Jason Kidd insisted Dallas felt no pressure last season throughout its surprising run to the Western Conference finals. But along the way, superstar Luka Doncic and the Mavs applied plenty to opponents in moving past the opening round for the first time since 2011, highlighted by a stunning upset of the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals.
Dallas’ unexpected playoff success in 2021-22 sets the stage for lofty expectations heading into this season, with Doncic poised to seriously challenge for the Kia MVP award. Perhaps it’s premature to launch the Mavs into the stratosphere of being a potential contender, but Doncic gives his squad a legit shot at finishing the regular season in the top half of the West bracket. The Slovenian also assuaged concerns about entering 2022-23 out of shape (the way he did last season) by throttling competition over the summer in EuroBasket 2022.
The concern now lies in the supporting cast. The Mavericks did well to lock up defensive stopper Dorian Finney-Smith in February with a four-year extension. But the club lost free-agent guard Jalen Brunson in July to the New York Knicks, after a breakout season in which the 2018 second-round pick averaged 16.3 points and 4.8 assists as the clear-cut No. 2 option behind Doncic. Just before losing Brunson, the Mavs traded with Houston for big man Christian Wood, who might be able to shoulder some of the scoring burden left by the departed guard. Dallas also added more heft inside (and a lob threat) with veteran center JaVale McGee and Swiss Army Knife forward Maxi Kleber, who recently signed an extension. After trading away its first-round pick to Houston in the deal for Wood, Dallas gave up two future second-rounders to acquire the 37th pick it used in June to acquire Jaden Hardy.
We’ve watched Doncic definitively answer the questions concerning his conditioning in EuroBasket ’22. Now the attention turns to whether the Mavericks can make up for the scoring punch lost in Brunson’s departure. The new Knick averaged 21.6 points in the playoffs, including performances of 41, 31 and 31 points. It’s likely Dallas expects some combination of Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr. (who is back after suffering a season-ending foot fracture in January), and Wood off the bench to make up for Brunson’s production, which certainly won’t be easy.
Dallas snuck up on the rest of the league last season when it posted a record of 52-30 to finish fourth in the West. Although the Mavs likely didn’t do enough this offseason to bring in more help for Doncic, the superstar is talented enough to again carry the squad past the first round. Plus, he’ll come into this season ready to roll after entering 2021-22 out of shape. Let’s also not discount the impact Hall of Fame point guard Kidd will have on Doncic’s development in Year 5. Projection: Playoffs.
1 KEY STAT TO KNOW
9.3 — Luka Doncic has led the league in time of possession in each of the last two seasons and in each of the last three postseasons. He averaged 9.3 minutes of possession last season and 9.7 minutes in the playoffs.
— John Schuhmann
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Luka Doncic: As good as he’s been over four seasons in the NBA, Doncic showed during international competition over the summer the best is still yet to come.
Spencer Dinwiddie: Some wrote him off after 44 games with the Wizards, but in the playoffs, Dinwiddie flashed glimpses of the player that averaged 20.6 points in 2019-20 with Brooklyn.
Reggie Bullock: Teamed with Finney-Smith in his first season in Dallas to provide some edge on defense, and timely deep shooting after overcoming a slow start.
Dorian Finney-Smith: Self-made grinder produced career-highs in scoring (11.0 points), 3-point accuracy (39.5%), assists (1.9) and steals (1.1) last season.
JaVale McGee: McGee’s second stint in Dallas is expected to begin with him as a full-time starter for the first time since his championship season (2019-20) with the Lakers.
Christian Wood: Should log major minutes and start some games as Dallas needs his scoring punch inside and on the perimeter.
Tim Hardaway Jr.: After shooting at least 40.4% from range the previous three seasons, that number fell to 39.4% in an injury-shortened season.
Maxi Kleber: Multi-dimensional sharpshooter gives Dallas flexibility to play small ball without sacrificing much defensively.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Mavericks have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
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