2023-24 Kia Season Preview

Why the Kyrie Irving-Luka Doncic tandem will be better this season

Some better chemistry between the stars (and a smidgen of better defense) could fix a lot of what ailed Dallas.

Luka Doncic (right) and Kyrie Irving often struggled late in games as a combo last season.

NBA basketball returns Oct. 24. We are counting down the days like the seconds on a shot clock — literally, that’s what we’re doing. As of Oct. 1, our writers will list 24 storylines heading into the 2023-24 NBA season.

A new storyline will drop each day. Here is No. 19:

Here’s why the Kyrie Irving-Luka Doncic pairing in Dallas will be better this season.

The Mavs were just 5-11 in games that they had both Doncic and Irving last season. But they weren’t nearly that bad.

In fact, the Mavs outscored their opponents by nine total points over those 16 games. But 14 of the 16 games were within five points in the last five minutes, and they lost 11 of those 14 close ones. Overall, 11 of their losses with both Doncic and Irving in uniform were within five in the last five.

While the Mavs had late-game execution issues, a .214 winning percentage (3-11) would be the worst clutch mark of the last 11 years. Even without any improvement (and with just better luck), they should be much better in close games this season. Their two stars should also have better chemistry in their second season and with a full training camp together. If Doncic and Irving have good chemistry, then the Mavs’ offense should rank in the top 10 for the fourth time in five seasons.

Where the Mavs really fell off last season was on defense as only the Spurs saw a bigger jump in points allowed per 100 possessions from 2021-22. With a backcourt of Doncic and Irving, defense could continue to be an issue. Unless rookie big man Dereck Lively II (2.4 blocks per game at Duke last season) has a big role, this team is also missing real rim protection.

But the additions of Grant Williams and Derrick Jones Jr., along with better health from Maxi Kleber (who missed 45 games last season), will help the defense. If the Mavs can be league average on defense instead of 25th, they should be in decent shape overall.

There are a lot of Western Conference teams that should be in decent shape, and a few of them will miss the playoffs. Dallas has Doncic, and the knowledge that things weren’t as bad as they seemed when they slid at the end of last season.

* * *

John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.