Additions: Luka Doncic, Deandre Jordan, Jalen Brunson
Subtractions: Yogi Ferrell, Nerlens Noel, Doug McDermott
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Dennis Smith Jr
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Luka Doncic
PF: Harrison Barnes
C: Deandre Jordan
Key Bench Players: Dirk Nowitzki, JJ Barea, Jalen Brunson, Dwight Powell
Why not draft a European heir to Dirk Nowitzki’s throne as face of the Dallas Mavericks? That is exactly what Mark Cuban and the Mavs did when they drafted guard/forward Luka Doncic from Slovenia/Spanish ACB league with the 3rd overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. The Slovenian has been playing for Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid since he was 16 in 2014 and has made a name for himself so much so that he was viewed as a potential number one pick. At 6’8 with a lethal shooting stroke and strong playmaking abilities, Doncic led Real Madrid to the 2018 EuroLeague title, became the youngest to ever win EuroLeague MVP, and repeated as the winner of the EuroLeague Rising Star, something only done by Nikola Mirotic of the New Orleans Pelicans and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings. His size benefits the Mavs greatly as he can play either guard position as well as small forward, depending on the lineup coach Rick Carlisle wants to put on the floor. Prior to the draft, Bleacher Report’s Kelly Scaletta compared Doncic to former Trailblazers All Star Brandon Roy prior to his chronic knee injuries. With an all around offensive game, high basketball IQ, and a good opportunity in Dallas, Doncic can realistically lead the team in scoring and be a perennial All Star for years to come.
Paired alongside Doncic is second year point guard Dennis Smith Jr. Although inefficient at times last season with a field goal percentage under 40%, Smith still averaged over 15 points and 5 assists in his rookie season en route to making the NBA All Rookie Second Team. The NC State product is extremely similar to players like John Wall and Russell Westbrook in that he is an explosive leaper with tremendous speed in the open court and has the ability to make plays for his teammates. In a few years, I expect Smith and Doncic to become one of the best frontcourt duos in not just the Western Conference, but the entire NBA.
Surrounding the two young guards in the starting lineup are the aging Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, and newly acquired Deandre Jordan. Wes Matthews is no longer the lockdown defender that he was with the Blazers (still an average defender nonetheless), but can still knock down threes at a 38.1% clip. Barnes continued his excellence as Dallas’ first option scoring 18.9 PPG on 44.5/35.7/82.7 shooting along with 6.1 RPG and 2 APG. Smith and Doncic are no Steph and Klay, but their presence on the court will allow Barnes to face less double teams and thus more open scoring opportunities. Deandre Jordan is still a premier rebounder in the league, averaging a career high 15.2 rebounds and finishing second in the league behind Andre Drummond (16.0), but his block numbers reached his lowest since 2009 at only 0.9 per game. Still not a feasible scoring option unless its a lob or dump off, Jordan still converts those shots at 64.5% and posted a career high in free throw percentage at 58% a season ago. Let’s look at what Dallas has in their starting lineup: an explosive, playmaking, defending point guard, a veteran shooting guard who is an average defender and knocks down threes, an all-around offensive superstar wing in the making, a two-way power forward, and one of the best rebounders and rim protectors in the league at center. On paper, that looks like a strong recipe for success. Its starting to look like the Mavs can compete for a bottom seed in the playoffs.
Then there’s Dirk Nowitzki, the German who revolutionized the game to where 7 footers can step out behind the three point line and knock down jumpers efficiently. Dirk is now 40 years old and has already told the coaching staff he will be accepting a bench role this upcoming season. Good thing for all basketball fans, the German can still ball. Dirk is still so efficient at his age, shooting 45.6/40.9/89.8 last season and put up 12 points per game in just under 25 minutes. His flamingo fadeaway jumper is still unblockable and unstoppable for any opponent and can still stretch the floor with the best of the best. He is also the perfect mentor for fellow European Luka Doncic and 20 year old Dennis Smith to teach them how to succeed in this league. Maybe the young guys will be able to bring Dirk to the playoffs one last time before the German walks into retirement.
My prediction for Dallas? They will compete for the 7th or 8th seed in the Western Conference. The starters are a great start, but the Mavs really do not offer much else in the bench department other than the occasional JJ Barea outburst or Dwight Powell. Jalen Brunson, the rookie out of Villanova and 2-time National Champion, has the ability to be one of the best backup point guard in the NBA and could push Barea into more of a scoring undersized shooting guard role off the bench. With all that said, there is a real possibility the Mavs make the playoffs. The Minnesota Timberwolves are listening to offers to trade Jimmy Butler. The Trailblazers lost some key bench players who contributed to their playoff run last year. The Nuggets continue to underperform and the Grizzlies are relying on two players on the wrong side of 30 in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Will it be an easy road for the Mavs? Not a chance. But is it achievable? I say 100%, especially with expected improvements from Dennis Smith, the hype of Doncic, and the addition of Deandre Jordan. Let’s give Dirk one last ride to the postseason.
Picture Courtesy of Clutch Points (Nowitzki, Doncic, and Smith)
*For yesterday’s article on the Cleveland Cavaliers, click here.
Up next tomorrow: Denver Nuggets
University of South Carolina ’21