the arc can round into form, Dallas just may have the steal of this draft and an answer to questions that plagued the team last year.