2018-19 Season Preview: Can The Mavericks Return To Contention?
by 20 September 2018, 10:45 AM
The Mavericks made some key acquisitions this offseason, but are facing fierce competition for a playoff seed. How will the team fare next year?
The past few seasons for the Dallas Mavericks have been, to say the least, underwhelming, especially considering the team’s usual presence in the playoffs. However, they made a couple of huge acquisitions in the offseason, including the selection of possibly the best player from the 2018 NBA Draft in guard Luka Doncic. Can the Mavericks avoid the same fate they’ve recently endured for the upcoming season?
2017-18 Season Recap
Although the last few years have not gone well for the Mavericks, last season was especially poor. The team finished tied for the third-worst record in the NBA and had their extremely toxic workplace environment exposed to the media. But there was a silver lining in that they remained relatively competitive while losing, as they were only outscored by an average of 3.1 points per game. The Mavericks’ offense should certainly be a point of emphasis for next season, considering the team had the third-worst offense in the league last year.
Despite the team’s poor offensive play, there was, once again, a silver lining. The Mavericks had six players that averaged double-digit scoring last season, which is indicative of a team-oriented offense that can attack defenses through a variety of weapons. Also, the team now knows it can lean on second-year point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who averaged over 15 points and 5 assists per game as a rookie last season (although he only shot 40% from the field).
There are a few additions to the squad that will hopefully put last season in the past. The Mavericks made a splash in free agency by (finally) signing center DeAndre Jordan to a one-year deal. Jordan will provide an interior presence that has been missing on the Mavericks until now, as he averaged over 15 rebounds per game last season, along with the second-best field goal percentage in the league at about 65%. Additionally, Jordan has generally been a defensive anchor for most of his career, considering he’s averaged two blocks per game or more four times during his career.
The Mavericks’ true franchise-changing acquisition, however, was highly regarded Slovenian prospect Luka Doncic. Although the team had to give up a future first-round pick to trade for him, it could end up being more than worth it, as many scouts view Doncic as having the highest floor in the entire draft class. While Doncic isn’t the most athletically gifted prospect, he put up unbelievably efficient numbers last year playing against arguably the best talent outside of the NBA, which led to an MVP award and a EuroLeague championship. For the Mavericks, Doncic’s nearly unprecedented passing ability at his size (6”8) will further add to the unselfishness of their offense.
Upcoming Season Preview
While the Mavericks have a group of players that could compete for a playoff spot, they should certainly keep their expectations in check considering the heightened competitiveness for top-eight seeds in the Western Conference. The conference was extremely tight for playoff spots last year, and that was before the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, and of course, the Los Angeles Lakers, made moves to return to postseason contention. Because of this, the Mavericks should make the development of their young backcourt duo and transitioning the team towards contention for the future their number one priority.
Incorporating and transitioning the Mavericks’ backcourt to be the focal point of the franchise should be the team’s top focus heading into next season because each player represents the largest investments made by the front office (with the exception of Jordan, but he is only on a one-year deal). Smith Jr. and Doncic essentially cancel out each other’s weaknesses, as Smith Jr. is an acrobatic finisher and more athletically oriented, while Doncic is the player with the higher basketball IQ and passing ability. These separate abilities create an overarching supply of talent to run the offense and potentially form one of the most exciting duos in the NBA for the next decade.
As for the rest of the Mavericks’ starters and role players, they just need to fill out the duties that are expected of their skill sets, specifically Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki, and the aforementioned DeAndre Jordan. All Jordan has to do is catch lobs from Doncic or Smith Jr., rebound well, and defend the rim; if he can do these three things, he will provide Clint-Capela-like production to an ascending squad. If Barnes can score at the same rate he has for the last couple of years, they should remain competitive throughout the season considering all the other options for their offense, including Nowitzki and Matthews. Matthews can provide a reliable scoring talent off the bench, and could excel in small lineups next to Smith Jr. and Doncic as a reliable three-point threat (he shot 38% from deep last season).
Finally, despite his lessening role throughout the final stage of his career, Dirk Nowitzki has one of the most important duties on the team next year. He will be asked to mentor fellow European talent Luka Doncic. It was just 20 years ago when Dirk ascended to superstardom following his entrance to the league from Europe. Since then, he has served a general role as an ambassador of the organization. Nowitzki’s presence on the team and their previous success developing Nowitzki could prove to be a perfect situation for the savvy Slovenian guard to make his mark on the NBA.
The Dallas Mavericks are faced with a hard truth for the upcoming season: they have a competitive squad that might not even earn a playoff spot to show for it in a cutthroat Western Conference. Despite this reality, the team has a bright future to look forward to, and it should be exciting to watch their growth together while possibly shaking up the playoff standings in the process.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-reference.com.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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