2020-21 Kia Season Preview

2020-21 Kia Season Preview

2020-21 Season Preview: Dallas Mavericks

Lead by young star Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are looking to become serious contenders.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Entering his third NBA season, Luke Doncic is among the favorites to win the Kia NBA Most Valuable Player Award.

When last seen, the Mavericks were … finishing up their first postseason since 2016, and although the run ended in six games against the LA Clippers, they walked away optimistic about the prospect of becoming serious contenders. Mavericks governor Mark Cuban tweeted: “This is just the beginning,” and that viewpoint isn’t off base when you look at all Dallas accomplished last season behind the triple-double antics of 21-year-old superstar Luka Doncic, who propelled the most efficient offense in the play-by-play era. Coach Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks instantly knew this team needed to improve its collective toughness and middle-of-the-pack defense.

What’s new? Dallas traded sharpshooting guard Seth Curry on draft night for former Philadelphia guard Josh Richardson (and the 36th pick used to draft Tyler Bey), in addition to acquiring forward James Johnson, who moonlights as a mixed martial arts fighter, via a three-team trade that moved Justin Jackson to Oklahoma City and Delon Wright to Detroit. The moves accomplished a couple of objectives. First, the Mavericks added a little protection for Doncic for when opponents want to be chippy with the star guard. Second, the club became edgier and more athletic on the defensive end to shore up a unit that finished in the bottom half of the league last season in points allowed (112.1), defensive rating (111.2), points allowed in the paint (48.8) and points surrendered in transition (16.4).

Kristaps Porzingis will be out early. Here’s what it means for the Mavs.

What’s missing: Kristaps Porzingis, at least until January, as Dallas’ second-leading scorer continues to recover from an October surgery that repaired the torn meniscus in his right knee. Porzingis first suffered the injury in Game 1 of their opening-round series against the Clippers, but he played the next two games before Dallas’ medical staff ended up sitting him for the rest of the series. With the latest injury setback, Porzingis has now undergone surgery on both knees. That may be a cause for concern considering how Porzingis fits into the club’s plans for the future. Carlisle has said Porzingis remains on schedule in his rehabilitation and is already participating in light on-court work. Dwight Powell should be running with the first unit for the early part of the season, but he’s coming off a ruptured right Achilles tendon.


POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE

Luka Doncic | 28.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 8.8 apg
Eye-popping numbers should increase with Richardson alleviating some of the pressure on defense.

Tim Hardaway Jr. | 15.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.9 apg
Became just the second player in franchise history last season to knock down 200 or more 3-pointers (204).

Josh Richardson | 13.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.9 apg
Brought in to defend, don’t forget about his 3-point shooting (career 36.3%) and playmaking ability.

Dorian Finney-Smith | 9.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.6 apg
Slowed by hip ailments last season, but still started 68 games and has improved as a shooter.

Kristaps Porzingis | 20.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.0 bpg
The Unicorn wants to play on Christmas, but Carlisle has all but ruled that out.


KEY RESERVES

Dwight Powell | 9.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.5 spg
Has run with the starters in Porzingis’ spot throughout training camp.

Maxi Kleber | 9.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.2 apg
Versatility and experience as a fill-in starter will be needed as Carlisle tinkers with lineups early in the season.

James Johnson | 8.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.3 apg
Owns a 7-0 record in MMA bouts and 20-0 in kick-boxing matches.


Dallas Mavericks, last 5 seasons

Season W L PCT OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2019-20 43 32 0.573 115.9 1 111.2 18 +4.8 6
2018-19 33 49 0.402 108.7 20 110.1 18 -1.5 21
2017-18 24 58 0.293 105.4 24 108.4 16 -2.9 22
2016-17 33 49 0.402 104.7 25 107.7 13 -3.0 23
2015-16 42 40 0.512 105.5 11 105.9 16 -0.4 16

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions


SEASON PREDICTION

It’s unknown whether the Mavericks will continue to rack up historic numbers on offense in Doncic’s third season, but it’s almost guaranteed the defense will be better in 2020-21 when you look at all the training camp time and resources put into improvement in that area. A better defense should result in a second-straight trip to the postseason if Porzingis’ recovery goes as planned. The boost in collective toughness should reap benefits that send Dallas beyond just the opening round of the playoffs, as this team is now on the verge of becoming a serious title contender.

Predicted finish: 42-30.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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