Will this preseason ever end? And is it even worth watching the upcoming preseason game against the Detroit Pistons, if we’re not going to see the main creators create?
I ask myself this a lot these days. All we really want to see is Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić play together. A little screening action, maybe even pick and roll, and perhaps - this is a long shot - a play where both of them are participating.
Meanwhile, Luka Dončić has now been ruled out for the game on Friday with a left calf strain and Kyrie Irving has been dealing with a groin injury, which makes it unsure whether he’ll play and for how many minutes.
So is it even worth tuning in?
Well, this game really won’t tell us very much about how the Mavericks will look come the season opener, but it will give us a chance to get a closer look at some of the rotation players, who are about to show us and the coaching staff whether they deserve a spot in the rotation or even a spot on the team. And whether some of the remaining top guys can lead and step up. So it’s definitely worth tuning in - if you know what you’re looking for.
This is who I’ll be keeping an eye on:
The two main creators are out or playing limited minutes, so I will be watching Dante Exum closely. He has impressed Mavericks fans and coaches with his ability to push the ball and competently lead the offense. At 6’6, his size makes him very tough to guard in transition, and when he and someone like Josh Green get going downhill, beautiful things have the potential to happen. And Exum is pretty confident he can fill an important role on this team:
“We’ve talked a lot about playing faster, and that’s something I want to do, whether it’s going to get rebounds and pushing the ball. Just being a leader at the point guard spot when Kai or Luka don’t have the ball. I think that’s a spot in this team that I can fill,” he told Grant Afseth of DallasBasketball.com.
Speaking of, mister most improved Maverick as of last year has something to prove this year too. I’ll be watching to see if the talk of Derrick Jones Jr. potentially starting ahead of him will fuel him a little. Will he help push the pace with Exum, and show off his vision and great passing skills? That can only happen if he comfortably and confidently puts the ball down or shoots when the opportunity arises. I will be keeping an eye on his offensive efforts and confidence level.
Derrick Jones Jr.
I will also be keeping an eye on DJJ, who has a chance to earn himself a starting spot, as reported by insider Marc Stein. That’s a big deal, and it’s worth keeping an eye on how he affects the game, his defensive positioning and ability to help, and whether he can be a three-point threat.
Coach Jason Kidd had a lot of positive words for both Exum and DJJ, which may be a clue as to how the two veterans are viewed by the coaching staff. Especially their understanding of the game has impressed Kidd:
“They’ve been great for newcomers, both on and off the floor. Off the floor with their teammates, interaction has been high, and then on the floor - their length and understanding of how to play the game has been very helpful. They’ve had a great camp up to this point,” Kidd said this week.
We’re all looking to see if the rookie center can hold his own against NBA teams with size. Offensively, I don’t think he will struggle with either Kyrie or Luka, but it’s a big task for a rookie to be expected to anchor the defense. He has great defensive instincts though and next to Grant Williams, it may work. But it will be interesting to watch.
Williams himself pointed out this week that if the Mavs are to be successful, they need Lively to step up and grow to be a vet real fast.
Today I asked Grant Williams about starting next to Dereck Lively II and what the Mavs need to do to support him. pic.twitter.com/0JoY3e9SOC— Nick Angstadt (@NickVanExit) October 16, 2023
This guy is a personal favorite of mine and I think he has the potential to be a good backup center. There’s talk of him getting traded, and whether he has a spot on this team with Dwight Powell and Lively taking the two center spots. Nonetheless, the idea of him reaching the level of play he used to is still alive in my mind, and I will be looking to see if he can hold his own on defense and show some of his great offensive talent of the past.
I have a feeling - a hope! - that this team may be the right environment for him to have a comeback season with, but it depends on whether the coaching staff is willing to give him a chance. He certainly seems ready to give the extra effort.
We’ve seen a lot of Hardy already this preseason and he’s done everything that’s been asked of him. Defense and making the right decisions on offense are still his weaknesses, but I see improvement especially in decision-making. I will be watching for improvements here, but Hardy is a straight up scorer and has proven that he can lead an offense for shorter periods of time. Next to a more experienced guard, who can slow things down, he is a very valuable scorer for this team.
We have to keep an eye on Prosper, who is struggling a little more with the NBA tempo and physicality than the other rookie. Not a surprise, though, for a rookie, and he has both size, speed and instincts to play a part on this team already this season. If he manages to show that he can defend on an elite level, switch and take the right shots on offense, it’s been a good day at the office for him.
But in order for us to learn anything valuable, the coaching staff has to move on from the wonky rotations and random switching, so we can get to see some real rotations. The randomness of the switching and the rotations in preseason games often make it hard to watch. Sometimes it’s appropriate experimentation, other times it’s the Madrid game. What do we get out of watching end of the bench and now-waived players end the game in Madrid? Nothing, except for a loss.
Let’s see what the team would actually do and how the players react if neither Kyrie or Luka (or only one of them) could play real minutes in a regular season game - because that will happen - and it would be nice if they were prepared.