Welcome back to 'Matchups,' a Nuggets.com series previewing the opponents the Denver Nuggets will face as defending champions.
Dallas has quietly built a title contender in the Western Conference. Here's how the Denver Nuggets match up with Luka Dončić, Kyrie Irving, and the Mavericks.
Departures: Davis Bertans, Justin Holiday, Reggie Bullock, JaVale McGee, Frank Ntilikina, Theo Pinson, and Christian Wood
Re-signs: Kyrie Irving, Markieff Morris, Dwight Powell
Additions: Grant Williams, Dereck Lively II, Derrick Jones, Richaun Holmes, Dante Exum, and Seth Curry
Dallas was one of the many teams to make a splashy move at the 2022 NBA trade deadline.
General manager Nico Harrison pushed his chips center table by grabbing eight-time All-Star Kyrie Irving from the wreckage of the Brooklyn Nets' superteam. That experiment largely fell flat, as the Mavericks dropped from the fifth spot in the West all the way to 11th place and out of the playoffs altogether.
The fit on offense between Irving and All-NBA first-teamer, Luka Dončić, wasn't the issue. Dallas won the minutes that both players shared the floor by 3.3 points per 100 possessions.
Rather, it was the other side of the floor that doomed the Mavs. Dallas had the 25th-best defense in the entire NBA after acquiring Irving in February.
Harrison worked hard to correct the team's poor defense and got busy with one of the most aggressive free agency outings of any team. They acquired Grant Williams in a sign-and-trade with Boston, one of the better three-and-D players in the league who's shot 39.7 percent from distance in his last three seasons. Williams should fill Dallas' longstanding hole at the power forward position.
Behind Williams is Derrick Jones Jr., a rangy forward with supreme athleticism who thrives as a cutter and defender.
Dallas also bolstered their center depth by snagging Richaun Holmes in a draft-day deal with the Sacramento Kings. They also selected Dereck Lively II with the 12th overall pick in this June's draft.
Seth Curry improves the Mavericks' collective shooting, though head coach Jason Kidd must deploy him in lineups where his 6'1 stature cannot be preyed upon. (For example, it'll be untenable for Dallas to play Curry alongside Irving or sophomore Jaden Hardy. Brooklyn ran into this problem when Curry and Irving were teammates).
Dante Exum is an interesting flyer who completely turned his career around in Europe after falling out of the NBA as a lottery pick. He's improved his outside shot considerably since his last cup of tea in the States by making 44.6 percent of his 204 international threes.
Nikola Jokić → Dereck Lively II/Dwight Powell
Aaron Gordon → Luka Doncic
Michael Porter Jr. → Grant Williams
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope → Anthony Edwards
Jamal Murray → Mike Conley
Dallas is high on 7'1 rookie Dereck Lively II. That's probably a good place to start. They're reportedly starting the 19-year-old in their first preseason game, indicating a strong belief in his high-flying athleticism and defensive ceiling.
If the moment proves to be too big for the rookie, head coach Jason Kidd can always fall back on long-time starter, Dwight Powell. Richaun Holmes is another solid option thanks to his lights-out floater.
Regardless of who Dallas goes with, this will be Nikola Jokić's assignment.
Denver has multiple options to throw at Luka Dončić, but Aaron Gordon feels like the best of the bunch. His size and strength should come in handy against Dončić's bruising post-up game, and he shut down multiple high-level creators at the wing position in last year's postseason, including Kevin Durant.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is Denver's best perimeter defender among the starters. He'll guard Kyrie Irving.
Michael Porter Jr. would pick up Grant Williams in this scenario, who isn't an enormous offensive threat outside of spot-up shooting. That leaves Jamal Murray on Josh Green, a high-level three-and-D player with upside.
Things get interesting when Dallas filters in its backups. The Mavericks are deep after their active offseason. Tim Hardaway Jr. remains a dangerous microwave scorer, Seth Curry is one of the league's best three-point shooters, and Jaden Hardy showed major offensive flashes as a rookie. Hardy could be a future All-Star.
Dereck Lively II/Dwight Powell → Nikola Jokić
Grant Williams → Aaron Gordon
Luka Dončić → Michael Porter Jr.
Kyrie Irving → Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Josh Green → Jamal Murray
Dallas isn't exactly stacked to the brim with good options to defend Nikola Jokić. Though in fairness, a "good" option for Jokić might not exist on planet Earth.
230-pound Lively II is more than likely far too slim to keep up with The Joker. Powell stands a better chance in the strength department, but he's a little undersized at 6'10.
Dallas might get funky by sticking Grant Williams on Jokić. His low center of gravity and strong base could aid him well against the two-time MVP's other-worldly post-up game. From there, Dallas would have one of their centers—Lively II, Powell, or Holmes—shade over in help against Jokić, similar to what the Lakers did with Rui Hachimura and Anthony Davis.
Green is the Mavericks' best guard defender. His athleticism is necessary against Jamal Murray's earth-scorching scoring.
Regular Season Games
- November 3, 8:00 p.m. MT: Nuggets vs. Mavericks; Ball Arena, Denver; ESPN
- December 18, 7:00 p.m. MT: Nuggets vs. Mavericks; Ball Arena, Denver; NBA TV
- March 17, 1:30 p.m. MT: Nuggets @ Mavericks; American Airlines Center, Dallas; ABC